Karel van Wijk: Conquering the world out of his own kitchen

“I can quit whenever I want. That thought gives me peace of mind, joy in my work and certainty”

Karel van Wijk embodies the modern-day tale of David and Goliath: he made his company, Advanced Valve Solutions successfully compete with the largest players in the energy industry, with the sale to the Swedish tech giant Addtech as his final achievement. 65 years ago, Karel van Wijk was born with a big heart for commerce and engineering, and a special spot for mechanical engineering. After a thorough education in this field, he started his career at stock-keeping commercial manufacturers of boilers.

Standing on his own two feet

After this career, Karel felt that he had worked for employers long enough. “I was attracted to engineering as well as the application and execution and this made me excited to work on solutions for complex issues; in other words, tailor-made solutions.” In 1998, Karel founded Advanced Valve Solutions (AVS). The company provided engineered solutions: valve systems, targeting different end markets, among which nuclear, coal-fired and gas-fired power stations, waste-to-energy plants and other industries like the chemical industry. A very specific market, with which Karel had fifteen years of experience.

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Founding a company from the kitchen

He agrees that starting his own business – at first out of his own kitchen – was a big step. But with ambition, great trust in his own abilities, a substantial network in England and the Benelux region and the support of his wife, nothing stood in the way of his success. “It didn’t take long before the company was up and running and I had to start hiring people.” The established network, combined with Karel’s solution-oriented approach proved to pave the way to greater success. “AVS was innovative and creative. We provided our customers with a complete solution. I knew my way around this world and I knew what I was talking about. My favourite thing was working out a solution together with a customer or prospect. In the area of process engineering, valves and control valves we, as a company, had great added value. More often than not, I was able to convince others of our technical knowledge and our capacity to provide input in order to arrive at a solution. ‘In thirty minutes, you have made more sense than a lot of larger competitors have in several years,’ a customer once told me after the first meeting. This approach made us popular and successful.”

Strengthening the foundation

Together with AVS’ continuous growth, came the realisation that the company needed to professionalise and strengthen its foundation. “The growth of a company involves more than you think. The sales and marketing departments are essential but a professional accounting department, and good service and order processing are just as important. Having enough good staff members in these departments is indispensable. The next step was setting up offices abroad, like England, America and, recently, in the Middle East. The international aspect is very interesting. Each market has very different USPs. And the next, even broader, market approach is on the horizon.

A life after AVS

Around his sixtieth birthday, the entrepreneur started thinking about his life after AVS. “I was still brimming with energy, but I increasingly realised that there had to come a time to transfer AVS. I preferred selling AVS to a partner that could safeguard the independence and continuity of the company, as well as the job satisfaction of our people. An internationally oriented partner with a feeling for engineering, technology and commerce, that could also support further growth, was the ideal picture.” Thorough research into finding the right M&A specialist to advise on the process led to Marktlink. “It was a long process leading up to the sale, even though there was more than enough interest. This made sense: AVS has a unique proposition and the energy sector is constantly changing. I talked to a lot of interested parties that seemed to be the right fit. In the end, the best partner proved to be listed company Addtech from Sweden. Closing the deal happened at a record pace.”

Is his life any different after the acquisition? He laughs. “Not really. I am still very involved with AVS. We participate in trade fairs and organise seminars for customers; I still very much enjoy doing that. I also still work on the marketing and sales strategy. But there’s one big difference: I can quit if I want to. And then: breathing new life into my old hobby, metal forging, spending more time with my family and at our house on the island of Texel and taking long trips on my motorbike. That thought gives me peace of mind, joy in my work and certainty.”

Keep your ego in check

Karel learned a lot from nearly 25 years of entrepreneurship. He is generous in sharing his most important lessons: keep your ego in check – not everything is about you. Involve your staff, celebrate successes and trust others with responsibilities. Build a close-knit team. Be generous. Invest in the education and growth of your staff. And: invest in good people – it pays for itself. If your organisation is manned by qualified people, then you can occupy yourself with the things that you do best: which in my case is marketing and sales. Then life will become one big party!”

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