Profile: Theo den Bieman may head the UK arm of temporary structure supplier

De Boer, but the 43-year-old Dutchman who's worked on both sides of the Atlantic tells Abigail Wills that he is not averse to a spot of mucking in with his staff on the ground.

Switching from a pharmaceutical equipment manufacturer to a temporary structures supplier may not seem to be the most logical step, but thinking out of the box is something with which De Boer Structures UK managing director Theo den Bieman has become very familiar.

"It's been a good move so far and I am enjoying every day," says the Dutchman. His shift to De Boer seems less out of the ordinary given the company's high profile in his native country.

"The brand recognition of De Boer in Holland is phenomenal," he says.

"Not just because it is associated with tents, but because the largest caterer in Holland has a similar name. If there is a party in Holland the name De Boer will always accompany it."

den Bieman joined De Boer Structures USA as president and chief executive in 2002 before crossing back over the Atlantic last October. He now lives in Blenheim, Oxfordshire with his wife and two children. Despite the upheaval he hasn't found it hard to adapt to his new life. "It's been easy for me as the job keeps me busy. We all know kids are flexible and adapt to new situations easily, and my wife has become a real soccer mum," he remarks.

Having worked on both sides of the Atlantic, the 43-year-old knows all too well how different the European and US markets are. "Geographically, the US is four times bigger than Europe and that has consequences for events such as product launches," he says. "You also compete with more permanent venues in the US because they are cheaper to build there and they have the space for bigger structures."

Expectations differ in terms of service, too. "In Europe we are prepared to pay for premium service. In the US whether you are buying a Mercedes Benz or a piece of junk, people will expect the same level of service," he says.

At the moment, den Bieman is spending much of his time in Farnborough, as De Boer works on the build-up to the eponymous air show. A team of up to 35 staff will erect 90,000 sq m of structures before the biennial show opens in July, making it De Boer's biggest contract to date.

The company is also preparing for another of its key events, the Chelsea Flower Show, which runs from 25-28 May in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, west London.

den Bieman is quick to point out that there is more to De Boer than working on high-profile events. "Some 44% of our contracts are worth less than £10,000. We are still a company that can create and deliver the same kind of quality and atmosphere on a small scale," he insists.

De Boer has won a string of awards for its products, including The Event Services Association New Product of the Year gong for its New Galaxy structure.

The temporary building formed part of the MTV 'village' that De Boer erected for the MTV Europe Music Awards, which snapped up the Performance Textiles Association's Project of the Year award.

Farnborough Air Show will see the launch of Panorama, a circular, multi-functional structure, that den Bieman has high hopes for in the touring events and promotions arenas.

"Fewer companies are trying to reach their customers as a total group and are instead focusing on smaller groups. So what we are seeing is an increase in promotional activity but on a smaller scale,' he explains.

den Bieman is not one to hide behind his office desk and can often be found on-site getting his hands dirty with his valued staff. "I always have my helmet and steel-toed shoes in the car. I make it a point to spend one or two days every few months working as part of the team," he says.

"When we win awards it is recognition that these people do something extraordinary, that people have had a fantastic time at the event, and we are part of that."

DEN BIEMAN ON ...

How De Boer maintains its success ... The company will be 80 years old in 2004, so we must be doing something right. Our investments have always been in structures and we haven't sold any of our designs, which means we have a unique product.

The importance of competition ... They are our colleagues. Customers want to have a choice and it pushes us to stay creative and alert. Also, if you have a couple of large players in the market it creates a platform that improves the industry.

London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics ... The Olympic Games is a massive and very expensive undertaking for the host nation but, as we saw in Sydney four years ago, a successful games can work wonders for a city's reputation.

What he does in his spare time ... I am learning to cook on my Aga but I haven't tried black pudding or other English dishes yet. We have the TV cookery programme Two Fat Ladies in Holland - that's the way cooking should be - to hell with the calories, use half a pound of butter.


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