Since 2017, Marcel Koolen has been at the head of Codema as CEO. He took over from founder Maarten de Jager, who meticulously merged various horticultural specialists into the Netherlands' leading supplier of horticultural solutions. It is his task to realize the international ambitions and at the same time, realize his own vision.
Market for horticultural solutions is changing
“We come from a world in which our customers, experienced growers who took over the company from their parents, know all about the technology. They exactly know what they need. These people choose the best solution for each individual aspect of their operation, for example, a logistics system from Hawe or a water solution from B-E De Lier. These critical cultivation systems can now be found under one roof: at Codema. This fits in well with the changing market. An increasing part of the market requires a conversation partner who comes up with a total solution.”
In recent years, horticulture has been a popular destination for the money of investors who want to invest on a large scale in, for example, medicinal cannabis, food production and vertical farming. Floriculture and traditional growers also continue to develop and grow. Partly due to size, technical innovation must ensure higher efficiency or yield.
Conversation partner from the start
“In this changing market, it is crucial that we provide the investor and what we call the 'corporate horticulturist' with the right information, knowledge and the proper perspective. After which, we arrive at the delivery of critical cultivation systems. In the first place, this means that, from the beginning of their trajectory, we are a full conversation partner for these organizations. Our organization is now geared up for this.
Secondly, this requires an international presence. We are always building projects in America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region with a particular emphasis on China. This goes beyond a simple sales organization, our "license to operate" depends on our ability to provide after-sales service and maintenance. "
Due to these developments and continuing growth, the organization of Codema has grown strongly. From the Netherlands, we serve and supply all over the world and on location we work as much as possible with local workers. Many beliefs converge in the latter; cost control from the customer and the influence of Nordian Capital. For example, on sustainability. However, Koolen's personal motives also make their mark:
“That does not mean that I make many difficult considerations or want to impose these on my customers. By applying new technological developments and continuing to work on both design and engineering, we already are more economical with raw materials.
Of course, it starts by considering if we can make better decisions in everything we think about and everything we do. Think about choosing green energy, solar panels, limiting flight movements, a hybrid fleet, and so on. Good business decisions that are simply better for our planet. It is no coincidence that this is also essential for our investor, Nordian Capital. Nordian’s entire investment portfolio compensates for all of its emissions through certified contracts with Land Life Company. This foundation is committed to the reforestation of around 2 billion hectares of land around the world.’’
A shared vision for the future
Originally, Marcel Koolen was an Electrical Engineer. However, he soon discovered that a wider field of vision suits him better. That theme had been a common thread in his entire career. Paired with his passion for what he calls ‘public interest’. With every step, his playing field grew larger.
‘The first time that it actually connected was with an electrical family business. There I quickly built up a department whose turnover was equal to that of the parent company and was allowed to slim it down a few years later. I have been able to face these kinds of challenges at an increasingly higher level. First at VolkerRail, during the privatization of the railways, and then at Spitzke and ABB.
When I started at Codema, significant changes were to come and therefore was an excellent fit. However, the main reason for my choice is our shared vision for the future. When I worked on the mobility of the Netherlands at VolkerRail, I noticed that serving the ‘public interest’ motivates me enormously. And at Codema we go further: we help feed the world. A good and efficient food production not only ensures that everyone has food but also makes it a lot less harmful to the environment. That is a challenge, which I would like to put my efforts into.’
Future and strategy Codema: food production
The herb cultivation market has boomed in recent years, and the legalization of the cultivation of medicinal cannabis has created a large capital inflow, which also benefited Codema. Codema realized critical cultivation systems in the largest, most advanced cannabis greenhouses in the world. These are greenhouses in which food safety and reliability, as well as automation, are more critical than ever. Codema also works in the floriculture with large cultivation organizations to apply the latest technology in areas such as software, water, lighting and logistics. This provides knowledge and experience that Codema can directly apply to food cultivation.
“Investing in food production is a good business decision. The world population is growing, and with it, the demand for food. There are many challenges in this area that require a technical solution and where Codema can make the difference. That makes it a good investment for both investors and Codema. Since we are now active in the three major time zones, we reduce the risk of economic volatility further. That makes us future-proof.”
Cooperation in the chain
“That does not mean that Codema can do that alone. We work together with greenhouse builders and engineering -and consultancy firms, such as scientific researchers, educational institutions and market researchers. Partly because of this, Codema is able to present the final solution to the customer. This means that we go further than ever in our services. That is also what the market demands.”
When asked whether he is satisfied if, in Codema 2024 anchored her international position as a food production specialist, Koolen replies:
“We should always keep growing, but that doesn't mean it's always about financial growth. This could, for instance, be growth in the impact you have on the world. Or growth in knowledge and skills, the development of new technologies. We need to keep moving and ensure that Codema can continue to offer its customers the best proposition in the future.”