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.

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