Huge Opportunities in Antwerp – Robert Pronk

General news

At STAR, we strive every day for the improvement, growth and development of all the people with whom we do business. Our specialists, the people in our client organisations and, of course, our own staff. It is our firm belief that personal and professional growth is the key to progress and success for all. Exactly what this means for our work? Robert Pronk, MD at STAR Belgium: Maybe we should beat the drum a little louder here in Belgium.”


Dual nationality
“One day, it became apparent that life might be easier for me if I had a Belgian passport,” says Robert Pronk. “That was fine by me, since I had lived in Belgium from the age of ten. That was thirty years ago now, although I did go to Maastricht to study.”

After their time in Maastricht, most of his fellow students moved to Amsterdam, but Robert returned to the beautiful city of Antwerp. He has been working for STAR Belgium since January 2011. “At the time, we had no more than a handful of people working in the office and about thirty-five specialists working on projects.”

Since then, STAR Belgium has grown considerably. We now have a staff of about twenty-five and some four hundred out in the field. A good mix of Belgian and Dutch specialists, but also specialists from other European countries and even beyond.”


Just do what works best
“Naturally, we implement the same model as STAR Netherlands. One difference that we do take into account, perhaps, is that the Dutch display a certain free spirit, while in Belgium people are more attached to rules and processes. It’s a cultural thing.”

 “It was also central to the advice of François Claeijs, STAR’s founder, who devised the business model behind our organisation: ‘It works well that way, so do it that way.’ Some people say that things are different in Belgium and indeed, the environment is different, but the model is just as effective. Driving a car is a universal skill, but you’re allowed to drive a bit faster in some countries than in others.”

“In a world that moves from project to project, we offer our specialists continuity.”

The STAR model allows us to do just that, because it means we always know who will soon become available.”

A personal approach is key, says Robert. “Strong relationships are particularly important to us. Despite the fact that so much communication is now digital, I strongly believe that it is important to maintain a personal focus. It is all about taking an interest in each other.”


Young talent welcome
“One important reason for our continued growth is the fact that we know both our people and our clients very well. We invest in getting to know each other — and the dividends in terms of mutual  understanding are beyond compare.”

Although the result is exceedingly profitable for all concerned, Robert doesn’t shout from rooftops. “We are perhaps too modest,” he admits. “Maybe we should beat the drum little louder here at STAR Belgium. We are good when communicating with people direct, but there’s room for improvement when it comes to communicating our message on a larger scale and to a broader audience.”

All the more so, as it is vital that the outside world knows that young talent is welcome. “The population is ageing and that trend is unlikely to reverse. There is a huge outflow of knowledge taking place,” explains Robert, “and older employees are of great value to us. Our oldest employee is 75, still works on projects and he really enjoys sharing his vast knowledge and experience.

“At the same time, we need to attract new talent.” To prepare new specialists, STAR Belgium, like the Dutch branch, has set up traineeships.


Vibrant Antwerp
“Antwerp is regularly featured on best-city-to-live-in lists. It’s a historic city infused with Burgundian spirit, and it plays a significant role in our recruitment efforts.”

The city helps attract specialists from abroad to make up for our domestic shortages. They are incredibly happy in Antwerp, says Robert: “A group of Italian specialists came here to work for us a while ago and when their projects ended, they stayed because they enjoyed the quality of life here so much. And yes, of course, we made sure they were aware that the Port of Antwerp will be needing plenty of labour for the foreseeable future. So, all in all, there are huge opportunities here for motivated specialists.”