Paint it Green: Marlies van Wijhe, CEO of Koninklijke Van Wijhe Verf

by Allen Esrock | Jun 13, 2024 | Celebrating Family Business

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As humanity progresses, so does business ethics in various industries all across the globe. Whereas profit was once at the forefront of every business owner’s mind — and still is, to be fair — it is not the only priority. Many tradition-bound businesses, primarily family businesses, are now including sustainability in their long-term goals. Good for them, even better for the environment.

Some companies have taken it a step further than others by including sustainability practices and standards at the core of their business model, mandating considerable adjustments to the organization’s supply chain, governance, and culture. One such company is Koninklijke Van Wijhe Verf, a Dutch paint manufacturing company.

Family Business History

Commonly known as Van Wijhe Verf or Royal Van Wijhe Verf, the company was founded in 1916 by D.H. van Wijhe Sr. Since then, the company has been family-owned for generations. Interior and outdoor paints, wood coatings, and industrial coatings are just a few of the paint and coating products that Van Wijhe Verf offers. In the building and painting industries, they serve both customers and experts.

According to the company’s website, the company has a drive for sustainability and innovation. Additionally, they claim that, as a family business, “We do not think in terms of annual figures, but in terms of generations. […] We want to leave this world a little more beautiful for everyone who comes after us.”

In recognition of its long history and contributions to the industry, the Dutch monarchy granted the company the “Koninklijke” (Royal) designation. This title signifies the company’s special status and its close ties with the Dutch royal family. The company was also the first of its kind to be awarded the B Corp Status, an accreditation that guarantees performance, accountability, and transparency through ESG metrics.

Their ad campaign says it best, “We think in generations. Paint renews. Paint protects. With every paint job, you preserve what needs to be preserved and embellish what may be more beautiful. Paint stands for the future, just like we do.”

Clear (Carbon) Footprints in the Sand

Committed to its promise of sustainability and a greener way of running the family business, Van Wijhe Verf has shown a commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. To reduce their environmental impact, they have developed several eco-friendly and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) products.

The business has also put a lot of effort into research and development over the years to create premium paint solutions. They make an effort to stay current with consumer tastes and industry trends.

In a statement about its sustainability efforts, the Dutch paint company states, “Urgent environmental and climate problems require all of us to work more sustainably. Our products and our way of working need to be more economical and smarter. […] That is why we take sustainability seriously and see it as an opportunity to renew our company and the paint sector.”

Royal Van Wijhe Verf continues to combine traditional craftsmanship with the latest techniques and insights. This is how they bring together trusted and top-quality products and the required sustainability to create them. Though based in the Netherlands, Van Wijhe Verf has expanded its market presence internationally, supplying its products to various countries around the world.

Woman-in-Charge

With Marlies van Wijhe serving as general manager since 2000, the Royal Van Wijhe Verf has been led by the fourth generation. What is the core conviction she upholds? “No modern, sustainable future without a healthy dose of innovation.”

In addition to sustainability in creating their paint products, this CEO is also a firm believer that innovation cannot be imposed from the very top but must organically flow throughout the entire organization because no job position is too small or too insignificant to make a change. Marlies van Wijhe adds, “That is why we invest in people and encourage everyone to get the best out of themselves and the company. […] Committed and proud employees are the basis of our being and our continued existence.”

Marlies would supervise the company’s strategic direction, business operations, and expansion plans in her capacity as CEO of Royal Van Wijhe Verf. The corporation may have put more of an emphasis on sustainability, innovation, and growing its domestic and global market presence under her leadership.

Sustainability is the Key

In an interview with Women in Family Business, an organization that promotes — you guessed it — women in family businesses, Marlies was asked what she thought of many other businesses aiming for an ESG accreditation despite having no sustainable efforts at the beginning of their business. The CEO answered that sustainability is not a one-man job and no manager or supervisor should get the credit alone, should a business decide to go down the sustainability route.

According to her, the top management has to be involved on all fronts all the time. Marlies goes on to say she is a “driver” and loves to think of ways to further innovate, but she never does it alone. “[…] You have to have someone who is enthusiastic about it and you have to try to get your whole company with you. I think I had some help with my green team. My green team is a team of young people that help me to get sustainability more in the veins of our company.”

Additionally, when Marlies was asked what the secret was to a family business that has withstood the test of time is to “look at your business into the future.” If you are a family business now, you have to take immediate steps to transition as soon as you can. According to her, the business strategy has to be focused on a sustainable future. That’s the very first step.

Another golden nugget of advise from Marlies is, “You have to have fun in what you do and create new things and do that sustainability. I think you have to find the fun. That is the answer. Find the fun of doing it because sustainability is a serious business, but it can also be a lot of fun.”

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.