A journey with Walter Hottinga, CEO Amsterdam: ‘I offer surprisingly simple solutions for your challenges’
Early in the week, the office of foryouandyourcustomers along the picturesque Keizersgracht in Amsterdam is abuzz: the first guests have arrived to take part in the Business Breakfast and discuss the topic of ‘Data, and so what?’ In the relaxed atmosphere over breakfast, those present talk shop as well as discuss personal experiences. Among them, a cheerful Walter Hottinga is clearly excited for what’s to come: the CEO of foryouandyourcustomers Amsterdam will soon open his first business event at the office and guide participants through the itinerary. The next stage of his personal and professional journey can begin.
In conversation with the father of three, it quickly becomes clear that the avid traveller has been on many journeys. As Hottinga tells it, ‘My work for and with our clients and their customers is a bit like going on a trip. I take people into perhaps completely unknown territory and offer them new perspectives. During our “journey” the time we spend together helps to forge trust-based, usually long-term relationships. And most importantly, in showing them the possibilities, I provide clarity, so we’re able to create something of value and experience what makes us grow as human beings. That is my strength and it drives my day-to-day work.’ He adds with a wink: ‘I’m actually just something of a one trick pony.’
It’s a brief throwaway from the conversation with the CEO, but the offhand comment reveals a lot about Walter Hottinga – the man, the coach and the businessman: he has a sense of humour and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He values human connection, trust and personal integrity much more – these values are firmly rooted in his thoughts and reflected in his actions towards both his employees as well as his customers. ‘If I go into a company or visit a customer, for example, and I’m confronted with a certain topic, ideas or even problems in a project, that’s where my talent really has a chance to shine.’ Or as he puts it in his profile on the foryouandyourcustomers website:
‘I help you develop new perspectives for your current challenges and create surprisingly simple solutions. I’m an expert at helping you build teams, organisations and processes that deliver results. Not just once, but again and again, with passion and purpose.’
Hottinga achieves this, he says, ‘because as people have often told me about myself in the past, I can take in an unbelievably complex amount of images and things in literally seconds and then call on them for the next specific step. And in the course of this, I empower people to take the next step on their own. That’s why I work in business and coaching, why employers have hired me in the past and why customers have appreciated me,’ he adds after a brief pause, getting comfortable in his chair with a small bottle of water.
It’s an opinion that is shared by long-standing companions of the CEO, like Mark Verver, Senior Enterprise Account Manager at Adobe, who once described his partnership with Walter Hottinga like so:
‘Walter is an excellent coach and entrepreneur. His analytical and strategic skills exceed anything else I have seen. He’s able to translate extremely complex problems into very manageable steps. Walter can make any vision come to life. With him, I feel empowered to take the next steps. I had the honour of working with him to forge a partnership between Mirabeau and Adobe. And in the process, a very fruitful relationship developed on a personal level, which has been mutually successful. I am glad to have Walter in my life as a friend and as a business partner.’
‘Walter is an excellent coach and entrepreneur. His analytical and strategic skills exceed anything else I have ever seen. He’s able to translate extremely complex problems into very manageable steps. Walter can make any vision come to life.’
Walter Hottinga comes across as competent and confident, and you get a clear sense of the empathy with which he approaches others, his deep conviction and his passion for his work. ‘My approach to helping our customers is the same, no matter what the company, how big it is or what the project is. When I met Jonathan Moeller, the founder of foryouandyourcustomers, I found a person with an impressive intellect, someone who comes up with fantastic concepts, like the Exploded View, for example. It’s a model of different levels, which fits in perfectly with my own understanding and my way of working with our customers. I’ll give you an example: one of the many things I’ve learned on my countless travels – or to be more exact, when I was studying Kabbalah in Guatemala – is that the solution to a problem is never at the level where you actually see the problem. The solution is always one level deeper, or even the level after that.’ The fundamental problem in a lot of organisations, according to Hottinga, is often ‘that they usually have a hierarchical, silo-like structure. Employees either are not authorised or do not feel able to leave their own level to find a solution to a problem. But that is exactly what’s needed. So when I join a project, I can use the Exploded View to lay out the potential challenges and pitfalls in a clear, comprehensible way by incorporating the respective views of the individual company levels and beyond. And I offer our customers the clarity and simple solutions to ultimately overcome the issues.’
But there is one thing that Hottinga wants to emphasise during the conversation: ‘In doing what I do, I don’t think that I’m better than the people I work with. They are usually extremely talented in their own fields of expertise.’ Rather, the trick is: ‘I’ve got fresh eyes, let’s say. A lot of times the employees there are so deeply involved in their work that they are unable to see the wood for the trees. Or, like I said before, they’re forced by rigid structures and systems to stick to a tightly controlled course of action, and that prevents them from doing something that falls outside of their sphere of responsibility. But I’m more free, my vision is clearer and my eyes are fresh, so I can approach an issue with an entirely different perspective. That’s precisely what I bring to the table.’
Hierarchical structures and rigid roles are things that ‘you just won’t find at foryouandyourcustomers. Every employee here is free to switch between levels and grow and develop as individuals – and in fact the structure of the company formally encourages them to do just that. For me that was a crucial reason for why I chose to work for this company,’ Hottinga explains with a content smile.
The pure facts on Hottinga’s professional background can be seen on a one-page CV. After finishing school and then university, he spent the first phase of his professional life ‘acquiring practical basic skills in a variety of different companies and fields’ before then joining ING for five and a half years as a management consultant. Over the same period of time, his activities extended to include working for Mirabeau as the Director of Sales, and since 2004 he has also been working for his own company, Hottinga Coaching & Consulting, as a business coach. But talk with him in person about his professional history, and you find out that in the last two decades, he has successfully set up, shaped and supported different organisations in different roles and forms, coached people and teams, and has even worked on his own development with each step and journey he has taken. When talking to him, his simple CV is enriched by deep insights and interesting anecdotes that reveal much about the man and his profession, and every little thing comes together piece by piece like a puzzle, forming a full overall picture.
‘We have a brilliant team with wide-ranging expertise’
‘I was very successful in the roles I held in the various different companies,’ he explains. ‘Enjoying professional success and earning money were my primary aims at first, too. But at the same time, I craved more of a human connection and that urge for the freedom to develop personally, that search for growth opportunities got stronger and stronger. For a long time there were two extreme sides to me, and at a certain point in my life, those extremes pushed me to free myself from all material things, go travelling and find answers.’
His ‘travel diary’ reads like a globetrotter’s notes as Hottinga looks back on his past journeys. As a backpacker, he once went to see a change consultant in the jungle of Guatemala. He did intensive meditation courses in far-flung locations. He spent two months in absolute silence. He travelled through Mexico by bus and in the process, tore up his meticulously laid-out to-do list with all of its plans and goals. He sold posters in South Africa and spent time in a monastery high in the Himalayas, where he did intensive meditation and yoga – and those are just a few of the journeys he undertook. These trips were interrupted with periods during which Hottinga returned to Amsterdam, where he worked as a consultant for a time before once again setting off on his next journey: to Central and South America, to Latin America, to South East Asia, to Africa. Hottinga came to know different continents, countries and people, and ‘everything I had the honour of learning and experiencing ultimately shaped me and became embedded in every cell of my body. I incorporate these experiences into my life now – both personally and professionally.’
Walter Hottinga briefly sweeps his gaze around the office in Amsterdam, where his colleagues are conversing with guests and speakers at the breakfast event, and then brings his full attention back to the conversation at hand. ‘Here in Amsterdam we have a brilliant team of professionals with wide-ranging expertise to come up with optimal solutions for our customers and their multichannel business,’ he says, and adds: ‘It’s expertise at a technical level, from consulting to integral communication and digitisation. Now it’s my job to bring even more clarity and customer perspectives to the team. To do that, I have to identify and support the skills and capabilities of every single individual, fuel the motivation and passion both for their own activities and for group tasks and allow each member of the team to develop personally. To bring our great potential to fruition and create something of value together with our customers, I will forge even stronger connections between the people involved – employees as well as customers – from out in and from in out.’
Hottinga is wholeheartedly convinced that foryouandyourcustomers offers him the ‘right arena’ for this. ‘What has fascinated me with this company from the beginning is the way we create a special organisation and run our business based on our values and our philosophy. Human connection and relationship building have enormous importance here, as does the further development of every individual, for both ourselves and our customers. That’s why I see the right place here for me, not just to practise my values but also to gain more freedom along with all employees, develop clarity and share this with others.’