Sjef & Lisette

Rolling up
our sleeves
since 1976

‘OUR GOLDEN TEAM OF PEOPLE — THAT’S WHAT WE’RE MOST PROUD OF’

100 years of Legro is a unique anniversary, so to mark the occasion we take a look back in a series of twelve revealing interviews. In the first interview in the series, we speak to two special people who together have made an enormous contribution to the international success of this wonderful family business over the past fifty years. They are none other than the owners – and husband and wife – Sjef and Lisette Swinkels, the third generation of the family.

DOWN TO EARTH

In business for fifty years, building up an international company with a multi-million turnover and hundreds of staff – that’s a truly impressive accomplishment! But the great thing is that Sjef and Lisette are exactly the same as they have always been: hard working, plain speaking and completely down to earth. It goes without saying that they are incredibly proud of what they have created together, and Sjef in particular is finding it hard to let go. “I had always wanted Legro to grow faster than the people around me did. And now that I have stepped back, I can’t contribute so much to that any more. It takes some getting used to! Now that our children Sjellie and Franc have taken over the helm, we can sit back and enjoy our retirement. But if they need us, we’re happy to give them advice!”

21 YEARS OLD... OR MARRIED

Sjef still remembers joining the company in the 1970s after leaving vocational secondary school. Sjef: “Legro was still a one-man business at the time, and I had been helping out there for years. When a group of us schoolboys went there to bag up sacks of potting compost, I would often take charge. I had quite a commercial mindset, and my parents saw a future for me at Legro. When the business became a limited company, I acquired my first few shares. I was already seeing Lisette at the time, and my father suggested we buy the house here at the Asten site. But back then you could only do that if you were 21 years old… or married. So that’s what we did in 1976.”

FREEDOM TO DO BUSINESS

“I remember the years that followed as a wonderful time,” Lisette continues. “Our children were born in this house in the early 1980s, and I soon started taking the playpen with me into the office, because work didn’t stop, of course. I took various training courses, including on transport, administration and human resources, so that I could add value to the business. Sjef and I managed the business together, with me mainly doing internal work and Sjef working on the external side.”

Sjef: “Lisette’s role has been very important for me and for Legro. I was always brimming with ideas and I could pass them on to her. Lisette had the systems and the numbers well organised internally, which gave me the freedom I needed to continue to do business.”

CAN’T BUY IT? DO IT YOURSELF!

Under Sjef and Lisette’s leadership the relatively small family business in Asten developed a unique philosophy that enabled it to operate astutely and decisively in a market that was rapidly expanding and becoming more international. Sjef: “We made a lot of acquisitions and grew fast. My philosophy was that if there was something I couldn’t buy or had to outsource, I would rather do it myself. That enabled me to guarantee a consistently high product quality. And if there is something you can’t find or buy, you have to get in there first. Because if you don’t do it, someone else is bound to. Importantly, though, you must know what you are doing. So you need to listen carefully, talk to a lot of people, keep reading the trade literature and regularly make bold decisions.”

AT THE KITCHEN TABLE

Lisette always supported Sjef in his decisions. “Even though I didn’t always agree or had my doubts,” she adds. “I would always tell Sjef what I thought, but he has a strong vision and his decisions always worked out well. But I do think it was important for him to have someone with a critical eye at his side who had a hand on the purse strings when necessary.”

“That led to quite a few ‘discussions’, though, didn’t it!” Sjef recalls. “But we never did anything unexpected or crazy. When there were important things going on, we would discuss them at great length and seal the deal at the kitchen table. I have sometimes wondered how I arrived at decisions. The way I see it, it was mainly a question of getting the right people together in the right place and at the right time. And being passionate about your business – then insights will automatically follow. Basically, we were always on duty, except when we were on holiday. That was when we could really sit back and enjoy spending time with the children.”

FISTS ON THE TABLE

Speaking of the children, the fourth generation of Swinkels are now running the family business. Sjef: “I can still remember the time when another horticultural company came knocking and wanted to take us over. When our children heard that, they banged their fists on the table – and I realised that there was a future for them at Legro. That also made the decision to invest heavily in the new Helmond factory a lot easier.

“As a parent it’s a joy to be able to hand over your business to your children. And yet I’m finding it quite difficult to let go. But I have every confidence that our children will succeed. Particularly with the people in and around the business. We really do have a golden team! That’s probably what we’re most proud of.”

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Home
  1. Sjef & Lisette
  2. Janus & Nicole
  3. Frank & Anton
  4. Ralph
  5. Mei
  6. Juni
  7. Juli
  8. Augustus
  9. September
  10. Oktober
  11. November
  12. December