Friends and colleagues within FCSI know Remko van der Graaff as the chair of the FCSI EAME division for the past four years. As he prepares to hand over the chairman post to a new person later this year, he is also making changes to his own professional path by launching his own foodservice consulting business after 16 years with Dutch firm AAG.
He sees his time with AAG as three distinct chapters, the first starting in 2005 when he first joined from a catering and restaurant background. “I told my CEO then, ‘I come from a hospitality background and I think the world of healthcare and senior homes can do better, they can learn from foodservice outside the sector’,” he recalls. “I wanted to bring in my experience and he said yes.”
To start with, it was a challenge. “I got started in this strange new world; I was not familiar with healthcare and homes for the elderly, except for visiting relatives, and I had no relationships in the market so it was really starting from scratch,” he says.
A great job
But over time he built up the business and by 2011 he had joined the management team of the consultancy. “During this second period I was a management consultant and director, doing all kind of projects in food consultancy, training, coaching and strategy projects for customers. I was also responsible for generating new business, relationship management and supporting and coaching consultants in my team,” he explains. “A very busy, but great job.”
Anybody who has come into contact with van der Graaff in his role as chair of FCSI EAME will know that his real passion lies with the development and encouragement of people. Communicating and helping people to succeed is something he enjoys. As he says, “you can build very nice buildings, but the people have to make the difference at the end of the day.”
This is something that particularly marked his last five years with AAG, a time during which he focused on developing management skills and worked hard to get the best out of people.
It is no surprise then, that among his favourite projects – out of hundreds – he highlights one working on culture changes within a healthcare group. “We trained and developed a great hospitality project. Starting with the essence of hospitality, we hosted a kick off with hundreds of people in a theatre and developing core values with each other. We trained people to work together, to communicate better and to be open-minded – to create a culture where people talked with each other, not about each other,” he says. “Everybody was involved, from the CEO to the gardener and there was a very big commitment.”
Although this was one of his favourite projects he is also very proud of the latest strategy, brand management and food concepts in the business services and healthcare projects in which he helped several organisations to excel their business. His food concept “Simplify your Food” was inspired by a visit to the famous restaurant Jane in Antwerp, Belgium, and subsequently used to achieve several goals.
Now, as he looks to move on to the next chapter in his career, he is excited to embrace new challenges and looking forward to working with new people on new projects.
His focus remains on healthcare but he is keen to expand and use his experience and knowledge in areas beyond health. “I won’t focus on one thing only. I love developing new food and retail concepts too, it doesn’t matter if it is a nice hotel or a supermarket, as long as it is innovative,” he says.
He is also interested in any opportunities to work with industry and helping organisations move forward by taking on interim management roles. “As an independent FCSI consultant I can be hired for all sorts of things,” he says.
As he maps out the plan for his next move, van der Graaff is keen to connect with colleagues and friends around the world. “It’s like a transition period now. I am leaving the chapter of the last 16 years of my life and moving to something else. I am excited for what comes next.”