Actually making a significant contribution to electrification. Practical and pragmatic.
An interview with Vincent Kleintjens, owner of Intercel.
What did the market look like for Intercel 30 years ago?
“Intercel was founded in 1988 and I started working there as a representative exactly 30 years ago. It was still a small company back then, but one with a distinctive position. At that time, the market still sold batteries based on ‘liquid battery acid’, which meant that these batteries had to be periodically topped up with demineralised water. Intercel was the first to offer batteries with a fully sealed system. So these batteries did not need to be topped up. I cut my teeth on that and customers in the banking, insurance and travel sectors in particular found this innovation very important. Of course, this battery revolution was accompanied by an extensive story and explanation, comparable to the development of lithium batteries today. The arguments I was able to bring along were strong. Less maintenance, a safer solution and lower costs for our customers ensured Intercel’s rapid growth. In addition to emergency power supplies based on AGM batteries, we also started a new segment with batteries for the rehabilitation sector. This also became a success and this is still an industry we work for a lot.”
A wonderful start with innovation, how did you keep that growth manageable and scalable?
“There were various partial solutions for automation on sale, for example accounting systems and stock systems. My vision was to start using 1 system in which all our processes were managed. After a long search, I finally found a system that met my requirements. Now we would call that an ERP system. This centralised way of working has brought Intercel a lot. At the time, I paid a lot of attention to the correct implementation of the automation system and organised project management in such a way that we could deliver in a scalable and, above all, flexible way.”
Looking back at that period, what did you get the most pleasure from?
“Without a doubt, sales. Something I have always continued to do. Talking to customers and interested parties still gives me energy. It is an exciting process; you have to deal with the various emotions and wishes of a client. How can Intercel really unburden them in the long term, while both parties are genuinely happy with the collaboration? I find that a great process. On the other hand, the technical aspect is also very satisfying: developing the right installation based on the necessary specifications, whereby I find it particularly important that the client is helped to find a problem-free solution.”
In 2000 you became the full owner of Intercel, what did that period look like?
“It was the special time of the “millennium bug” and the introduction of the Euro, quite hectic! Government services, especially prisons, had many acute needs in terms of emergency power supplies. A sector with many new technical requirements. In addition, there were many projects related to the transition to the Euro. Here too, there was a lot of work with short deadlines, especially to provide cash register systems with the correct emergency power. That was hard work and making sure we kept our promises, at a time when the labour market was tight.
When it is extremely busy, mistakes are also made, what did you learn during that period?
“Of course we try to avoid mistakes, but in a complex project with a large bank I learned a lot. We had delivered some batteries with a production error and that had to be solved immediately. We immediately investigated and proposed the right solution together with the supplier at the time. We then replaced the batteries in the various systems at an unprecedented rate. The bank was very impressed with how quickly and professionally we solved the problem and has therefore remained a very loyal customer. In fact, because of this situation, new customers also found us and many are still customers with us today.”
How do you look at your business, where is the key to success?
“Listen, really listening. Have a regular conversation with your customer. What does the customer really expect and is that still the same or has it changed? Asking questions in a pleasant way is the key to success, what does the customer want and perhaps even more important, what does the customer want from the customer. I believe that when you do this, you build fine relationships for the long term.”
Why did Intercel experience such rapid growth just after the new millennium?
“That was a dream scenario. After the crisis of 2001/2002, the second internet wave followed. Internet was very expensive at the time, but all companies had an almost unlimited data requirement. If I remember correctly, a monthly internet bill of at least NLG 1,000 was quite normal for an average company. Data became the new gold back then and it was stored in so-called data hotels. Due to our experience in the banking world, this was a relatively easy market for us to serve. Our customised total solutions were the perfect match for these data hotels. We often started with a smaller subproject, but soon customers saw our expertise and we were often allowed to help them completely. This became a great success that we are still in the middle of.”
Working hard and looking alertly at your market are important characteristics, but how do you stay motivated?
“A healthy body is the start for me. I very consciously look for relaxation and sport keeps me fit. An important factor is my family, if they are doing well, I am doing well too. A good work-life balance is also important to me in the running of Intercel. I also find much relaxation in tinkering with old cars, especially the Citroën DS. I hope to make one electric next year. My work is also really my hobby and I enjoy keeping an eye on the latest developments and trends. Electrification is central in this, everything about solar panels, the storage of energy at windmills and of course the transition of all machines and vehicles from diesel to electric. I spend a lot of time to really understand these developments and to be able to apply them for our clients.”
Where does Intercel stand now?
“Europe has ambitious goals when it comes to the energy transition, the transition to a new energy system. The Netherlands has a pioneering role in this. Electrification is the key word for switching from fossil to renewable energy. Intercel contributes to the energy transition and makes electrification and energy storage possible by designing tailor-made batteries for various applications. We do this in a distinctive way: we build batteries at cellular level (cell to pack) instead of at module level. In this way, we can fit more capacity into the available space. And it also offers advantages in terms of extreme conditions, such as vibrations and high or low temperatures. Where other suppliers do not dare to customise a battery for a foundation machine, we do. Today, we can supply “Made in Holland” systems up to 1000V and with a capacity of over 1MWh!
To make this possible, we have recently invested a lot in further scaling up our production lines. The rapid growth made this necessary and it involves a lot of work. Think, for example, of quality assurance, product certification, compliance with laws and regulations and, subsequently, the organisation of efficient distribution. The rapid growth of lithium solutions means that these issues are more important than ever.
“For the market, this is often ‘the future’ but we understand it today”.
Is Intercel also looking for new colleagues?
“We are also looking for new smart (technical) colleagues to join us on our journey in the world of renewable energy. In many teams there is room for expansion. We are constantly working on innovative projects where all our teams work together. I think we are really working together towards smart success. With around 60 motivated and inspiring colleagues, we work in a market where everyone is interested in ‘sustainable energy solutions’. For the market, this is often “the future” but we understand it today. This is how we can change the market and actually make a significant contribution to the energy transition, in the form of electrification. Practical and pragmatic.”
Where will Intercel be in 3 years?
“In this market, 3 years is a long way off. But I see that it is becoming increasingly normal to pay attention to emissions and sustainability. We have a responsibility here too. We pay close attention to sustainability throughout our operations and look very critically at our business processes.
Intercel offers the market and our customers the opportunity to take rapid steps towards electrification. That is the growth model we believe in. Our focus will initially be on the BeNeLux and Germany, but our activities in the rest of Europe are expanding rapidly. In three years’ time, I think we will have grown to around 120 employees.”
“We will realise an advanced Electrification Hub in 2023.”
Is there another scoop you can reveal?
“Yes definitely! We are realising an advanced Electrification Hub. We are planning to buy a location in Haarlem where we will build 6,700 m2 of workshop and storage. For us, it will be an important production site for our custom-made batteries. We would also like to cooperate with other companies here. We are going to rent a part of it to parties that build enclosures, for example, or a software developer specialised in energy transition. Where possible, this location will be built and operated in a fully circular manner.