Why value-conscious entrepreneurship is important – Interview with Volker Zillekens
When Volker Zillekens looks out of his office window on the twelfth floor of the Vest-Towers in Marl, he can see his whole life: the Auguste Victoria colliery, in which he completed his apprenticeship underground and later worked as a technical trainer. The steel construction factory he built years ago. The ‘Chemiepark’ Marl, where RV Management is involved in revision management. The house where he lives with his family, the school which his son visits – as well as the area where the RV new headquarters are being built … A panoramic view of a life with industry – shaped by a vision: To run a business that is committed not only to efficiency, but also to the value of trust.
Mr. Zillekens, with RV Management, you are today one of the market leaders in the field of revision management – your clients include global players like Shell or BP. But tell us about your beginnings here in the area.
I come from the mining industry. I always wanted to become an underground locksmith because all my friends used to work underground. It may sound funny – but when you work in mining, that also means you’re not too bad for anything. I grew up in the dirt, so to speak.
As a young person, did you have the goal later to lead a company?
I just wanted to develop myself. After my training as a locksmith, I did my technician study at the evening school and then worked as a trainer for six years. I worked my way up to assistant workshop manager and spent many years on the examination board. During this time, I attended as many training courses and seminars as I could. My technical knowledge is therefore wide-ranging, which is of a great use to me today.
Before the foundation of RV Management, you have already led other companies as managing director. Valuable experiences?
Since the year 2000 I have built up great expertise together with a core team of four very experienced colleagues in the field of revision management. In 2003, I already got the technical management of my employer at that time, I have been the technical director of a planning company for long time, but I was dissatisfied with the corporate philosophy. In 2006, I got the chance to realign the company as managing director and shareholder. Later I started to write business plans, took over the third-party shares and in 2016 we renamed to the company RV Management GmbH. Since then we have been powerfully expanding, exceeding double of our turnover within two years.
What makes RV Management unique?
Amongst other things, we specialize in the field of revision management with regard to scheduling – and thus serve a niche. There are various well-known engineering firms and Facility engineering companies that “get involved” somehow with these aspects. But not many of them can do what we do. With our experienced team and innovative digital solutions, we can perfectly manage revisions of all capacities and magnitudes.
Why should process plant operators entrust the subject of Revision with RV Management? What are their advantages?
A shutdown and thus a loss of production can be very expensive depending on the size of the plant. Since a day of loss costs over 800,000 Euros. Then, it needs a special detailed planning, which allows the duration of a standstill to be as short as possible. With RV Management we plan turnarounds thoroughly to have everything under perfect control.
And you certainly need very experienced and extremely reliable employees?
I am very fortunate that our core team of senior staff consists of four employees who, like me, come from the mining industry and have known me for almost 20 years. We blindly trust each other; this is a community that considers the value of trust a highly appreciated factor. That’s why I feel a great deal of social responsibility for my employees and know exactly which value they add to the company.
Are well-trained professionals hard to find today?
At the moment we have more than 50 well-trained employees at RV Management, but because of current projects we also employ external staff. Experienced schedulers are few on the job market. That’s why we started to train our schedulers ourselves. We look if the affinity to IT exists, if people have a good technical background and are communicative. Then we start to train them personally on site.
The best example: I, myself, trained one of our employees to become an industrial mechanic. Many years ago, I happened to meet his mother, who told me that he had meanwhile made his technician. Today, he manages large-scale projects with us and has already taken over the site management for one of our locations. From very small worked his way up – I personally like that very much. For me, this has to do with loyalty, if we give our people security, perspective and confidence in the future.
How important are values for corporate management?
Very important – because unfortunately, values, in today’s society, are diminishing. We lose our values and that scares me because I can’t see the future of our children very bright. The more we make sure that employees understand a brand value such as trust, the more they can reflect these values to our clients.
What is your vision? Where do you see RV in five years?
What is most important to me is that our employees are doing even better in five years than they are today! Employee satisfaction is just as important to me as the satisfaction of our clients. For the future, I hope that we will continue to grow organically with RV, to become even better and to further grow our sense of empathy among our employees. Our team is mixed and that’s what I see as a big advantage. We have employees with various roots from Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia, Uruguay, Croatia. The team currently has eight women and amongst my former secretary Julia, who already has been through our in-house training to plan smaller turnarounds independently. Success stories like these describe the identification with our brand.
What makes you proud?
Many employees tell me honestly: There is no better employer than RV Management. One of our project managers recently received an offer from a large petrochemical company – and without hesitation he declined it. Honestly, for me there can’t be a greater compliment than that.
You work very intensively. Do you also manage sometimes to relax?
I like nature, water and music, especially women’s voices like Whitney Houston, Anita Baker or Tony Braxton – but I also listen to the Rolling Stones, Beatles or Udo Lindenberg. At home I have a very good Hi-Fi system, in my office I have treated myself to a nice audiophile toy. I like understatement, as well as wellness and warmth, I am very communicative, and I love to spend time with my children. When I founded RV Management, my son Ryan, now 13 years old, said: “Super: R stands for Rayan and V for Volker!”. He has taken it into his mind that he will take over the company one day. If that later happened, that will make me very happy.