Talking about a successful decision in hindsight is always easy. But reading about it in hindsight can also be instructive. This also applies to the choices made by family-owned Gooskens Hout during the corona crisis. The spruce lumber supplier did not tack on a sell-off. In consultation with its all-new supervisory board (SB), it relied on its unique selling point. We spoke to CFO Ine van Gerwen-Gooskens and Supervisory Board chairman Maarten Vijverberg.
With a continuously available stock of over 50,000 m³ of pinewood, Gooskens Hout from Hoogeloon in Brabant is the largest supplier of pinewood in the Benelux. The sixth generation is now at the helm of the organization, in the person of Ine van Gerwen-Gooskens and her nephew Hein Gooskens. When the corona epidemic shook the minds – and our economy – in March 2020. The family business Gooskens Hout, founded in 1863, also had to decide how to anticipate the possible financial consequences. But that wasn’t the only challenge. As “old and familiar” as the bond is between the family and its employees, many of whom have been with it for years, cooperation with the SB was new. The full external board had been appointed barely a month ago when the crisis began.
Getting acquainted via webcam
“When you are busy with your business 24/7, you can become business blind. Then it’s nice to spar with people who let you look at your business operations differently,” said Van Gerwen-Gooskens. However, that ‘looking’ was done exclusively through online meeting programs. Vijverberg: “Whereas normally one supervisory board member is replaced by another, in this case a whole new board took office. Without knowing each other, or having the opportunity to meet. Yet in the end it worked very nicely. Because we did not know each other, there were no mutual prejudices. And because we were forced to meet remotely, we consulted more often than if we were to meet on location.”
A very different kind of crisis
Despite a good click between board and supervisory board, there was a difficult question that needed to be answered quickly: how to deal with the crisis? Van Gerwen-Gooskens: “We looked closely at the liquidity forecasts and market analyses. The lion’s share of our turnover is construction-related. We based ourselves on the premise that in the Netherlands there is much and fast construction to be done and that this requires timber. We also took into account what the last 250 years have taught us in terms of the economic climate. During crises, delivery times and purchase prices are more attractive and after times of contraction comes increase. Especially when competitors are forced to sell their working capital, this is a good reason to invest. From these considerations, Hein and I entered into discussions with the Supervisory Board. Maarten then rightly pointed out to us that this is a different crisis than twelve years ago.”
Vijverberg: “Then banks turned off the money taps. Whereas now the government is offering state support. That is a completely different signal.” Gooskens Hout took advantage of the regulations in place to be on the safe side. The government compensation eventually turned out to be unnecessary and was paid back. “As a regulator, you want to have all the certainties so as not to jeopardize the company. But it did become clear to me fairly quickly that Gooskens’ stockholding choice was a strong decision,” said the SB chairman. Vijverberg: “Many family businesses opt for their cash flow in times of crisis, or go with partners. Simply because they are too small and vulnerable. But in this case we are talking about an organization with a good market position, a large size and solid reserves.
The strategy of holding stock had more than the desired effect. While spruce prices rose due to declining supply from competitors, demand grew. In part due to additional orders from the U.S. and the predicted pressure from construction at home. The Gooskens family’s courage to invest even in tough times is as old as the company itself.
In a 2013 interview, a note from 1913 for the purchase of a 550-gilder saw comes up. Hein Gooskens said of it in that interview, “Even now we are investing heavily. Especially now. If demand grows again after the crisis, we have the capacity to absorb it.” Not only did the family business have it right at that time. She also uttered the famous words, “especially now,” back then. Whether the Gooskens family possesses a crystal ball is unclear. What is certain, however, is that her wooden heart for the business seems to bring with it a bright future.