In ‘5 questions to …’, we ask questions to admirable persons in the seed industry. A double interview this time, where a total of 8 questions were asked to former CEO Lara Timmerman and new CEO Marc van Wanroij of Pop Vriend Seeds.
Pop Vriend Seeds is a family company situated in Andijk and one of the Seed Valley founding fathers. They are the current world market leader in spinach seeds and have breeding programms for beans, beet and swiss chard as well. What does the future hold for the company? How do you remain relevant as a ‘smaller’ business? Read the interview below.
Questions to Lara
How do you hold your own as a female CEO in a man’s world?
“As a woman, I don’t find it that difficult to hold my own. It has some advantages. There are fewer of us, so you’re recognized more quickly. I feel like I can get in anywhere quite easily. I also get the impression that I do things slightly differently. But I think the phrase ‘holding your own in a man’s world’ is actually far too loaded. Because I’ve never experienced or interpreted it that way.”
You studied public administration. Why did you choose for a career in the seed industry?
“After graduation, I moved to Boston for a job. I worked there for five years and was then transferred to a position in London. At that point my father said to me: you live so close now, don’t you want to work for the family business? Until that point I had never really thought about it, but I did have a lot of international- and commercial experience. At least those boxes were ticked. And then I had to get to grips with the green trade. It was an honour and quite a challenge for me to work in the family business, which is why I chose to start here in Andijk.”
How does a fairly small company stay relevant in the seed industry?
“I think you’re relevant as a company if you have a product that people want. We make a product that is in demand across the world. Being a small company makes a huge difference. We have specialized in a number of products, and our aim is to be or become the best in the world, in those products specifically. Over the past ten years, everything here has become so much more transparent and open, and technology and knowledge have become much more accessible and cheaper. This actually made it easier for small businesses to operate in a market with large companies.”
What was your mission during the last 20 years?
“First of all, the mission was to develop a company that makes products that growers really want. And by that I mean being more productive, improving cultivation processes. Making vegetables easier, healthier, tastier. But to go beyond that. For customers as well as for employees, so they can enjoy their work. And that for me means an honest, flexible service, focused on problem solving. And to do it all with positive energy!”
What are you going to do now that you’re stepping down as CEO?
“Well, I’ve had a great job for 20 years, but I also think it’s great that I have the chance to do something else. I’m planning to do a few training courses, start to spend more time with my kids. But I’m also an entrepreneur at heart, so I suspect I’ll end up starting up something else at some point. Profit or non-profit. I’m looking forward to what the future will bring. When one door closes, another one opens. So, we’ll see!”
Questions to Marc
How did you end up at Pop Vriend Seeds?
“I know Lara from a network. We talked about her company Pop Vriend Seeds, and the challenges that the company faces, particularly in terms of growth. I studied Food Technology at Wageningen University. What I really like about the vegetable sector is the fact that eating healthy is made easier. She was looking for a commercial director. It wasn’t long before we realized we had a lot in common. Yes, I’m new to the sector. But the great thing about Pop Vriend Seeds is that I have a lot of colleagues. They know a lot about the products and the market; I can really benefit from that.”
How have you found the transition from commercial director to CEO?
“I just started a few weeks ago. Lara has set up a wonderful company, with a wonderful corporate culture. It’s number 1 in the world for spinach. Now it’s my job to continue and build on all that good work. That will certainly be a challenge, but that’s also what I’m good at.”
What does the future hold for Pop Vriend Seeds?
“I see a great future ahead – an exciting future, filled with many exciting challenges. Thanks to the sale of Pop Vriend Seeds to KWS, we now have a new owner who is a technology expert and who also applies that technology to agricultural crops. They are particularly good at sugar beet, corn, and grains. Now that we also have access to this technology, we want to strengthen our position in the other crops we do besides spinach, such as beans, chard, beetroot, and carrot. We are going to pursue this future independently within KWS. It’s going to be a very bright future.”