Invest as a mentor, not just a financier
Kool, a successful dealmaker, notes that acquisitive companies have a tightrope to walk in blending rather than bulldozing corporate culture. “[Integrations are] an ongoing journey of reinvention and learning, but maintaining culture is pretty difficult,” he says.
Kool resigned as Infotheek’s CEO in 2018 to pursue other passions including his family office, which has backed swathes of companies spanning industries from health and wellness to IT and telecoms, among others.
He typically invests in mature businesses, with between €1m and €5m of net earnings, which are led by founders who want his guidance, not just his money.
Kool wants to be closely involved in scaling up businesses. “A lot of entrepreneurs are not the best leaders, managers and communicators,” he points out, stressing the importance of delegating. “If you want to build a bigger business, you need to understand what you’re good at and not good at, and then surround yourself with people who fill those gaps.”
Living clean and giving back
Kool started out in the Netherlands Marine Corps, an elite infantry unit, which laid the foundations for success in leadership roles. During two years of military service, he learnt the importance of discipline and staying calm under pressure to make effective decisions. “You get used to being in a VUCA world,” he says, referring to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Kool signed up for 12 years in the Marines but two ankle injuries led to his early retirement in 1995. He went on to work as a fitness instructor and assistant manager, alongside studying, before going into business. He still keeps himself in good shape. “For me, it’s very important to stay active,” he says. “You also need to take time to sleep and to recuperate. I try to eat very clean and keep a clear mind.”
Kool’s focus on health and fitness is reflected in his investment portfolio: he owns The Urban Gym Group, a fitness chain based in the Netherlands, as well as My Local Gym Group.
Also, in 2013, he set up IT4Kids, a foundation that helps children in lower-income families participate in sports. IT4Kids collects used IT hardware from companies and donates its value to charity projects, mostly sports activities. Research shows that participation in sport improves children’s educational attainment and skills development.
He set up the foundation after reading the news that hundreds of thousands of children were living in poverty in the Netherlands. “Giving these people opportunities makes my heart tick,” says Kool, who reflects on his own childhood: “My parents took two jobs so I could study and buy soccer shoes to do sports.”
He has come a long way, but he doesn’t want to rest on his laurels. Kool is a committed lifelong learner. “I still want to develop myself,” he says, dismissing retirement. For now, he plans to continue to nurture the next generation of business leaders as an investor and advisor. “I get a thrill when I see someone develop,” Kool says. “I want to touch as many lives as possible.”