Anne Verstraeten 7

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To get straight to the point, how did you meet?

Jo: In a hayloft! [Laughter]
Anne: [rolls her eyes] ] No, no … in the youth movement, the KLJ [ed. Katholieke Landelijke Jeugd – Catholic Rural Youth]. We must have been about 16 years old when we first met.

Was it “love at first sight”?

Jo: Gosh, for me it was, but not so much for Anne. I really had to put a lot of effort in.
Anne: That’s true. I gave him a bit of a run-around [laughs].
Jo: I saw Anne for the first time and I said to myself: “She’s the one for me!”
Anne: We always went out with the same group of friends. Several couples were formed as a result of that.
Jo: All the “Van Moerkes” were in the KLJ. The 3 cousins started a relationship with 3 sisters.
Anne: We were together from the age of 16.
Jo: There were times when it didn’t go so well. She ‘kicked’ me out once [everyone laughs]. In the end, I was allowed to stay …

Anne, what attracted you to Jo?

Anne: His drive, spontaneity and honesty. He was very sociable too. And back then he still had long hair as well.
Jo: Yeah, I’m glad you didn’t start with … my hair [Everyone laughs].

Jo, what attracted you to Anne?

Jo: Anne was of course a beautiful girl, but I was also attracted by her perseverance. She was already a fighter back then. Anne worked from the age of 14 every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at a bakery. She was always working, always very driven in everything she did. The KLJ would organise sports parties and in the running contests Anne always had to win, because she couldn't stand losing.
Anne: That work ethic was ingrained in both of us. Jo worked with his parents for the company.
Jo: At home work was all I knew; there was no such thing as time off. When we went out, my dad gave us some freedom, but the next morning he was by our bedside. We didn't dare argue about it.
Anne: That’s so true, we have never known anything but “work”. Onward and forward was the message.

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An extremely strong woman …

So, when did you start working together?

Anne: Jo set up a small business in 1990, Van Moer & Co, a transport company. I worked at one of the port corporations from the age of 18. Three years later, I replaced a clerk who worked with Jo but was on maternity leave, and I stayed …
Jo: We worked hard then. I drove the lorry, Anne did the planning.

How did that go?

Jo: The fights we had, so many arguments! Cor. I have to admit, I was a ‘raging’ bull. I could easily get worked up about things.
Anne: Shouting and screaming, that happened once😊.
Jo: Anne sent me on a trip in my truck to very wide-ranging destinations, literally. Then I called from a phone booth – there were no cell phones yet – to ask where I had to go and then she sent me to the other side of the country. She said, It's only 10 cm on the map …
Anne: [unperturbed] We plotted everything on physical maps. That sometimes went wrong and Jo was left to deal with the fall-out. [Laughs]
Jo: Anne was really self-reliant. She often called German customers without actually being able to speak German. I wouldn't have dared. Anne wasn’t afraid of anything. She had guts, and she worked day and night with the phone next to her bed. A strong lady.

Good times?

Jo: For sure, but it was a completely different time. Anything was possible. We learned a lot. And sometimes that was necessary. [Laughs]

And then Jens and Brent came, one right after the other. How do you combine two small children with growing a business?

Anne: How did it go? I gave birth, 4 days in the clinic and on the 5th day I was back at work.
Jo: That's exactly how it happened. And she worked right up until the birth … she's extraordinary, our Anne.
Brent: Our mum started work every day at 6 am. She woke us up, got our breakfast ready, and then we went with her to the office in our pyjamas. Afterwards Mum dropped us off at school, Grandma picked us up and then dropped us off at football. Grandpa picked us up later. And at 8 pm Mum picked us up from our grandparents. It took a lot of arranging.
Anne: And Grandma signed their school diaries …
Brent: … and our detentions. Which was perfect for us 😊.

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“Hard work is always rewarded”

A little later in 1997, you had to deal with a fire at your business. Your house went up in flames too. Then you think … finito?

Anne: That was frightening, but even then we didn’t just sit back. Nor could we. Jens was eight months old and I was pregnant with Brent. We had to put food on the table😊. We just bought a caravan and carried on.
Jo: We lived for one year and a half in that small caravan with two babies, with an office container next door where we put the washing machine and the tumble dryer.
Jens: I can’t remember much about it anymore. Except that we lived ‘above the office’. Our living room later became the meeting room.

You never thought, “What are we doing?”

Anne: We didn’t have a choice, did we. We just did it.
Jo: Our work was there. For us, that was the only way.
Anne: For a long time we took showers in the truckers’ bathrooms.
Jens: We often walked around naked in the offices while Mum did the planning.

Jens and Brent, you never missed your Mum?

Brent: No, not really. She’s always been there for us. Even though we may not always have seen her. She was there for us. She couldn't, and still can’t, say ‘no’. She always did everything she could … And more.
Jo: Nothing was too much. In the meantime, she also organised the work events, and after the party, when everyone else had gone home, she also cleaned up. She was at it 7 days a week.
Brent: We never saw our Mum watching a TV series or anything like that, did we. When I say that to friends, they don’t believe me.
Brent: So when we were sitting watching TV in the evening, she snuck back to the computer to do the payroll processing or whatever. She didn't stop in the weekends either. And never complained.
Anne: I have that drive in me, it’s true.
Brent: She brought us up with the motto ‘Hard work is always rewarded’. And it is. We are still reaping the benefits of that mentality today.

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And how was your childhood?

Jens: We grew up to be very independent. From a very young age we cycled to school and we quickly had to stand on our own two feet.
Brent: All our family was in the same boat. That’s how we grew up. All our uncles and aunts are like that, all entrepreneurs, all hard workers.
Jens: We lived together with our cousins on one street. And we were all in the KLJ too. In those haylofts [everyone bursts out laughing].
Brent: We grew up in a business park! [laughs]
Anne: Yes, the whole family did live close together.
Jo: From the age of four or five they drove with us in the trucks.
Brent: We actually quite liked it.
Jo: In fact, that’s exactly how I grew up. And how my father grew up. That was perhaps even tougher. When he was 10 years old, as the son of a farmer, he worked a horse and plough until late in the evening. At ten years old, right.
Brent: Our mother once enrolled us in a summer camp. It was hell. We really hated it. All our peers looked forward to it, but we preferred driving in the truck. For the rest of the time, life was played out in ‘the yard’.
Jens: We also worked for our uncle a lot. But our father did tell him not to pay us [Jo laughs]. We didn’t like that, but that’s how our dad wanted it.
Jo: I’m an emotional person, but I can also be very strict. I got that from my father.
Brent: That’s so true. We knew very quickly that something was wrong when he was angry. Then we kept quiet😊.
Jens: Our dad could be hard as nails. He had no compassion for us.

That hard work is really in the genes, isn't it.

Jens: To a certain extent, yes, but today you can’t really compare it with what my parents did. That was extreme.
Jo: He says that, but he also starts work at 5 am every day.

Working hard, but also taking risks?

Anne: Yes, Jo is a real entrepreneur. If there were any problems, he immediately looked for solutions and on top of that, he was daring. Sometimes too daring …
Jo: I went to a truck show to buy a truck. That’s when Anne applied the brakes. “No, Jo, you're not buying one.” And then I bought four [laughs]. But instead of being angry (well, just briefly in the beginning), she worked her socks off to make those trucks work for us. Our Anne has always been that way. Whatever I came up with. She stood by me and did all she could to make it work.
Anne: Jo once bought about 20 trucks from a company that had gone bankrupt. The next day the parking lot was full of drivers and there was no work for them [laughs]. He could be very impulsive. I spent a lot of time sweating …
Jo: We took on all kinds of jobs. At one point we worked for Georgians who imported all manner of trinkets, destined for the then infamous Falconplein in Antwerp. It was all new to us, but fortunately it all worked out well.

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Back from zero …

Like in 2008?

Jo: Absolutely, there was a really deep economic crisis, and we were almost forced to sell the business.
Anne: That went wrong and they said to us: “Prepare yourself for the worst”.
Jo: We had to choose between selling up or putting every last cent of our own money into it. A lot of couples would have thrown in the towel, but not our Anne. She was always moving forwards. So we put in everything we’d been saving for the last 18 years, and I mean everything, into the business.
Anne: We even sold our house and actually started back from zero.

Jens and Brent, what was your experience of this time?

Jens: It was normal for us …
Brent: I didn’t realise what my parents did until I went to a girlfriend’s home. Then you suddenly notice that it’s very different for someone else. For example, they all wait until everyone is home before eating. I thought that was peculiar😊. At our house, you ate when you came home. That’s how we grew up. You realise then … maybe it’s just that we’re peculiar [laughs].

Where would Van Moer Logistics be today without Anne?

Jo: That’s the easiest question of all. It would NOT have existed. Or at least not in its current form. Anne has always supported me 100%. Put someone else next to me, and after two weeks, they would say, “What kind of person are you?” Hahahahaha.
Brent: That’s true, he's not an easy person.
Jens: Dad is stubborn. Mum is the only one who can handle him😊.
Jens: And you shouldn’t underestimate the role that our Mum played, as a woman in the transport sector … Certainly not in the early years. Mum forced respect from the drivers. She made them work hard, but she could do that because they saw her doing it too. That’s why she could sometimes give them a hard time. They accepted it from her.

What has been the secret of your success?

Jo: Just keep going. There were three or four times when we nearly went under, even did go under. And then persevere, don’t give up. Even when everyone said we would never recover, we were stubborn and we persevered. You have to have good support. I once cried like a little kid in a container. Tired, broken … But Anne was always there to give me courage, or Steven Pauwels, my right hand man who said: “Come on Jo, everything will be fine, just keep going.”
Anne: Being there for each other is something that is inherent to our family, but also to our company.

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Complementary team

Jo: I think that’s it. We are two exceptionally motivated people with a strong character.
Anne: If one of us two hadn’t had that, it wouldn’t have worked. And yes, I’m stronger than you [Anne looks sternly at Jo. Jo, Jens and Brent burst out laughing].
Jens: It’s true!
Jo: You know, we’ve always worked separately. If we’d had to sit in the same office every day, wow, that really wouldn’t have worked. In fact, our roles have always been well defined.
Anne: Jo is more the man with the vision. I’m more hands-on and I try to help Jo to accomplish that vision as much as possible. We’re very complementary in this respect. Which is just as well, because two stubborn decision-makers side by side wouldn’t work. We are a strong team.
Jo: That’s why when people talk about our company, I’m more often in the spotlight. But the part Anne plays is at least as important. I want to emphasise this once again.
Anne: I’m not someone who likes to be the centre of attention.
Jens: That’s true. So, interviews like this are really something she dreads!
Jo: I’m like that too by nature, but I do it for our business. I know it’s important to show your face to the outside world. I had to learn that by trial and error. I’m an open book, and sometimes that can work against you.
Brent: He’s a good raconteur, but at the same time he is very honest. Sometimes too honest.

Are you still making decisions like you used to?

Jo: No, that’s no longer possible. In the early days, we used to ‘take leaps’ more often. Now it’s much more rational. With Ackermans & van Haaren [investment company] on board, everything runs more according to procedures. Which is good.
Anne: But we still do some pretty amazing things.
Jo: That’s right. When there’s a takeover, we always justify our plans thoroughly in consultation with Ackermans. There’s a lot of consultation beforehand, but as soon as we get the green light we do everything we can to make it a success and make the transition as smooth as possible. That still gives me a huge amount of satisfaction.
Anne: It’s a matter of conveying our culture. Once that succeeds, we’re usually good to go.
Jo: Not easy, but our people are as motivated as we are to make it succeed. They have the same enthusiasm. What’s the secret? That we can translate our enthusiasm to our people, I think.
Anne: And that we’re also very grateful for what they do every day.

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Jens and Brent, you have chosen different paths for the time being. Jens, you as an entrepreneur in your own company [rental of semi-trailers] and Brent you as a top athlete in cycling [Lotto-Dstny]. Do you have any ambitions to be part of Van Moer Logistics one day?

Jens: Not me. I have my own firm where things are really taking off. We’re growing fast, there’s a lot of work and that’s really great.

Do you do it with the same drive as your parents?

Jens: Yes, but yet there’s a difference, I have to be honest about that. I couldn’t do it either, working with so many people. In the rental business that’s not necessary, which is a good thing. You always have a clear overview of everything, but for my parents … That sort of scale is not my thing.
Jo: He works hard for his own project and I’m glad for him that he’s doing so well.

What about you, Brent?

Brent: My focus is obviously on cycling right now. That’s all there is for me at this point in time. But I have to admit that I’ve always dreamed of working at Van Moer Logistics and continuing the work of my parents. I plan to start with the same amount of dedication after my cycling career. I want to achieve things in my life. In cycling, but also afterwards. It has to do with passion, enjoying what you do. People sometimes say to me when referring to my cycling career: “How do you do that, suffer so much, get on your bike every day and put in all those kilometres?” It’s something I love doing … Jens has also found his passion, with his company and with his horses (Jens is also a successful horse breeder).

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Big shoes to fill

Are you proud of what your parents have accomplished?

Jens: What do you think? Super proud. What they’ve done is very special. Other children of entrepreneurs might still say: “I want to do better than my parents”. In our case, that’s impossible. Those are big shoes to fill.
Jo: It’s no longer possible to do the same thing from scratch any longer, that’s true. But that has more to do with the fact that we live in different times. It’s still possible to make Van Moer Logistics even more successful.
Brent: Yes, walking forward in those shoes and climbing mountains is still possible😊.

And specifically your Mum?

Brent: Hats off to her for what she’s done for us all her life.
Jens: You can say that again.
Anne: Our boys once wrote a beautiful text for us that they recited at a party, 14 years ago.
Brent: I still know that text by heart!
Jo & Anne: What?! How is that possible?

Brent surprises everyone and begins: Dearest Mum and Dad, see us standing here now. Still so young and inexperienced, but I want to tell you something. When the work is done, we are free, but for our mother there’s always an hour more. When I’m ill, you stand by our bedside … er …

Jo: Amazing! That you still know that … I still remember it. Then we bawled our eyes out!
Jens: Yes, even though they were very strict with us, we have always been an emotional and warm family. And Mum was and is a very good mother.

Impressive lady?

Jens: We sometimes say to each other: We haven’t found a woman like our mother yet.
Jo [laughs]: He’s still looking!
Jens: They no longer exist. They don’t make them like that anymore.
Brent: That much is true.