Entrepreneur of the month : Derk van Wijk, CEO of DMI

“An entrepreneur owns a business, a manager owns a job” is a saying that sits well with Derk.

Like most entrepreneurs, Derk thrives in risks and uncertainties, looks at mistakes as learning avenues, and drives his business ahead with determination and passion. Yet the most remarkable trait in Derk’s charming personality, and the secret of his business success, is a rare combination of reservation and ambition; Jim Collins would say he is an example of Level 5 Leader.

The first time I met him, more than 10 years ago, Derk was a novice entrepreneur, with a spark in his eyes, the ability to unpretentiously drop brilliant remarks and a surprising tendency to shy away from the limelight. His business partner was at the time doing most of the talking, with theatrical tones and preaching arguments; yet it was Derk, with his quiet confidence, business competence and charming humor, who won the trust of the negotiators at the other side of the table, me included.

Today, long parted from the earlier loud partner, with a number of variously successful business ventures behind his shoulders, a steadily growing main business in Data Mining and several complementary entrepreneurial activities in his hands, Derk is still as unassumingly thorough, unpretentiously inspiring and humorously charming as a schoolboy; and yet his reach is impressively international, his turnover a several million of Euros and his profits are as they should be. His main company is in the IT sector and called; DataMining Innovators (www.dmi-report.com). Next to this he is active as a shareholder in some companies and sustainable energy projects in some countries in Europe.

There is more: while flawlessly juggling his multiple business activities, Derk always sets aside quality time to spend with his extended family, and he is always ready to bend over backwards for friends.

And so it is, as a friend, that I ask him to give me time for an interview. He tells me he is flattered and prepared to answer in total honesty “because every coin has two sides.”

After some weeks of struggling to find a day when we are both in the same country, he comes for dinner to our house in the Netherlands. He brings with him wine, cheese, salami (“because my mother always said never go empty ended”), a broad smile and a hearty hug.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? I ask. “Oh yes” he blurts right away “I think I was always an entrepreneur at heart, but I had to learn the business first”

Thus, after a tentative start with psychology, he moved on to management studies and graduated from Nijenrode Business School. His real life apprenticeship as an employee in City Management Administration marked the beginning of a career dedicated to the software-aided waste management and renewable energy sectors, in which he continued taking on management and board directorships roles in various Dutch companies like Van Gansewinkel, SITA and NUON.

Those ten years gave him the opportunity to create the foundation for his entrepreneurial initiatives: competence, expertise and network.

Yet the backbone of his success is his leadership style. “I was always eager to make things happen. I saw opportunities, new ways of doing things, ways which were not within the assigned frame; I was eager to test alternatives: to learn from mistakes; to go beyond.” He talks in a pensive tone, sounding at times almost apologetic. “You see,
some people take pride in staying within the assigned frame; for me it was never interesting do a good job in terms of managing according to expectations; I was never satisfied by recognition; it was the challenge of finding opportunities and exploring alternative solutions that dragged me; even if it sometimes meant errors and mistakes.”

Maybe I can summarize the essence of Derk’s style in four points:

Curiosity and alternative thinking
Intense determination, will and persistence
Interpersonal charm, based on humbleness and openness
Acceptance of mistakes as learning opportunities

Laura Lozza 2013