MBA assignment: “Analysis of individual aspects of leadership”

The following is from Marios Papalexandrou, a renewable energy advisor at Mott MacDonald Ltd. More specifically, he is currently engaged in an MBA, and sent me the following analysis as part of an MBA course on leadership.
Obviously, I’m honored!

Individual assignment:  “Analysis of individual aspects of leadership”

Selecting a leader for the first assignment was a hard but very enjoyable process. In my selection I have considered sports leaders that achieved great victories and politicians that have transformed their nation’s destiny. The first ones were excluded from my selection due to the fact that although their achievements where great; in my eyes they served a short term satisfaction of what a team can achieve. The politicians that interested me most were mainly historic Greek figures not alive and it was not easy to find articles about them in English. Thus, I decided to focus on somebody familiar and inspirational for me. His name is Ad Van Wijk and he was the CEO of my former company.

Ad Van Wijk was born in 1956 in the Netherlands and is considered an influential and entrepreneurial figure when it comes to renewable energy and sustainability as mentioned in his biography[1]. He studied physics at the University of Utrecht and holds a PhD in Wind Energy and Electricity Production from the same University. Fascinated by the massive potential of renewable energy, he founded, together with fellow university graduates, the company Ecofys in 1984. Van Wijk and his colleagues began to design solutions across the entire spectrum of sustainable energy systems. As mentioned in Ecofys website[2], a paradigm shift in energy thinking had begun.

Since then Ecofys has grown substantially and remains after 28 years at the forefront of renewable energy and climate policy as a reputable consultancy. Real growth for the company came during the 90s when environmental and climate change issues got considerable attention in the European and global political agenda.  In 2000 a new company named Econcern was branched off from Ecofys, with Van Wijk as CEO.

Econcern was the holding company of Ecofys, Ecostream, Evelop, OneCarbon and Ecoventures. These companies were involved in almost all aspects of renewable energy and sustainable solutions: from consultancy and knowledge expertise to design and delivery of innovative products, construction of photovoltaic plants, project development of renewable energy projects and carbon trading.

Prinses_Amalia_windmolenpark-bigVan Wijk was the mind behind Econcern’s mission: “A sustainable energy supply for everyone”. Though it is stated as a company’s mission, it was Van Wijk’s vision to supply sustainable energy for everyone. This simply means that all energy needs can be covered by renewable energy sources and no more fossil fuels are needed to cover our energy needs. This is a clearly visionary approach towards energy business. As covered under Dubrin[3], Chapter 3, p.86, Ad can be considered charismatic and transformational. He created and communicated a vision and conveyed a set of values that guide and motivate employees. The set of values can be summarized as creating an energy system that covers the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of futures generations to meet their own needs- in other words, a creation of a better quality of life for everyone for the present and for future generations with respect to the environment. Econcern’s employees embraced this vision as personal mission to work for a common goal and for a good cause. Ad can be also clearly considered as a visionary (Dubrin, Chapter 3, p.75). By communicating Econcern’s mission (vision) he created influential and inspirational spirit within his employees combining three elements: a reason for being beyond making money, timeless, unchanging core values, and ambitious but achievable goals.

Ad always liked giving examples to make people think different. Characteristic example is his story about how to boil an egg that he currently teaches as Professor at the Technical University of Delft[4].  In order to boil an egg you need a sauce pan, water, egg and a cooker. Most of the energy goes to boil the water and only a small fraction of the energy goes to the egg. The hot water is wasted and the total efficiency is about 2%. According to Van Wijk[5] there is no energy crisis; there is no shortage of energy. Just a lack of efficiency that has to be improved. Thus, he also performed management by inspiration and story telling (Dubrin, Chapter 3, p. 78). He was also relationship oriented. He was very approachable and created inspiration and visibility with employees that made his colleagues feel like having a family atmosphere within his company and with his vision he promoted principles and values as stated earlier that were shared throughout the company (Dubrin, Chapter 4, p.107).

Ad is also farsighted and with conceptual thinking (Dubrin, Chapter 2, p.56). Ad’s vision and corporate strategy was to develop new sustainable energy solutions that would give his firm a long-range competitive advantage. Ad’s vision was materialized by bringing onboard highly qualified and enthusiastic employees willing to work on and contribute in a company that wanted to change the energy world for better. Research and development played an important role in the company’s mission and industrial designers were hired to research and design new sustainable energy solutions. Ad has a drive and achievement motive (Dubrin, Chapter 2, p50) given that his company’s drive was focused on expanding the sustainable energy services provided and creating and commercializing new solutions.

Amongst all, Ad can be characterized as an entrepreneurial leader (Dubrin, Chapter 4, p117). His business was clearly innovative, combining enthusiasm and creativity, visionary perspective and eye on the future. This can be seen in his statement of 2005[6]: “Three cornerstones provide the basis of the Econcern strategy: 1) being the sustainable energy solution provider, 2) being innovative and market driven, and 3) being a European player”. He also mentions: “I’m proud of the fact that we keep generating ideas and concepts and turning them into concrete and tangible products and projects that contribute to a sustainable energy supply.”

Examples of Econcern’s projects and products include the 120 MW offshore wind farm Princess Amalia in the Netherlands. It was the furthest and deepest water offshore wind farm at the time it was constructed and the first one to be financed by bank loans. I have been involved in the project and I was happy to see it generating free renewable energy from the plane few hours ago when travelling to Amsterdam. Econcern was also involved in construction of plenty multi-MW photovoltaic plants in Spain, a bio-methanol plant which is the largest second generation biomass plant in the world, Sea Water Air Conditioning systems in the Caribbean, the Closed Greenhouse (for better and more controlled plant production), Darwind (a dedicated offshore wind turbine) the Energy Mirror (visualizing energy consumption in buildings) and Quicc (an electric van).

According to Recharge news[7], between 2002 and 2007, Econcern’s staff had grown six-fold to 1,200, spread across more than 20 countries and four continents putting it in between the fastest growing companies in Europe. It had also reported ultra-high gains in revenue in the same five-year period, from €15m ($22.5m) to €443m. The company was within the 500 fastest growing companies in Europe and an amazing place to work for. His vision started taking shape.

Ad van Wijk achieved many important prizes for outstanding entrepreneurship. Amongst others he was entrepreneur of the year in 2007 and in 2008 he was top-executive of the year in the Netherlands. Also, in 2007 he received the 2007 Amsterdam Private Equity Club Award.  The jury explains their choice[8]: “The decision to award Mr. Van Wijk with the APEURC Award for Private Equity was unanimous. We praise Ad van Wijk for setting a good example: from scientist to entrepreneur, from entrepreneur to inspirator. Starting with Ecofys in 1984, Econcern is grown to a stature multinational. The success of Dutch private investing is, like our economy, dependent on knowledge and openness. The large number of projects Econcern realizes throughout the world are an example to Van Wijk’s knowledge based entrepreneurship.”

But in 2009 the financial crisis hit Econcern that was overexposed in the market due to its aggressive policy in developing new projects and new products. Econcern ran out of cash and went bankrupt in 2009 after insolvency and after high pressures Van Wijk resigned. Econcern was not saved, but Ecofys and most of the above mentioned projects and products have survived and they contribute to a sustainable energy future. Van Wijk continues working as sustainable energy entrepreneur and advisor and keeps being constantly optimistic about his personal vision that has been summarized in a book he has published.[9]  Econcern may not exist anymore but Van Wijk’s entrepreneurial, charismatic, visionary and inspirational leadership still survives in many sustainable energy solutions.

‘Bestuurlijk onvermogen ten top; totale lethargie bij Rijkswaterstaat rondom waterkrachtcentrale Hagestein’ (Dutch only)

Een van de projecten waar ik (inmiddels, helaas) al jaren aan werk, is het weer draaiende krijgen van de waterkrachtcentrale in de Lek bij Hagestein. In onderstaand artikel wordt aardig weergeven waarom dit maar niet van de grond wil komen.

23 januari 2013 – Er zit nog steeds geen enkel schot in plannen om de waterkrachtcentrale bij Hagestein in de Lek nieuw leven in te blazen. Dit tot grote frustratie van Ad van Wijk, die daar een kant en klaar plan voor op de plank heeft liggen. Ook de Tweede Kamer begrijpt niets van de onwil van Rijkswaterstaat om hiermee aan de slag te gaan. SP Kamerlid Jansen heeft weer vragen gesteld aan de minister over de lethargie van de uitvoeringsdienst.


Redder in nood
De waterkrachtcentrale ligt nu al weer acht jaar stil, nadat de vorige eigenaar Nuon besloot dat die aan het einde van zijn levensduur was. Nuon had zelf plannen opgesteld voor renovatie van de centrale, maar het bedrijf liet die versloffen. Vervolgens ontwikkelde iemand bij RWS zelf een plan. Maar zijn superieuren floten hem terug. De dienst peilde de interesse bij energiebedrijven. Duurzaam ondernemer Ad van Wijk hoorde ervan en stelde voor om de renovatie ter hand te pakken.

Investering
De stroom zou dan afgenomen kunnen worden door het lokale duurzame energiebedrijf Adem Houten, wat zojuist was opgericht. Houten ligt aan de andere kant van de Lek, tegenover Hagestein. Van Wijk denkt dat er twee tot drie miljoen euro in geïnvesteerd moet worden, zo zegt hij woensdag tegen Energieenwater.net. De betonnen constructie is nog goed, evenals waarschijnlijk de turbine. De tandwielkast, de bedrading en de generator moeten mogelijk wel vervangen worden.

Diepe rust
Maar Rijkswaterstaat reageerde vreemd. Het project zou worden aanbesteed, zo meldde de dienst in eerste instantie. De gemeenten Houten en Hagestein boden vervolgens aan om het exploitatierecht over te nemen, om verder tijdverlies te voorkomen. Maar toen besloot RWS ineens om het toch weer zelf te gaan doen. Diepe rust was wat volgde. Bijna de voltallige Tweede Kamer uitte vervolgens in september 2011 zijn ongenoegen over de gang van zaken door kritische vragen te stellen aan toenmalig staatssecretaris Atsma. Atsma kwam vervolgens met nietszeggende antwoorden. Er zouden onderzoeken gedaan moeten worden.

Vissen
Die zijn gedaan, zo zegt Ad van Wijk, maar hij heeft geen kennis kunnen nemen van de resultaten. Wel is er begin 2012 nog een bijeenkomst geweest. Twee redenen geeft RWS op voor de lethargie. Er zou een nieuwe vergunning moeten komen, vanwege mogelijke vissterfte. “Het is een wat oudere centrale dus de sterfte is wat hoger dan bij andere waterkrachtcentrales. Dit kan je echter ondervangen met de aanleg van visgeleidingssystemen”, zo zegt Van Wijk. Vissterfte is ineens een big issue. Het plan om in Borgharen een centrale aan te leggen sneuvelde na bezwaren over deze vissterfte, ingediend door sportvissers nota bene.

Evident
Het tweede punt is de waterhuishouding. De centrale zou gevolgen hebben voor de doorstroming. Dat de waterkrachtcentrale op de tweede plaats komt is echter voor iedereen evident, zo zegt Van Wijk. Bij hoog water moeten de sluizen open, dat snapt iedereen. Ook moet voorkomen worden dat er te weinig water achter de sluis komt te staan, maar ook dat is evident. De watertoevoer naar de centrale kan gereguleerd worden. De investering kost het Rijk helemaal geen geld. Van Wijk is bereid een gebruiksvergoeding te betalen.

Hemd
Maar er is geen doorkomen aan bij de asfalthoofden op het ministerie. Van Wijk: “Rijkswaterstaat heeft er geen zin in. Mensen binnen de afdeling duurzaamheid willen het nog wel, maar die hebben het niet voor het zeggen. Ik voel me in mijn hemd gezet. Het is één van de meest interessante vormen van duurzame energie. Je ruikt het niet, je hoort het niet, niemand heeft er last van. Vissterfte is een punt, daar moet je goed naar kijken. Dat doen we ook. Wat is hier aan de hand?”, zo vraagt Van Wijk zich verbolgen af.

Vragen
Van Wijk heeft gesproken met Kamerlid Paulus Jansen en die er weer vragen over heeft gesteld. Aan weer een nieuwe bewindspersoon, Schultz deze keer. Een mooie cynische ondertoon kan hem niet ontzegd worden: ‘Acht u de aanpak tot dusver een voorbeeld van een slagkrachtige overheid? Zo nee, wat gaat u doen om dit project zo snel mogelijk succesvol af te ronden?’ En: ‘Hoeveel is er inmiddels door Rijkswaterstaat uitgegeven aan onderzoeken, procesmanagement e.d. rond dit project? Acht u deze uitgaven in balans met de hoogte van de verwachte investering?’

De belangrijkste vraag:
Waarom duurt de besluitvorming over de reactivering zo tergend lang, waardoor nu al bijna acht jaar de mogelijkheid om 4 miljoen kWh/jaar duurzame stroom op te wekken onbenut blijft?’

bron en copyright: energieenwater.net

Lecture for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

It was my absolute pleasure to speak before the IRENA (Internation Renewable Energy Agency) in Abu Dhabi. The IRENA a UN-sanctioned institute that is dedicated to the research of sustainable energy and the proliferation of renewables in general.

As part of my visit, a gave a lecture on ‘Future Energy Systems’ to the IRENA scholars at the Masdar Institute. The lecture as a whole has not yet been made available at the IRENA website, but should be downloadable in the foreseeable future.
For an impression of the lecture and surroundings, check out these pictures:

Jury Member of CSR event: ‘Future Leaders 2012’

It was my pleasure to see the enthusiasm and vigor of the next generation of free thinkers and entrepreneurs as part of the ‘Future Leaders 2012’ event organized by the national Dutch organisation for CSR, MVO Nederland.

As part of the expert jury, I saw several great ideas from young professionals (up to 35 years old). It was also great to see that the wife of the Dutch crown prince, HKH Máxima was so interested in sustainability. More than that, she asked some critical questions that showed she knew what she was talking about!

The presentations, photo’s and press coverage of the day can be found at the site of MVO Nederland. Below are several pictures of the day to get a feeling of the atmosphere.