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CEO Dialogue Series

CEO

Lessons in leadership and M&A from Dutch investor Jordy Kool

27 April 2021 in CEO Dialogue Series

The former CEO of IT company Infotheek Group shares his secrets for successful M&A integration, picking the right bets, and saving time on emails. ...

Jordy Kool, the major Dutch investor, has an old-fashioned method to fight endless work emails: he prints them out on paper and takes handwritten notes that his assistant types up and forwards.  

It’s not environmentally friendly, but he says it’s productive: “I only touch email once, [otherwise] I will be stuck in my [inbox] for six hours a day. Sometimes I don’t touch my phone for [up to] 10 hours.”  

Kool, who in 2015 was named EY’s Accelerating Entrepreneur of the Year, lives in the fast lane. He is the chairman and owner of multiple companiesand is also a non-executive director. Kool founded Iron Asset Management, a family office, in 2016 after a distinguished corporate career.  

An alumnus of IMD, he was speaking in an interview with Jean-François Manzoni, the President of IMD, as part of his CEO Interview Series.  

Kool, chosen as Computable Magazine’s CEO of the Year in 2015, joined Infotheek Group in 2009 as chief commercial officer. He was named CEO in 2013 and stepped down in 2018, becoming a non-executive director. Under his leadership, annual revenues grew from 55m to nearly 1bn. 

Kool, who drove the expansion of the business organically at first and then through a series of acquisitions, says a critical factor in the company’s success was a novel business model.  

Infotheek was an early pioneer of the “circular economy”  reducing waste and boosting product lifespans. It buys back companies depreciated IT hardware, refurbishes and resells it — at a high marginhe says — to extend the product lifecycle, while reducing customers’ environmental footprint. There’s also a rental service to keep products in circulation.  

At first, customers were reluctant to purchase second-hand hardware but there’s now a widespread appetite for sustainable products, Kool says. “We were too early” but “in the long run it obviously helped us”.   

Kool’s acquisition strategy was made possible through equity financing. In 2016, Infotheek sold majority stake to Altor, a private equity firm based in Sweden.   

We knew we needed to do acquisitions to be able to grow and to survive; the competition was getting more intense and we wanted to diversify into other markets,” he says.   

A year laterInfotheek bought up Dutccompetitors Scholten Awater and Central Point, creating a combined entity with annual revenues of approximately 900m  

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.
- Jordy Kool

Invest as a mentor, not just a financier 

Koola 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 earningswhich 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 youre 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 studyingbefore 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 Groupa fitness chain based in the Netherlands, as well as My Local Gym Group 

Also, in 2013, he set up IT4Kids, foundation that helps children in lower-income families participate in sports. IT4Kids collects used IT hardware from companies and donates its value tcharity projects, mostly sports activitiesResearch 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 saysdismissing retirementFor 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.”  

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