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Leading The Way Into The Future With Boundless Innovation

Eric van der Hoeven, Chief Executive of JTH Group
Eric van der Hoeven says corporate rebranding and staff development revolve around 4 core values: Excellence, Innovation, Teamwork and Ownership.

If we compare a technology enterprise to a ship, the journey is bound to be paved with challenges. Technology itself is ever-changing, much like the tides, while the captain steers through the waves, leading the enterprise into the future. As captain, a mere whisk on the steering wheel can reroute the whole course. As fickle as the ocean of technology can be, there is, however, a fail-proof approach to navigate it. The very same approach that contributed to his success in financial management in hospitality as well his venture into the IT sector - it starts with the right mindset. “Keep learning new things. Try things out and see if it works out for you and love what you do. That’s the attitude,” Eric van der Hoeven, Chief Executive of JTH Group says.

Eric van der Hoeven prefers standing to sitting in the office. In his office, one may find his computer elevated by one foot over his desk and a VR goggle on the side. The VR goggle is a game changer to the report viewing experience as it allows him to view the latest VR financial report, where data is presented in 3D and one may visit the company with a virtual guide. “How exciting is that! In the past, reading annual report is boring. Now IT can make things a lot more interesting,” he says.


In recent years, we have witnessed the rise of a number of new technological innovations, such as VR, AR, and AI, which have revolutionised many industries. As an integral aspect of the tide of tech advancement where technologies are being updated constantly, a degree in IT is no longer a prerequisite to embark a career in the industry, instead, the crucial requirement has become the ability to absorb new knowledge on a continuous basis. 

Fly a New Nest Away from the Comfort Zone
“What works for me was, in life, (to) be open minded, and go out of your comfort zone and enjoy what you are doing and the rest will just follow. You don’t have to be a programmer in order to be successful in IT. The IT world is changing. We are recruiting people who have not got a degree in computer science. No, because that is not really necessary to be successful in this world. Try things out and see if it works out for you. I have done many times in my life and I have never been disappointed,” advises Eric van der Hoeven from his personal experience on how young people could succeed in the industry.


With this mindset, he has broadened his career boundaries, transforming himself from initially a layman into an industry insider in hotel management, finance, shipping and IT. Having grown up in the Netherlands, he dreamed of becoming a chef and owning a restaurant in his youth. “My first part time job was a dishwashing worker and I just loved it. The hard work, sweating, the pressure to get things on the table on time, I enjoyed it a lot,” he recalls.


He went on to pursue hotel management in university with a placement at a hotel in the final year. He was assigned to the accounting department after suffering a back injury that prevented him from working in the hotel diner. Although at first it took time to adjust, he slowly grew to like his role, which established the direction of his future career in financial management for hotels. Later on, he worked for Jardine Matheson for more than twenty years at various roles, including his role as a group financial controller for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and also his role as Chief Executive at Jardine Shipping Services. In 2014, he moved into the IT industry, leading JTH Group, a technology enterprise established for more than 60 years, and went through changes as Chief Executive in order to be on top of the new wave of technological advancements.


Steering over Rapidity
Under the umbrella of JTH Group are Innovix Distribution and JOS. The former provides marketing and technical solutions for technology distribution while the latter provides bespoke services, ranging from system design to implementation to maintenance for corporate customers. “(For) some CEOs, when they go into a new business they have the view that within a hundred days you have to make a lot of changes and you need to have the strategy ready. But that doesn’t work for me. My upbringing within the Jardine Matheson Group has taught me that it is more important to get your strategy right than do it quickly,” Eric van der Hoeven recounts his effort on understanding the business in order to establish a strategy for rebranding upon his commencement.

As such, he has travelled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Malaysia for meetings with a number of stakeholders in the first few months after his commencement. “(During) my first month, I was not in my office at all. It took me about a month to go around the businesses and talk to people. And I listened a lot. I sat into a lot of meetings and sometimes there were people waiting for me to say something but I said nothing. I listened to different views,” he says.

His approach was to evaluate the status quo in order to establish the direction of change before implementing the rebranding. Eric van der Hoeven asserts that the geographical division in management of the two brands, where the managers of the two brands reporting to the same regional director, does not allow dynamic and timely strategic responses. “And so we came up with a new structure with a division based on brands, with two different regional directors, one at each brand, it brings more focus and agility to respond to the market,” he says. He noted that clients were hugely positive about the change, some of the new businesses such as Big Data, Internet of Things and Internet Security have reported a 300% growth in the past year.


In addition to restructuring, staff development is also a key point of the rebranding. Eric van der Hoeven emphasises the fast pace advancement in technology with two examples, namely Cloud and Big Data. Cloud services emerged around 6 years ago and today, cloud solutions are widely adopted. Similarly, Big Data first gained attention 4 years ago and now, it is vastly applied. With products constantly emerging and ever-changing trends, the IT industry must re-evaluate how it positions itself. “IT is changing all the time, you need to be willing to change what you are doing on an ongoing basis and keep learning new things. If you are enthusiastic about the industry then you will innovate with the industry,” he says.


With a growing team of more than 1,400 employees in Hong Kong, JTH Group still finds itself in search of a growing profile/catalogue of talents. An example given by Eric van der Hoeven are the recently launched Cloud services. Due to its state-of-the-art status, it was impossible to secure a sales team with experience with the product, and as a result, all the sales team member were trained organically. To encourage innovation and staff development, JTH Group went through rebranding in 2015. “This is where we host our Big Data workshop, we provide regular training to our employees delivered by our partners and experts in the field to keep them up-to-date,” says Eric van der Hoeven with his finger pointing towards one of the conference rooms.


Another keynote of the rebranding is to revamp the office to create a refreshing workplace. The new design of the office features recreation areas, TVs and massage chairs with additional employee benefits such as massages delivered by professional masseurs and soup day. Eric van der Hoeven points out that there has been a boost in morale since the revamping with more fun elements. “Before (the renovation), I went through the office and sometimes saw people with long faces. After the renovation, when you walk around, people will say ‘Hi, Eric, how are you doing’. The atmosphere now is open and fresh; it is a very different attitude”.


Contests: A New Way to Discover Talents
The innovation of JOS goes as far as recruitment. Their groundbreaking contest-based recruitment scouts the talents of tomorrow straight from the academia. Take for instance, the second JOS Innovation Awards that took place recently, it was a contest open to undergraduate students. It challenged the 37 teams of contestants to solve urban problems with smart technologies. As one of the judges at the final round, Eric van der Hoeven was even invited by one of the teams to go on stage to trial their VR retail system. He believes that the IT industry is capable of harbouring talents from a wide range of backgrounds. The contest itself has attracted not only talents with a computer science background, but also engineering, business and even language studies.


He advises young people who aspire to embark a career in the IT industry to remain open-minded about new ideas. In addition to continuous learning, the other key element in the formula to success is to be able to love what one does. “I knew I wanted to go into the hospitality business. I would do anything (for it). I took up dishwashing job and I did hotel management at school. I am not a finance guy, but I worked and learned at Finance in hotel for 20 years. Now I keep learning new thing. You should love what you do,” he says.


Lunch with the CEO

More often than not, changes in an enterprise start from bottom up, as such, it is important to connect on a personal level outside the hierarchy, according to Eric van der Hoeven. In order to facilitate communications with staff, staff members at the frontline, such as warehouse staff, sales and clerks, are invited to a monthly lunch with the CEO.  “We have a long table and I walk around and talk to everybody. I want to know what their difficulties in the job are. I sometimes ask them ‘if you were me, what would you change in the company?’” says Eric van der Hoeven. Other than monthly lunch with the CEO, Eric van der Hoeven also dines with new starters on a regular basis as well.

CEO Goes Hiking

Equally innovative as the business itself is the naming of the offices at JTH Group, one of the conference rooms is called Tai Long Wan-  “Big Wave Bay”. Big Wave Bay could be reached through the MacLehose Trail, a trail Eric van der Hoeven frequently hikes on. The scenery of the countryside has always fascinated him in his 18 years in Hong Kong. “I love hiking. I like to go to Tai Long Wan and go up Ma On Shan. It is tough but I enjoy that,” he says. A firm believer of work-life balance, he always finds time during weekend to exercise to maintain physical fitness regardless of his busy schedule. Alongside hiking, he enjoys swimming and cycling. “Spending quality time with my wife over a barbecue dinner during the weekend is just as nice,” he adds.

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