Guustaaf Savenije, CEO of VDL-ETG

We need a certain critical mass to create the products of the future

Guustaaf Savenije, CEO of VDL ETG, was instrumental in getting the HTSC off the ground with Maarten Steinbuch. “Thirty years ago,” Guustaaf recalls, “we were colleagues at Philips, the high-tech hub of the region, and Philips Natlab was a kind of nursery for development, innovation and talent. But then Philips underwent a series of reorganizations. Out of this sprang the successful companies we know today like ASML, Thermofisher-FEI, NXP and others, in addition to regional companies like VDL and DAF.

It is my belief and conviction that we need the same kind of facility or ‘space’ for new ideas that Philips Research once provided. The High Tech Systems Center has the potential to create such a space where universities and companies  co-invest in exploring new ideas and developing new talent for a region that encompasses the Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen industrial axis.”

Pool of talent

VDL ETG is involved in various ways with the HTSC. “Not only do we energize the connection between the worlds of research and application, with both gaining a good perspective of each other,” Guustaaf explains, “but we also get an idea of what the pool of talent might hold in terms of future employees. For example, we have PhDs working on specific assignments here at ETG, and that’s working out really well. We also invest in the PDEng programs and cooperate with the professors and supporting them in their quest for program funding. In both words and deeds – money – to show the different government departments here or in Europe that we think it’s important. So that’s why I joined the HTSC advisory board and why Ton Peijnenburg, our Systems Engineering Manager, is a fellow at the center spending one day a week contributing a lot of knowledge on technology and systems engineering, and helping to define the programs. Of course, you don’t want to predefine everything – you must allow scope and freedom. On the other hand, I’m not interested in how to get to the moon but I do want to find out how I can use 3D printing, for example, to give me high-performance parts. So within the areas which are of interest for us, I believe in giving free rein to the creative forces of these talents at the HTSC.”

Collaboration is key

Collaboration is an essential ingredient in creating a successful high-tech region, and Guustaaf is convinced that collaboration is the only way that the West can compete both in terms of products and manufacturing. “Just look at Wim van der Leegte from the VDL group. He has proved that manufacturing in the West is a viable proposition. And to ensure that we can make this sustainable, we have to invest in high-tech. We cannot compete with low-cost countries in simple products and production technologies.

"If all them participate in this, then all benefit from this 'open' mindset"

We need to move in directions like medical robotics or particle accelerators and in advanced methods of production. In other words, continuous innovation in products and production technologies. And, at least as important, how we organize ourselves.” Guustaaf again emphasizes the need for companies to collaborate despite being competitors, and it is here that the secret of the region’s success lies – its DNA.

Same corporate genes

“We need a certain critical mass to create the products of the future. Also for the HTSC. We need other companies to play their part, too. The HTSC advisory board can play a key role in organizing the cooperation between the universities and industry. There’s no room for a go-it-alone attitude any more. The ecosystem of suppliers and OEMs has more that binds the players together than divides them. If all them participate in this, then all benefit from this ‘open’ mindset. Those I may have known as competitors in the past I now consider to be my colleagues. The HTSC offers the region a very good forum to exchange and share ideas and knowledge. We as a region have to support this. It is one of the cornerstones for our future. The successes of ASML or VDL radiates beyond the region and provide a springboard for other companies in the ecosystem. We are indeed fortunate to have this DNA of collaboration and cooperation.”

In the middle of society

Guustaaf reiterates the corporate family concept that the region embodies. It is as a family that the region pulled together and came through the recent crises in the 80s and 90s of the 20th century. Now it is paying off and the region is going from strength to strength. “We are world-leading in many high-tech fields. We can attract top talent and work on technologies that make a difference. Our engineers are working right in the middle of society. Seeing what you invent actually working in real life within a year or two. It gives young people a real vibe. And we are keen to take on these talents in our industry. As these students who worked together in projects move on to different companies, they can still connect and share knowledge, use that DNA to make themselves, their companies, the region even stronger.”