For Rens Buchwaldt, leading a company through potential financial turmoil is just another day at the office.
The former Chief Financial Officer and interim CEO of FloraHolland, the Netherland’s premier flower auction, has spent more than 30 years navigating the financial pitfalls of the world’s leading companies and yanking them from the brink of economic disaster.
“Staying one step ahead gives me the ability to lead,” Buchwaldt said. “Quite often the conclusion is obvious, but changing circumstances can convolute that. My job is to see through the distractions.”
Buchwaldt received his MBA from the Fox School of Business in 1984. Since attaining his graduate degree, his highly analytical mind has allowed him to navigate changing workplace dynamics—including the merger of two of the Netherland’s largest flower auctions to create FloraHolland.
Tapped to become its interim CEO when the merger yielded insufficient results and failed to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing market, Buchwaldt leveraged the talent of his staff so that FloraHolland’s combined strength was both fiscally responsible and dedicated to a quality product. During his tenure as interim CEO and later as its CFO, the company restructured for the first time in 100 years and eliminated a deficit that plagued its ability produce the flowers that made it famous.
“I’ve never been in a position to do anything by myself, and it’s key to assemble a team that balances out each personality and expertise,” Buchwaldt said. “I try to be more of a coach than a boss.”
Managing expectations and boosting morale was essential in his ability to pull Icon Media Lab — an internet consulting company — out of a sudden nose dive when the dot-com bubble burst. The company, formed during the height of Internet business development, quickly felt the effects of the shaky medium when its services became both defunct and too easily duplicated.
“The company just went under,” Buchwaldt said. “We slimmed down from 2000 to 800 people. That’s a hard situation in which to motivate people.”
For Buchwaldt, the kind of nimble maneuvering required to keep Icon Media Lab afloat was a part of the education he had attained as a graduate student at the Fox School of Business. (Originally from Bussum, a town located just 10 minutes outside of Amsterdam, Buchwaldt attended the Nyenrode Business University to receive his undergraduate business degree.) With a passion for finance, Buchwaldt augmented his skills by throwing himself in to the Fox School curriculum, finding particular success using Michael Porter’s highly lauded book, Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors.
“Temple’s MBA offered me a lot of interesting options,” Buchwaldt said. “The students were very serious and brought real-life experience. From a business perspective, it was an eye-opener.”
Buchwaldt entered the industry eager to gain the same real-life experience, and joined the National Cash Register (NCR) Corporation, a global computer hardware and online technology firm in Dayton, Ohio. Sitting at the table with senior executives, Buchwaldt relied upon Porter’s principles of cost leadership, differentiation and focus to demonstrate his ability to resolve almost any problem. He spent 14 years at the company before moving on and eventually settling in at FloraHolland.
After spending a significant amount of time abroad, working for FloraHolland was Buchwaldt’s homecoming and he credits the company with helping him return to his roots.
“Tulips are about as Dutch as you can get,” Buchwaldt said, laughing. “(FloraHolland) is very technical and fast-paced, but it’s all about the beauty of nature, feelings, and action.”
At 54, Buchwaldt is preparing for his first break since 1984 and looks forward to spending time with his sons, 11-year-old Florian and 8-year-old Marnick, while examining his next steps in industry. As he figures it out for himself, he counsels those just jumping into their professional careers to be fearlessly original.
“Don’t follow in anyone’s footsteps, make your own,” Buchwaldt said. “If you look at my career, I’ve taken risks, but each leap has been a learning experience.”