Yokogawa: a very satisfied piece of Japan in the Netherlands Interview with Will de Groot, Managing Director at Yokogawa Europe Solutions

Yokogawa has been firmly rooted in the Netherlands for nearly forty years. Sounds like a Japanese company which it is. Yokogawa, meaning ‘rippling water’ in Japanese, has spread from her home country to the rest of the world. With the Netherlands as an important focal point: not only is it the Dutch local office of the company that automates complex factory processes, but it is also the European headquarters. A journalist writes about his visit to “a piece of Japan” in Amersfoort city in the centre of the Netherlands. 

The wow factor is high when entering the Yokogawa reception hall. It is light, open and spacious. When you look up, you will see green plants and trees aligned next to each other. On the ground floor you can see water rippling from a huge, sloping stone. It is a direct reference to the meaning of Yokogawa, says Managing Director Will de Groot of the Dutch branch of the company. "No matter which regional headquarters you enter, you'll find rippling water or other subtle Japanese decorations everywhere."

33 nationalities at Yokogawa in the Netherlands
Yokogawa in the Netherlands has been established since 2008. It still looks like as if it was recently built; in fact, about 600 employees use the facilities daily in this beautiful home port. The employees originate from different countries. The employees at this office of Yokogawa have around 33 nationalities. Most Dutch employees come from the region Amersfoort. You might think that there are many Japanese employees as well, but in fact there are only a handful, which is normal at Yokogawa's branches outside the country of its origin.

"That's because Yokogawa strongly believes in ties with the local culture," De Groot explains. "So, there are French in the French management of our company, Germans in the German management and here therefore Dutch in the Dutch management. It means that you hardly have any cultural differences in the way you do business, that you understand each other well. The Japanese who work here also have a very important bridging function in our communication with the global headquarters in Tokyo."

Smart people that automate factories
Yokogawa is full of intelligent people. They deal with complex automation issues in the process industry. "At birthday parties I only need a few minutes to explain the essence of what we do," De Groot says proudly. "We automate factories. With a specialty regarding processes that involve gases or liquids. This means that we are active in the oil and gas industry, but also in the chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and food industries, wherever liquids and gases flow. The processes in such factories are controlled by software and hardware that we develop. For example, we measure parameters such as temperature, acidity (pH) and conductivity. These measurements are converted into digital signals, which control the processes."
De Groot raises several examples to make it concrete. "Take a refinery. Crude oil enters there, and gasoline comes out, for example. Process units ensure that the chemical conversions take place. To control those units you need to know, among other things, what the pressure and temperature is, and what you need to do to make refining process a success. At beer breweries the same concept is applied and where we are very active in. After all, all kinds of raw materials go there that are converted and ultimately beer is produced. We operate the automation of the processes between them. The intention is to make the work of operators in the control rooms as smooth as possible, just like a pilot in an airplane. But if something goes wrong, then safety systems must intervene. We also produce, supply and install these, in close cooperation with the companies we work for."

Our own glass factory in the Netherlands
You would not expect it, but there is also a small factory in this modern office building. It actually looks more like a laboratory, with all the glass tubes for liquids that are made here. De Groot proudly shows it. "We have two glass blowing factories within Yokogawa. One in Japan and one in the Netherlands. The glass is blown at both locations for our pH sensors. The water industry uses this, for example, to measure the acidity of water in the case of the pH meters. Yokogawa also started in 1914 with the production of measurement technology and we are still doing it up until today. It is a very traditional handicraft that few people can do.”

Yokogawa is also currently very active in energy transition especially in developing a sustainable energy source such as hydrogen. De Groot: "Hydrogen is gaseous and we understand that. Then you might think: how is it possible that they know that in Tokyo? It is because Japan has no natural resources such as gas or oil. Therefore, they have years of experience in handling gas for transport, how to make it liquid and gaseous. We apply this knowledge in our projects. 

Easily accessible
The central location has many advantages, especially for the European headquarters. Many colleagues from other European branches of Yokogawa meet there regularly for training or introductions. "When they arrive at Schiphol, they will be at our office in the Netherlands in no time thanks to the good train connection. Our headquarters is also easily accessible from Belgium or Germany by car. Colleagues from France regularly take the Thalys from Paris, which also works well."

Yokogawa’s European headquarters offers plenty of room for international colleagues. De Groot knows from experience that Amersfoort city has all the right facilities, with good restaurants and hotels. De Groot and his colleagues also like to welcome customers, nationally and internationally, in the charming city. "When we had meetings until late, we often go out for dinner in the city centre to enjoy a good meal, which gives our visitors a big surprise.” They are impressed by the beauty, the history, the architecture. But also, the hospitality at the hotels and restaurants. They are also very surprised by the friendliness and helpfulness by the personnel. Amersfoort is not overcrowded like in other large cities and it acts as a nice business card for our company."

Pleasant living and working cities
The cities in the middle of The Netherlands (Utrecht and Amersfoort) are pleasant living and working cities for employees. "The well-facilitated cities make it easier for us to attract new international colleagues. In addition, we have a good cooperation with the Economic Board Utrecht (EBU), which helps us to accommodate our people. These new colleagues look around: where can I live well? And that often turns out to be close by."

Journalist: Thijs Tomassen, Photography: Bram Petraeus & Sjoerd Mouissie