GWYNT and the balance between professionalism and entrepreneurship

26 February 2021

26 February 2021

Dirk Harm Eijssen started consulting firm GWYNT, which is Celtic for “fresh wind,” 15 years ago with his business partner Joris van den Hurk. And that is exactly what they do: they bring a breath of fresh air to (family) businesses that want or need to change and help owners realize their dreams by sustainably improving performance. GWYNT currently consists of about 20 employees, making it the largest family business consulting firm in the Benelux.

A breath of fresh air can never hurt your business. However, GWYNT is primarily called upon when something really needs to be done. For example, when a company is stagnating, just growing tremendously in a short period of time, or is in the process of the next generation taking over the business. So how do you deal with that as a family and business owner? Eijssen: “We want to help companies realize change based on our substantive expertise and the dynamics of the family business. We understand the industry and we know what’s going on: in the market and from management to the shop floor.”

Entrepreneurial family businesses as a driving force

Although GWYNT initially targeted all entrepreneurial businesses within the food, retail and industrial sectors, today its focus is primarily on family and DGA businesses within these industries. “From the beginning, we said: we want to work for business owners. We want to feel that the company is more than something where managers make careers. Something they put their passion, heart and soul into.” Along the way, Eijssen and Van den Hurk have increasingly delved into change management, the professionalization and maintenance of entrepreneurship within specifically family businesses and the role of external management in this. “We saw with many family businesses that they wanted to professionalize operations and in the process brought in people from outside who in retrospect were not always a good fit for the organization.” As GWYNT increasingly entered the world of family businesses, it was decided to become the consulting firm for the larger and ambitious family and DGA businesses.

The new generations face major issues

Major issues and themes in which GWYNT comes to the rescue include the new generation taking over the business from the previous generation and wanting to continue it successfully, but at the same time moving with the times in terms of sustainability and digitalization. Strategies are sharpened or sometimes completely revised so that the entry of the new generation fits their future plans and in a world that is changing rapidly. This requires choices to be made in the company and, in addition to a different kind of organization, this often requires different people. “We regularly encounter companies that are managed primarily from intuition. The challenge is to additionally start managing the company from objectives and objectivity.”

Making family values hard

To bring in a breath of fresh air, the main focus from the board is on strategy and the most important issue: “What is our DNA, what are our family values and how do we translate that into concrete company values? Regarding family values, Eijssen does notice something. “Every family business says family values are important, but then when you ask them what exactly those family values are, they often remain silent. Family values are important, but make them concrete and, above all, translate them into company values.”

Recently, Eijssen experienced a fine example of values that do get solidified. “One owner of a company in the food industry told me that it is really important to him that the origin of all the ingredients they use is clear and that they do not haggle with this. If the market forces him to haggle, he will sell his company. Purely because he wants to make only honest products. That, of course, is a very clear story to share with people, from management to the factory.”

Long-term future through clear direction

Families and their boards often indicate that the continuity of the business is paramount, with statements such as, “We don’t think in years, but in generations. “A very nice premise, of course, but often the strategy to ensure this continuity is not sufficiently concrete.” Especially in these times of uncertainty, digitalization and exponential growth, it is important for family businesses to develop and implement a strategy that maximizes the chances of continuity.

The challenge: finding a balance between professionalization and entrepreneurship

Another important aspect is the balance between professionalizing while remaining entrepreneurial. “If a company strays too far into professionalization, you end up with a bureaucratic process-oriented company, when that is exactly what you don’t want. On the other hand, if you are too entrepreneurial, you often see that companies have all kinds of ideas, but then it gets stuck in the business. Or that it takes so much power and energy that they can’t make it profitable.”

GWYNT helps the family business, to find this balance and set a steady course. “One that both family and company see themselves in.”