Ward Grootjans of Canyon Bicycles: “You have to live the product you sell”

As schools are closing for summer, the Dutch city of Utrecht is preparing for the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in July. So it is no coincidence that I spoke with Ward Grootjans, head of business development and business intelligence for Canyon Bicycles in Koblenz, Germany.

sportograf-55249951Grootjans, an alumnus of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, is a fanatical cyclist who bikes at least 10,000 km annually. “No sport is as heroic as cycling,” he says, “because you face all of natures challenges: rain, wind, snow, sun, climbing and descending.”

It was his passion for cycling—and a bit of luck—that brought him to Canyon. His former employer, Accenture, sent him to many different companies to visit clients. When one of his clients needed a new bike, Grootjans helped him select the most suitable Canyon.

As a passionate cyclist, he knows a lot about bikes and already owned a Canyon. While selecting that bike online, he saw a job opening at Canyon as head of international market development and decided to go for it. A few months later, he joined the company.

Culture change
That was 4.5 years ago, and the transfer from Accenture to Canyon was quite a big one. Grootjans had to adapt from the consulting culture with suit and all to a sport loving culture. At Accenture people would go for a drink on Friday afternoon; at Canyon they go for a bike ride.

And he also had to adapt to the German business culture, which he says has a stricter hierarchy and a different decision making culture: the Dutch “make their way as they go” while the Germans “research and than decide.”

The atmosphere at Canyon breathes cycling. The median age of employees is 32, most conversations concern bicycling and it will come as no surprise that 50 colleagues biked the Velothon in Berlin. There is a bike in Grootjans’ office, ready to go for a spin.

Doing what you do best
Grootjans has learned a lot since he joined Canyon. “Most people strive for more. Like bigger teams to manage, etc.,” he says. “Last year, almost 250 people reported to me and it wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. I learned to focus on what I really like to do, what I am good at and what gives me energy. That’s when I chose to lead the newly founded business development and business intelligence department.”

Canyon’s DNA is to develop the worlds best bike. As Canyon controls the supply chain from beginning to end, every part has to deliver its best. This approach is obviously working, as the company grew from 250 to 650 employees in the past 5 years. Their bikes go almost all over the world.

The biggest challenge for Grootjans’ team is to keep their eyes on the customer. Fast growing companies have a tendency to turn inwards and focus on internal processes. His goal is to use information to serve the customer better. “If we know what a customer wants and needs we can adapt our offering to every single individual.”

Canyon and the Tour de France
With the Tour de France, high season is about to start for bicycling. Canyon has a strong connection with the Tour. It sponsors two pro-tour teams: Movistar and Katusha. Based on rider preference and the course of a particular race, the riders can choose from three Canyon bikes.

Grootjans is at work during the Tour. “We have TV screens in the office, but for us it is high season as well,” he says. “We sell lots of bikes during this period and gain a lot of exposure during the Tour. And we need to be very responsive if something happens with our teams or bikes.” He is sure the Canyon teams will win many stages of the Tour and one of its riders might even win the Tour.

Focus on what you do best
In his study, he tells me it prepared him in many ways for the challenges ahead. It taught him to decipher problems, analyze the root-cause and solve it. “Working is not making decisions on your own, it’s about building a team, about communicating and taking decisions together. When you graduate you have proven to be a successful student. Now you have to prove you can add value to the company you work for! That becomes easier if you turn your passion into your work. And focus on what you do best.”

Grootjans invites readers who are passionate about cycling to keep an eye on career opportunities at Canyon.

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