He rarely gave an interview, a conscious choice (“I prefer to stay in the background”). Until a new colleague convinces him that the special Bisnez culture is worth a story. “I wanted to set up a completely different company, where the ‘hierarchy’ was reversed. Soon first and foremost: customers and employees,” says founder and director Frans den Boer.
It is 2003 when Frans says to his wife Jeannette: “What do you think if I start my own business? I want to do it differently, better.” She replies “yeah, fine” and he quits his job.
He saw two former employers transition from warm, humane companies to organizations where employees became numbers, managers climbed into ivory towers, and profit maximization was the primary goal of shareholders. There must be another way, he thought. “That’s how I started writing a business plan for my own agency.”
And it was Bisnez.
“Exactly. I created a completely different company, where the traditional ‘hierarchy’ was reversed. So, first of all: customers and employees. Because they are what matter in a company, everything else is subordinate to it. So the back office It is the engine behind the organization that ensures that the administration is in order, invoices are sent and the employees are relieved.”
“And at the bottom of the hierarchy, management ‘dangles’. People who primarily serve the organization, provide direction and facilitate. This means that the rest of the organization only has to focus on the important things: the customers and the tasks.”
Take us back to the first months, in 2003.
“On 5 June, we sat together with the notary, me and three other shareholders. At exactly 5:03 p.m. we signed the deed. From then on it was truly a dream. I will never forget the moment I sent my first invoice. Suddenly I had a real company.”
A dream, were the customers queuing?
“Well, not that either. I had a big network, but the first time was a bitch. From early in the morning until late at night, just walking. Eating out, talking a lot, listening even more. In July of the same year, we hired our first two employees. Also a highlight, yes, that suddenly there are people who trust you so much that they want to work for you. As an entrepreneur, the trick is to gather good employees around you who excel in their field , or who have the ambition to do so.”
So working day and night, were you still a bit cozy at home with Jeannette?
“Actually because I was doing something that gave me so much energy.”
Where does this love of entrepreneurship come from?
“It runs in the family. I dropped out of school early, which of course my parents didn’t care too much about. They didn’t do anything about it: “Don’t study, okay, but you have to do something.” Since then, I’ve always had busy starting behind the assembly line. And then also followed thirteen years of studying to become a systems developer, all in the evenings. But to be honest, I’ve never actually worked since I was 25.”
What exactly do you mean by that?
“Then I filled my first project manager role, and it felt like a hobby, a feeling that never went away. This is exactly who I am: someone who is happiest doing many different things in a day. Lay out the lines. Set goals. Keep forms. I always say: I don’t lead, I’m allowed to lead. It feels like a privilege to me.”
From what feeling do you lead Bisnez?
“Always out of respect, to consider the other person better than yourself, but without losing sight of yourself. And an agreement is an agreement, which I also find extremely important.”
You just said that ‘customers and employees up stand one’, the base of Bisnez. How do customers notice this?
“Our customers are our lifeblood, every employee knows and feels that. They must be able to trust the commitment, loyalty and quality of our colleagues. In good times and bad. And luckily they do: last year the customers rated us with an 8.7. Yes, I am very proud of that.”
“In addition, also on the fact that around fifty colleagues have started working for customers in recent years. A great compliment.”
And how do Bisnez employees notice that they are special?
“Because we invest a lot in their well-being from day one. Whether it’s personal appreciation, guidance, training and development or social activities… we all find this very important. After all, the employees are the heart of our company. We see everyone as an individual and – to quote Louis van Gaal – as a ‘total person’. That’s why we are there for each other in less fun times. Together we form a team, together we are Bisnez.”
“Suppose you have to provide informal care for a while, or your private affairs require attention. You get that all the time. We don’t look at the formal rules, but look for adaptation. Because sometimes life just goes against you, it can happen to all of us.”
And business? It can be quite hard to be on a big assignment.
“At Bisnez, we work hard, which the customers appreciate. But we always keep an eye on each other, with a healthy work-life balance. After all, we work to live, not the other way around. And helping each other, that is also deeply rooted in Bisnez. If you have a question, there are always colleagues who jump in immediately. Is the problem getting too big or complex? Then we form a team of colleagues to support you. You are never alone.”
This is especially important for young professionals to know.
“Absolutely, boosted by social media, they receive a lot of information. It affects the way they handle work and expectations. They are ambitious and want a lot, but also immediately, demanding a lot from themselves. That is why we also intensively support young people in this area. This prevents people from dropping out and ensures they feel better about themselves.”
So there is plenty of room to be vulnerable.
“Asking for help is the most powerful thing there is, but few people dare to do it. We prefer to turn things around, and encourage colleagues to speak up in good time if it becomes too much.”
What career opportunities do you offer Bisnezers?
“We’ve had the slogan for years: ‘At Bisnez, you can’t become anything except to be good at your job!’ By this we mean that our colleagues are particularly happy with their profession. It’s not about job titles, but about quality and personal development. We have growth paths for both project managers and consultants – from training to supervision – where you help lead your own development.”
Employees can also help build Bisnez, right?
“Of course, some of the colleagues – in addition to their work for the customers – still have an internal role. Under the leadership of MT, they work on one of our ‘building blocks’, such as human resources, recruitment or proposals. We give you all the space you need to make your own choices.”
What characterizes Bisnez as an employer?
“Everyone is equal, period. Duties and pay grow with your experience level, it goes without saying. But do you look at other employment conditions such as leasing benefits, training opportunities, pension plans and ICT support? They are the same for all colleagues. We know no ranks or positions and makes no difference.”
You are also very socially involved.
“That’s true, right from the start. Although it always feels a little uncomfortable to say that about one’s own organization. Of course, we are a commercial company, but we have an eye on our environment and society. We have therefore included CSR as a strategic goal . We give substance to this through social projects, sustainability policy and donations to charities.”
What does the Bisnez dream look like?
“That Bisnez remains a healthy, sustainable company where employees and customers are always number one, a company where colleagues feel ownership and determine the culture together.”
An average CEO of another company would say, ‘I want to grow to…’ Just fill in a number.
“Not me. Growth is not a goal in itself for us. Yes, we are growing in relation to employees, but still controlled. The most important thing is that Bisnez is and remains a healthy company, because ultimately our employees and their families of it. That interest always takes precedence over growth, shareholder value or higher profits. Because if money was the motive, we could have sold the company countless times.”
“No never. Because then the soul of this company will be lost, I’m sure. Take our excursions that we’ve organized since day one. They really are part of our culture. Skiing in March. Our cycling weekend in May . Sinterklaas with all the colleagues’ children, to name just a few. And of course the annual Bisnez weekend in September and our Christmas dinner.”
“Not only our employees, but also their partners are welcome to these kinds of events. It’s nice to see the whole group together.”
Why do those excursions mean so much to you?
“At Bisnez, we go for results, but we have a social and exuberant overview. Being together, good conversations, eating and drinking: it strengthens the bond. Together we have already seen half of Europe – for example Prague, Breda, Paris, Rome and Antwerp. Next year we turn twenty and we are going to Athens. The social relationships are our way of saying: thank you for who you are and everything you do.”
This article was written in collaboration with Suzanne Geurts, journalist at The Finest Lines.