A look back over the past 10 years at Desch

Staff
11 Min Read

On April 1, 2024, Jan Willem celebrated his 10th anniversary as the CEO of Desch. In a discussion with him, he reflects on the developments at Desch and the horticulture sector. He also looks ahead: where does Desch stand in 10 years in terms of sustainability and other developments? Where does he want to take Desch?

With over thirty years of experience in the plastics sector, Jan Willem joined Desch as the director ten years ago.

Reflection

Could you tell us about the most notable changes that Desch has implemented in the last ten years? (in relation to the horticulture sector)

“Desch was already engaged in sustainability before it became a widely discussed topic. We have been supplying horticultural products such as pots and trays made from recycled plastic for thirty to forty years, but this was never really a topic of conversation. Recycled plastic had a negative image because people thought it was of inferior quality. About seven years ago, the perception changed when customers at trade fairs began asking about products made from recycled material. To their surprise, we responded: everything you see here is made from recycled material, the whole stand. This was a wake-up call for us to communicate more proactively about our sustainable production processes.

Additionally, we realized there was room for improvement in how our products could be recycled after use. This led to the development of D-TectPlus® and Recover®, innovations that make our products detectable by near-infrared (NIR) and improve the recycling process. Our goal is to achieve a closed loop, where products can be recycled more efficiently.”

“The image of plastic is still under pressure, mainly due to litter and misconceptions around downcycling. It’s a shame because plastic (is) fantastic! It’s one of the most important inventions of the last fifty years and is crucial for maintaining today’s standard of living. Recycled plastic offers many possibilities depending on the application. Our factory workers are like chefs; they can produce quality products with varying ingredients. ‘Designed for recycling’; I think we at Desch are very good at this.”

What were some of the biggest challenges that Desch faced in the past ten years?

“One of the most significant moments was the coronavirus pandemic, which struck us all as a human tragedy. The loss of a colleague to the virus marked a particularly tough period, during which the world seemed to stand still.”

“The pandemic led to a new reality where we saw that office staff could also work from home, while our operations staff fortunately kept the factories and warehouses running. At the same time, we saw an unexpected increase in demand for our products due to the increased interest in gardening during the lockdown, resulting in a significant increase in our production volumes.”

“Another challenge was caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to soaring energy prices. This had a direct impact on the horticulture sector and forced growers to scale back their activities, causing a drop in our volumes while energy costs rose.”

“In these turbulent times, we focused on improving our internal communication through video messages. This was a new (and forced) step for us, but it proved to be an effective way to keep our employees informed and engaged.”

Desch has expanded its operations and range, including the acquisition of two IPP factories. How have these strategic choices influenced the direction and possibilities of the company?

“Before the acquisition of IPP, Desch Plantpak was primarily specialized in thermoforming. Our international growth received a boost in 2010 with the acquisition of Epla, which marked our first steps into the injection molding sector. However, we needed a complement for the injection molding segment, and IPP was a perfect fit.”

“This strategic acquisition has allowed us to significantly expand our range, enabling us to offer almost everything our customers desire. It has strengthened our position in Eastern Europe and underscores our ambition to continue growing and become an even larger and more important player in the market.”

Being recognized as one of the best-managed companies and consistently ranking in the top 100 of the manufacturing industry is a huge achievement. What do you think have been the key factors in achieving these recognitions?

“It’s always an honor to be included in such lists. Especially as recognition for the hard work of our 300 employees spread across six factories. It feels like a mark of appreciation.”

“I actively participate in the industry organization NRK, with an emphasis on promoting sustainable plastic. Despite the challenge presented by the current image, we have consciously chosen this path. We believe in the sustainability of plastic and stand by our decision, even if it means facing criticism.”

How has your role changed in the past ten years, and what have you found most rewarding about leading Desch through this period of growth and change?

“When I joined, we had three factories; now there are six. My role evolves with the different phases the company goes through. It has never been as turbulent as the last four to five years.”

“Before the pandemic, I was more closely involved in the daily operations of factories in Europe. The introduction of video messages and online meetings has taught me that physical presence isn’t always necessary.”

“I find it most rewarding that together, we have endured the two toughest years of the past decades. Although I am not entirely satisfied with our financial performance, I am proud of our collective resilience. Leadership is crucial during such times, walk the talk. Open communication and leadership are the most valuable to me, including giving recognition and appreciation to the team. The company culture, which feels like a family, is particularly rewarding to me.”

Looking ahead

Looking to the next ten years, what do you think are some of the key trends that will shape the horticulture sector, and how is Desch positioning itself to meet these future challenges?

“CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is becoming increasingly important. It’s no longer just about the quality and price of the product but also about the ecological footprint. How is it made? Where does it come from?”

“For example, our production in England, where there is high demand for our products, significantly reduces the footprint by minimizing the need for transport and shipping due to local presence. This brings us even closer to the market. Ultimately, the most sustainable solution will prevail. When we consider the total ecological footprint, a new comparative perspective emerges.”

“Additionally, we strive for innovation through thinner material, faster production processes, new machines, and energy efficiency. Our ambition is to become the number one in European horticultural supply. With currently six factories, we certainly do not plan to stop here.”

Based on your extensive experience, what advice would you give to flourish in a constantly changing market in the horticulture sector?

“I’ve inherited a strong work ethic from my parents. I try to improve a little every day. The best results start with effort. The harder you work, the greater the chance of luck and things happening in a good sense. What I want to pass on to the younger generation is not to change jobs too quickly. In the beginning, you have to persevere for a while. That doesn’t mean you have to stay somewhere for 25 years unless you’re really enjoying it, but give it at least four to five years.”

“For entrepreneurs, this means dealing with legislation. What you as an entrepreneur are currently facing is a tsunami of legislation and regulation coming from The Hague and Brussels. And dealing with that is quite challenging. Once you’ve implemented this, the next one is already on its way. So learn to deal with it.”

Finally, looking back on your ten years at Desch, what are you most proud of, and what are you most looking forward to as you look to the future?

“I think we are a better company than ten years ago, a company that people are prouder of. I often hear it feels like a family business, and that feels good. I really consider that a compliment. And with appropriate pride, I can say that I myself have made a significant contribution through the way I lead the company. What you see is what you get. We do it together.”

“I look forward to our industry recovering a bit, firstly horticulture, of course, so we can supply more pots and trays. I hope it becomes easier so we all will have more room to grow.”

For more information:
Desch
www.desch.nl

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