Tjeu van Roij, a born entrepreneur
Our alumni have interesting careers. Tjeu van Roij was only 17 when he left his village birthplace Bakel to study economics at Tilburg. It was a choice that brought him via interesting jobs to entrepreneurship, but it also brought him back to Tilburg. Tjeu talks about entrepreneurship as a boy’s adventure book, and the importance of personal development.
“Right after finishing high school in Bakel I moved out and into student rooms. I didn’t draw a place to do medicine, so I went to study economics in Tilburg. To begin with I roomed with a landlady, but later on I joined a study fraternity, Olof, and lived with twenty other guys in the SOS frat house. The program, and Olof, both of which I sort of rolled into by chance, both ended up meaning a lot to me. Despite the temptations of Tilburg’s night life I completed my studies in five years. I partied hard, sure – but I had the self-discipline to study hard as well.”
“Beside the fact that my personality was shaped during my studies, the university taught me how to think about things in a certain way. The analytical, abstract and somewhat detached way of approaching problems that I learned at the academic level has been very useful to me. What I missed was the link to the world of work, and that’s still clear now that I’m involved with Tilburg University again. The network I was in at the time is still important to me, and I value the connections we forged as students. I still see fellow students and frat mates regularly, both as colleagues and as personal friends.”
if you can’t share, you can’t grow
The world beckons
The freedom that Tjeu experienced in Tilburg gave him a taste for it, and he grabbed a chance to see more of the world. “I joined a Frits Philips project as a trainee in the States, in Michigan. It turned out to be a stepping stone to a job, and then to a management traineeship with DAF, where I worked in sales and marketing. I was in the Middle East for three months, and later I spent a year in Ivory Coast in Africa. When I came back to Noord-Brabant I joined Mercuri-Urval in Eindhoven as a management consultant. I was responsible for procuring big clients and for placing and assessing others. I got to meet lots of businesses in many different sectors, and I learned that before you can assess others, you have to know yourself.”
‘Learning by doing’ fueled my entrepreneurial fire
The story of Tjeu’s entrepreneurship begins when he took over his father’s company in 1991. Together with his brother he expanded the company, with Tjeu as managing director and his brother as the man with technical and purchasing knowledge. That single company became six – which they then sold, for unplanned but strategic reasons. Tjeu says of this period: “It was my first experience with the purchase and sale of a firm to a listed corporation, and later also to a large German concern. This period and ‘learning by doing’ fueled my entrepreneurial fire and my interest in private investment and private equity still further.”
Recovery and restructuring
Tjeu continued his career as an investor and entrepreneur. “To start with, I was mostly involved in corporate restructuring and recovery. I would take over a company and make any necessary structural changes to improve its profitability. Once the foundations were solid again I backed off and appointed new management. Most of these takeovers went well, and some of them were like a boy’s adventure book story! Jumping in somewhere, winning the management’s trust, and putting in the time, enthusiasm and energy it needs to turn something into a really profitable business. Developing a business like that, and above all making it healthy again, gives me an enormous thrill. And it’s fantastic to see how a company’s mood can be turned around and made positive again.”
On one occasion Tjeu admits that he took a beating. “In 2008 I bought a company, but when the building and credit crisis arrived the company quickly got into acute liquidity problems and it became impossible to make it profitable. I led the entire restructuring together with the bank – both the bankruptcy and the re-launch. It’s not something you want to happen, obviously, but even so it was a hugely instructive process.”
from my student years, my early business years, and later on privately.
Keep your feet on the ground, and make sure you can communicate with people at all levels. And: if you can’t share, you can’t grow.
Get the best out of yourself, and try to keep developing. Dare to be vulnerable.
Happiness lies in personal growth
Tjeu has had many mentors and has learned important lessons from them. “Keep your feet on the ground and make sure you can communicate with people at all levels: be respectful and nice to everyone, from the pump attendant to the CEO. And: if you can’t share, you can’t grow. So don’t be too selfish, and share with others where it matters. Happiness lies in personal growth, not in stuff. My private life has had some heavy episodes, including a divorce and the loss of my daughter Birgit. That taught me to put successes into perspective and to be grateful for the little things in life.”
Tjeu is currently CEO and co-owner of the Elcee group in Dordrecht, together with the management and Gilde Buy Out partners. He is also involved in a number of private equity investments, both directly and indirectly. “I like to sit in the driver’s seat for a while, and build a framework for action. Once everything is going well, I pull out to make room for a new CEO. Right now I’ve also noticed that I’m growing into a new role, as a coach and guide for other, often younger entrepreneurs. It was in this new coaching role that Tilburg University and I crossed paths once again. Right now I’m looking carefully at whether giving guest lectures and actively supervising students would suit me. It would be interesting to look at today’s curricula, and to be able to contribute ideas as an entrepreneur and former student. So yes, I guess you could say I’ve come full circle now that I’m back in Tilburg so much of the time.”