Steven Wardenier – Commercial Director, Lankhorst Ropes – Netherlands
Steven Wardenier highlights Lankhorst Ropes’s role as a technology leader and partner to the global energy industry with reliable, innovative rope products with a For Life, Through Life philosophy to accompany customers throughout the entire lifetime of your products.
You’ve been at Lankhorst Ropes for a little over 13 years, and you took on this new position just a little over a year ago. What have been the major milestones since you took over the role?
I took over a well-running operation, so there was not an immediate urge on my part to change things. What I saw was a very good team that was working well, with a nice portfolio of products. I was part of forming that team – I have been in the division already for quite a few years.
Obviously, however, there are a lot of ambitions. What we want to do is develop more in certain market segments. One of these segments where we are active currently but can become even more so is heavy lift, with synthetic rather than steel wire products. This is a market that is developing, and where we have the machines to make the products, the expertise in-house to design the products, and have over the years developed a team that is strong in both design and engineering. Now we need to capture the market, which we started at the beginning of this year: we are just gearing up for it. These projects will be individually tailored for specialist operations: each product will be designed for a specific operation.
The foundation of Lankhorst Ropes goes back 250 years, but it was acquired in 2012 by American company WireCo. How has this shifted the mission and direction of the company?
I don’t think it has shifted the direction, because Lankhorst was running well and WireCo wanted us to continue on that course – their sales activities are strong in certain markets around the world and that shouldn’t change because we are on board. The reason we came together is that we both believe that having our two product assortments together gives us a fuller portfolio, which in turn gives us a much better position with both existing and new customers. Now we truly have a network that covers all the continents all over the world. In this case, one plus one equals three.
What are the strategic advantages of maintaining your HQ here in the Netherlands?
WireCo’s HQ is in Kansas City, Missouri, but we have still different operations, and for the marine side, we decided to maintain the head office here in the Netherlands because of the administration and expertise here. This business is run on the people, the experience and knowledge you have in the market. We don’t want to do anything that might put us at risk of losing any of our people, so in that line, moving head office made little sense to us.
And the company is divided into three different sections, offshore, maritime, and heavy lifting. What are the growth prospects for you in each sector?
The marine sector involves dealing with ship owners, from those that have just a couple of vessels to management companies with over 300. It is a relatively stable market – we have a good market share, a nice spread between sizes and activities of the companies, from bulk carriers, to crude oil carriers and roll on roll off. This kind of activity is influenced by the global economic situation, but in general is fairly predictable, which allows us to forecast on it.
In the offshore sector, we work purely on projects. Fortunately, there are plenty of these projects, which allows us to do good business in this sector, but if there are no projects, then there is no business. And finally, heavy lift, as I mentioned, is just getting started, but should provide us with stable opportunities in the future.
Which types of ropes are your clients demanding most today?
In general, there are those companies that buy according to price, and those that buy according to quality. We depend on the latter. We are not the cheapest in the market, and nor do we want to be. We want instead to add value and offer that value to our customers. We believe that the number of people that want to buy quality ropes will only increase in the coming years, as more people look for products that are reliable, safe to use, and can be handled by a few people. Those are our potential customers.
What is your current strategic advantage over the competition?
We have a great product, and a sales team that is very technically focused, which allows them to get involved in the application of our products, giving advice to our customers about what type of rope should be used for what purpose. We have been asked to act as consultant for a number of customers. Of course we have a very long history, but we also have many clients that have been with us for decades that act as our biggest brand ambassadors.
How do you convince your customers that synthetic fibers are a good investment?
We need to engage our customers in a conversation about total cost of ownership: our rope is some of the most expensive in the market, but by explaining that investing in this rope could save one man on deck or half an hour mooring time, or that our product will last six months longer, this is where you get the savings, and therefore the sale.
Are there new horizons you are looking at in terms of expanding the sectors where you operate?
Our group is indeed in a very well advanced stage of developing a synthetic hoisting rope for deepwater installation, together with two other companies. The three of us offer a total crane system, and the first two of these have been sold. There have been multiple trials and testing, because DNV is the party that will certify this whole system, and everything is going according to expectations and sometimes even better. If these first two systems do their job well, this will open the market. This is truly a game changer.
You have a state-of-the-art research facility and WireCo also recently invested in a pilot scale facility. How would you say that these investments in R&D will push Lankhorst Ropes to the next level?
We cannot do it without research, that’s for sure. We are in a segment where people are looking for quality, high added value products, but the technology on synthetics is of course still in its infancy. Synthetics will develop a lot, and there are lots of opportunities to develop these new ideas into products with better features.
Product development is something we do everyday, this happens almost on a sales level: we go on board, talk to the end users, and share our knowledge with our partners. The benefit is that they share what they’re looking for, what they need, what they see happening with our products, which provides feedback to our people, allowing them to modify products or develop them.
The other side is research, really fundamental research, going inside the yarns to see what kind of characteristics we can give them. On the wish list is that those yarns start talking to us, communicating with us, for example when they are overloaded, which could be done through color changes. That’s still a little way into the future, but that’s the type of development we are looking at – that’s truly research.
Why is sustainability such an important area of focus for a company like Lankhorst?
Like many companies, we sell products to make profit. But a long time ago we decided that there is more to our company than just the sale, and from that moment started tracking backwards, because we want to be in touch with our customers before they even consider making a purchase. At that stage, we want to advise them what’s in the market, which will allow them to make decisions about what winch to buy, for example – total solutions. We have been doing this for 15 years, to great success. We are also involved in after sales, which includes inspection services. Both Lankhorst and the customer can learn from these services.
How do good employee practices help improve the company?
What we aim to do, and what is happening, is have less rotation. Our people don’t leave us that easily, which is great for us: it takes a while to introduce people to the product and the history. Once the person has this information, it helps if they stick around: less rotation is good for us.
What would you like to achieve over the next five years?
I am proud of the people we have, and what we’re doing: for a long time, this was just about the ropes, but now we are looking at the bigger picture. This allows us also to focus not just on profit, but on people, and on the planet. This is something we are truly passionate about.
We want to be the technological leader in this segment, not because we are arrogant, but in the sense that this will allow us to bring innovation, the latest technology available. We want it to be known that if you really need something special, you should come to Lankhorst.