Gerrit Terlouw

Gerrit Terlouw

Senior Vice President, Technology and Software Report | Océ North America

A lifelong career with Océ is coming to the end for Gerrit Terlouw. We sit down with the experienced executive to hear what he learned along the way.

» What I always tried to do was work within a triangle: new challenges and demands from customers, people, feasibility. It has been very important in my career to educate and train people—to take them by the hand and make sure they develop their own way of thinking, because it’s the only way you get decent feedback.

» The only way people will be behind you is if it becomes their idea, and that has to be done as a team.

» I like it very much that the US is very opportunity driven, as opposed to Europe where things have to be really sure and discussed one more time. When I came to the US, there were hardly any software or professional service organizations, so I liked helping to build that up.

» I always used to say to people in our group that if we can’t sell our ideas to each other, how can we sell it to anyone else in our organization or externally? It has to be something we all believe in.

» Teamwork is one of the most mentioned things in management, but it’s not always really brought to fruition, and it’s something I always try to do—building up knowledge, sharing it so my
colleagues can benefit and then the customers as well.

» People should not just be doers, they should be thinkers.

» When I was training technicians in South America, I was used to European technicians who have a different tool for every little thing. In Bolivia, they had one screwdriver, one pair of pliers, some tape, and that’s it. I was very impressed with their skills and ways of finding solutions—they always found a way. So when I returned to the main office, and people were demanding this and that to create a solution, I went back to this story of how these people of few means did a terrific job.

» You realize after mentoring people that they can really take over your daily business, which allows you to do new things and come up with new ideas.

» I think that people who manage are often micromanaging, because they aren’t 100 percent sure that others are doing things their way. And that eats up lot of time that could be used for new ideas. You can only hand over work to others if you really trust them, and you can make sure you trust them only if you’ve trained them.

» Team spirit is one of most important things—you need people around you.

» It’s very hard to define success, but it comes from being realistic but embracing challenges or changes. Never shy away from challenges or changes.

» A turning point for me was in 1980, when I started to be involved in software and had to start working on a keyboard. All of sudden it dawned on me there was a whole new world.

» Once I held a training in Guatemala, where I was told my class knew some English, but no one did, so I taught the class with a dictionary in my hand. It was the most difficult week of my life, but also the most satisfying. I thought, if I can handle this, I can handle anything. That attitude is probably why I got the chance to work in the US.

» I always say yes to new things, to new opportunities.

» When I joined Océ, I was 22, so my whole life has been with Océ. I started in 1969 as a technician, repairing copiers and offset machines. It feels good that I’ve spent so long with the company, because every time I got kind of bored with what I was doing, they came up with a new challenge or job for me.

» In my upper 40s, I came to the point where I thought, if nothing is changing, I will do the same until I am 65 and stop working. That’s when the company asked if I knew someone who wanted to go to the US and build up organizations there. I immediately said yes.

» Work-life balance? I spent a lot of time with the company, and it takes a toll. Océ had bought up many different companies, so I was traveling a lot between those headquarters. I used to sing in a choir, but had to stop because it wasn’t feasible anymore.

» In the late 1980s, everyone started to talk about the paperless office, so we got a little bit nervous, but started selling and marketing word-processing equipment.

» Océ has been bought by Canon, so now is a good moment to go, not to start over. But the main point was to go back to the Netherlands, something I had promised my family for the last 15 years, so I finally had to make that step. I will remain in an advisory role for a year to help with a big project in Canada.