Avantes North America: Tell us about your background in research and development?
Dr. Wilms Floet: I started my career in 2000 at Melles Griot (now CVI Melles Griot) as a field application engineer and later as a sales account manager. Then, in 2002, I joined a Dutch business unit of Teijin as an innovation manager. Teijin is a Japanese multinational in performance materials and healthcare solutions. The business unit in The Netherlands produces high-performance Twaron® fiber. I was responsible for the development and implementation of a structured process to explore and assess ideas for new applications. It was an excellent position to work across disciplines with marketing departments (is there market potential for the idea?), R&D (is it technically feasible?) and production (can it be implemented?). In 2005 I switched to the business department involved in applications of the Twaron® fiber in composite materials and was responsible for business results in a large part of Western Europe, Middle East, India, and South-Africa. At the end of 2011, I accepted an opportunity to set up a new customer support laboratory for the company in Shanghai (China) in order to provide better technical support to Teijin’s customers in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite not having any experience in setting up a laboratory nor Asia experience, it sounded like a fantastic opportunity to be immersed in a different culture for a couple of years and set-up such a facility from scratch. What followed was a truly exciting period of three and a half years living and working in Shanghai. At the beginning of 2016, I returned to The Netherlands and started a position as manager of New Business Development in which my role was to work on innovations that fit Teijin’s long-term strategy to transform the company from a material supplier to a solutions provider. During this period, I worked extensively with start-up companies in a variety of fields assessing potential routes to successful cooperation, e.g. by investing in the company or by setting up a joint venture.
Avantes North America: That’s fascinating! What path led you to Avantes?
Dr. Wilms Floet | Avantes Experience Lab
First of all, after 16 years with Teijin, it felt like the time was ripe to step outside the company, change my environment, and become more open to “outside opportunity.” I happened to come across Avantes, a company I remembered from my time at Melles Griot, about 18 years ago. I was curious to see what had become of the company and was pleasantly surprised to see how much it had grown since those days. I also noticed they were looking for an R&D manager. Even though that role had not been directly on my mind as a next career step, I was intrigued by the type of person Avantes was looking for, which, combined with my interest in products and markets, was my main motivation for applying for the job. As the selection process went on, I became even more enthusiastic about the company, its people, and the culture, as well as the job itself, and I became convinced that joining Avantes would be a great opportunity. Apparently, Avantes felt the same toward me and hence our paths have crossed.
ANA: How does your previous experience prepare you to take on this new challenge?
DWF: Good question. Somebody reading my CV might not think of me as the first candidate for the role of an R&D manager in a photonics company. I think that what mattered to Avantes, was not so much the specialist know-how, but rather the combination of my experience in a larger company in roles with a strong business focus, the education in applied physics (that’s actually where the photons played a big role) and, last but not least, the type of person Avantes was looking for: I’m quite adaptive and have a strong natural focus on relationships and cooperation between people and departments. I’m always trying to build bridges.
ANA: What do you feel are the strengths in Avantes Engineering?
DWF: Based on my first impressions, I’ve noticed a high level of know-how and experience in the team on a wide variety of relevant technical disciplines. Within the team, people seem to connect very easily across disciplines, which is obviously a crucial element in the optimal integration of our engineering capabilities with our products. Furthermore, there is a lot of flexibility and a can-do mentality when it comes to developing customized solutions.
Avantes Team Building | International Sales and Marketing Conference 2018
ANA: What technologies in spectroscopy look interesting for the future of Avantes?
DWF: Frankly speaking, I haven’t been with Avantes long enough to have an in-depth understanding regarding the drivers for future customer value. But, working closely together with our sales and marketing team while at the same time keeping our eyes open for relevant upcoming technologies will be key. For example, it appears that while spectrometers were mostly used on a fixed location in the past, they are now used more and more as (mobile) smart sensors which is driving the need for miniaturization. Avantes needs to focus on (new) technologies that enable the development of new solutions to fulfill specific needs such as this.
ANA: What about the future of Avantes Engineering? What is your philosophy on product development?
DWF: In general, I believe that any product development should start with a clear understanding of the drivers and needs of the market rather than making assumptions about what the market needs. In my last position at Teijin, I worked with lean start-up methodology using the build-measure-learn cycle. This is basically nothing more than involving your customers in an early phase in the development process to test the assumptions you’re making with functional prototypes in order to verify whether you are on the right track.
Aside from that, I believe a challenge for Avantes may be to balance the growth of the company, with maintaining our high level of service and flexibility. We would be wise to think well ahead about how we are going to develop our product portfolio to make the right choices in our engineering solutions and provide adequate answers to these challenges.
ANA: Well we are very excited to have you on the team and to implement this vision of Avantes for the future. So, help us get to know you better, where did you receive your education?
DWF: I studied applied physics at the University of Groningen with a master thesis on the interface between thin film physics and chemistry on polymer-based light emitting diodes. In 2001, I received my Ph.D. from the Delft University of Technology with my thesis on the physical principles of the detector that has been used in the Herschel Space Telescope. This work was in close collaboration with the Space Research Organization of The Netherlands and the University of Groningen and funded by the European Space Agency. During my Ph.D. work, I had the chance to spend 6 months researching at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.
Avantes Team Building | Veluwse Bierbrouwerij tour
ANA: Tell us about your family, your hobbies, what do you do outside of work?
DWF: My partner, Cindy, and I, and our 2 children, Esmée (13 years) and Thom (10 years), live in Zevenaar, a small municipality (~30.000 inhabitants) in the Eastern part of The Netherlands, about 30 minutes from Apeldoorn with our dog and two cats.
In my spare time, I like very much to listen to music, attend concerts and festivals, and I even try to play a bit of guitar myself. Together with a group of about 10 friends, we have set up our “wine society” and organize wine tasting from time to time including a yearly international trip to a different wine region in Europe. It’s a great combination of learning a bit about wine & winemaking, combined with quality social time with friends.
When it comes to sports, I play squash although not as intensely as I used to. Besides that, I like to run, which, besides staying physically healthy, is my way of meditating and resetting my brain after a long day of work.
ANA: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Dr. Wilms Floet, and welcome to the team!