Trade fairs, contacting distributors, visiting customers, and addressing technical issues; our team of JASA Export is busy. Natasja Boekel and Wim van der Meulen are JASA’s international Sales Managers. As coworkers they travel for business; as life-partners, they enjoy traveling for leisure.
What do you two do in your free time?
Natasja: “All kinds of things! Camping, reading, mountain biking, snowboarding, cooking. We go for the fun things in life.”
Wim: “We camp everywhere and nowhere; our favorite is a small camping site amidst gorgeous surroundings, which allows us to ride our bikes. Depending on our mood, we may head out for the Pyrenees or a weekend in the Ardennes. Yet, we are also very proficient in reposing on the couch!”
How did you both end up at JASA?
Wim: “Back in 1998, I was job hunting, when on a Sunday night I received a call regarding a letter that I had sent some time ago. They asked if we could meet the next day for an interview. Two days later, I was hired as an Internal Services member. A year-and-a-half later, I transferred to the export department. I worked a total of 11 years for JASA until 2009. During that period, we experienced a recession which led to a reorganization. Sadly, I was one of the people that was laid off.”
Natasja: “I started working for Hendrik van den Berg in 2001, at Mountec, an affiliated company of JASA. In 2008 JASA and Mountec merged into one company; through the merger, I got a position in JASA’s sales department. I worked there for some two-and-a-half years, after which I was ready for a new challenge, and I left JASA.”
You are both back at JASA; how did that happen?
Natasja: “Yeah, isn’t it fun! We both joined again in 2017.”
Wim: “I was working for JASA’s competitors for about ten years. Meanwhile, JASA’s Export department was getting busier. In-house they were investigating the options to manage the department the most viable way. That is when Natasja’s and my name came up.”
Natasja: “We both already very well knew the company, the market, and the machines. Additionally, working for the same company would prevent us from becoming competitors”.
Wim: “Eduard de Haan contacted both of us, and a half year later, we joined JASA once again; it felt a bit like coming home.”
Are you responsible for JASA’s Export worldwide?
Wim: “At first, we managed the export department with three people, Natasja, Ivo Luijckx, and I. We divided the world into three regions. All three of us had our region to avoid inter-company competition. On the job, we had the in-house support of Denise Baths and Tom Joosten.”
Natasja: “Meanwhile, Ivo became Product Manager, so we then divided the world between the two of us. Also, Denise changed her position and is now engaged in JASA’s marketing. I mainly focus on the markets in Europe, South Africa, China, and Israel, while Wim’s focus is mainly on North-America, South America, Russia, New-Zealand, Australia, and Korea. Tom supports us from the back-office, and on occasion, he fills in for some of my European trips.”
Are there any jobs that the two of you do together?
Natasja: “We are coworkers; on the job we don’t actually work together. We do, however, support each other in the day-to-day business.”
Wim: “Natasja is more experienced with the JASA sleever, hence I tap from her experience in that field. I have the more technical know-how, a trait Natasja can make use of. That is how we balance our interactions and make sure we are not busy reinventing the wheel.”
Natasja: “When confronted with a difficult technical issue, we still rely on the expertise of Ivo and Alex; they know the machines inside out.”
What do your jobs entail?
Natasja: “We have plenty to do, JASA Export is busy! Our most important job is to find and support distributors. The whole day through we receive queries from our distributor network for example about our machines and new developments.”
Wim: “We do our utmost to bring new distributors up to speed as fast as possible, enabling them to operate autonomously. Once they do, they hardly need our assistance. However, truly technical issues will always remain within our scope.”
Natasja: “Next to that, we visit our distributors, trade fairs, and customers. We may visit one of our distributors to assist them in convincing a prospect. That is usually the time we travel abroad again.”
Both of you travel a great deal for the job, how do you fuse that?
Wim: “There are times that I can join Natasja, for instance, to visit a trade fair in France. Other times Natasja will join me on a trip to America. Obviously, she pays her own way on those occasions. We then try to mix in a couple of days, maybe even a week of vacation. Such are the joys of the trade!”
Natasja: “When we re-joined JASA back in 2017, we openly mentioned to Eduard that we wanted to have this freedom. Now, we not only have this freedom, but it is genuinely granted to us. Part of this stems from the fact that together with Tom, we embody the entire export division. We cannot leave the ship rudderless while we go for a three-week vacation. Over the last few years, we never had a real holiday.”
Wim: “This formula works well for all parties involved.”
Have things changed due to COVID-19?
Natasja: “We stopped traveling. Wim used to take trips of up to two weeks regularly. I was regularly gone for a couple of days on business trips. Now, all of a sudden, we are both at home. At least we now find the time to answer and follow-up on our e-mails and prepare quotations. It is pretty weird though; last week I sold one of our machines for quite the amount to a customer I have never met face to face. Normally I would have visited this customer.”
Does not being able to travel hinder your jobs?
Wim: “It can surely cause hindrances. Not being able to meet face to face makes it difficult to understand and sense your customer’s needs. The facts and figures are more obscured. That constitutes the need to fully trust your local distributor. We are lucky that we can rely on them! On the job, I nowadays receive more in-depth questions originating from our local distributors as they have to fill the voids of our absence. It is fantastic how they give it their best.”
Natasja: “whenever there is a competitor in our customer’s vicinity, you immediately take second place. Any physically closer competitor can react much faster than what we can achieve from a distance.”
What are usually the most significant challenges for JASA Export?
Natasja: “Being able to interpret the customer’s factual need, and finding the best solution for that need. The challenge is often the distributor who is in between our customer and us. We have to ensure that the distributor clearly reflects the customer’s requirements and not what the distributor thinks the customer requires. This is so much easier when you are in the Netherlands and can pay a visit to your customer.”
Wim: “clearly conveying the possibilities and more importantly the impossibilities are of vital importance. At JASA, we aim to sell and deliver only the machines that our customers really need. This strategy demands that we have to ask our customers about the need for certain accessories. In contrast, we need to clearly explain what those accessories can imply in terms of overall cost, a more complicated machine, or possibly a slower performance.”
What is the coolest aspect of the export department?
Natasja: “The business trips, talking to different people and not knowing where you will find yourself by the end of the day. At times, you will find yourself lodging in a crappy hotel; at another time, you are invited to stay at your customer's home. The element of surprise is always present. One time I visited a potato packaging company in the middle of nowhere in South Africa. These people were so happy with my visit that when I departed, they sent me home with a bottle of wine! How cool is that!”
Wim: “You experience the most wonderful things. Once, on a beautiful summer day in Finland, I visited a client only to get his signature. However, when I arrived, he took pride in showing me his company. After the tour, his wife lit up the barbeque, and we spent the next few hours eating and talking about life. Then five minutes before I had to leave to catch my flight, the man ordered a machine. I later found out that he wanted to test my integrity before placing his order. Those are the kind of experiences that make the job worthwhile. Yet, it is not always wine and roses. Occasionally we also have to visit clients who are not so content and who will hand you a full bucket of misery. Then you’ll end up having a rough day.”
You are both working in export for quite some time, how is that?
Natasja: “We work with the same distributors for 20 years. During my time at Mountec, we shared the same network, and I have quite a history with some of them. The interaction with this group of people is practically based on friendship. I visit them at their homes, where we might even share a meal. That is really special; these are the people with whom you not only talk shop, you can actually engage in a heart-to-heart with them.
Wim: “For us, that’s all in a day's work!”
You are doing this job as a couple, what is that like?
Natasja: “People are sometimes amazed, wondering how we pull it off to work so closely together. To us, it is all-natural. Twenty-eight years ago, we met as teammates working in a restaurant in an amusement park; that’s how it all started. Clearly, this is a different setting, and we gave it a lot of thought on whether or not we wanted to be working together this close again. Yet, we both felt good about it, and today we still truly enjoy it!”
Wim: “We work great together and find it wonderful that we both travel so much. We love the fact that we can do this together and share our expertise in the field. The two of us, we live through everything together.”
Do the two of you ever talk about anything else but work?
Wim: “to my mind, I feel that since we are working for the same company, we can detach ourselves from the job when we are at home, more so than when we worked for different companies.
Natasja: “During the day, the job is all we talk about; hence there is no need to bring that home with us.
A matter of choice
Coffee or tea?
Natasja: “Tea, preferably Earl Grey.”
Wim: “Coffee. Double espressos in large quantities.”
Mountains or the beach?
Both: “Mountains! Perfect for hiking and biking.”
Couch surfing or outings?
Wim: “Oh, that’s a tough one!”
Natasja, laughing: “50/50!”
Study or on-the-job training?
Both: “On the job training.”
Dog or cat?
Wim: “Again, a tough one. If it weren’t for our jobs and we would spend more time at home, we would have a dog and a cat. Traveling, however, prevents us from keeping pets.”
Natasja: “Cat. We are both animal lovers, but for us, it is unrealistic to keep pets.”
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