Former Bol.com CEO on his collaboration with M3 Consultancy

29 June 2022 Consultancy.eu 3 min. read

The former CEO of Dutch Bol.com, Huub Vermeulen, served the online retailer for two decades. In that time, he saw the Dutch firm grow from a small start-up to one of the country’s largest e-commerce platforms, and during his four-year tenure as chief executive, he helped Bol.com transition from a classic retailer to a platform for 50,000 sales partners.

“From the first day that I got to know Bol.com as an organisation, I was captivated by the enormous drive, innovative spirit and ambitious mission. It has been an unforgettable adventure to be part of this company almost from the start. The decision to leave Bol.com was not an easy one,” said Vermeulen, when he announced his retirement in 2021.

Between 2017 and 2021 Vermeulen initially led around 2,000 Bol.com employees – a headcount that grew to 2,500. He also led the firm through a period of continued revenue growth – sales even exploded in the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 – and steered the retailer through its largest organisational change ever.

Huub Vermeulen, Former CEO of Bol.com

A large transformation was behind this success. Over the years, Bol.com became more of an ‘open platform’ for retailers, and today some 50,000 sales partners are now active on the platform. When Vermeulen and his leadership team designed this strategic course, they knew all too well that this would have a huge impact on the organisation.

Complex transformation

Among the changes needed for this major transformation were: a new strategy and organisational design, new ways of working for hundreds of employees, and changes to management tiers.

While top and middle management had exchanged ideas and explored potential solutions, structuring them to create a clear-cut plan proved difficult.

For Vermeulen, it rapidly became clear that Bol.com needed to bring in external expertise which could support the creation of an overarching organisational change strategy. He set out to find a consultancy that had knowledge of organisational change, the track record and knew the sector well, in order to help guide the transformation to a successful close.

Bol.com eventually chose M3 Consultancy. At the outset, a surprise for some, because often the large strategic consultancies or the Big Four are flown in for such engagements. However, Vermeulen and his team asserted that the consultants of M3 Consultancy had the right knowledge and experience, while their attitude and way of working also fitted in well with the culture at the online retailer.

“With such a large transition, you can’t take risks or achieve change overnight,” explained Vermeulen, “as you shouldn't overlook anyone. It’s paramount that you maintain an overview and are consistent throughout. So, the consultants you work with should be thorough, accurate, structured, and honest. M3 Consultancy’s experts are all those things.”

“First, they carefully listened to our ideas, weighing each to ensure we wouldn't include any conflicting concepts. They clearly explained which ideas were viable and what the potential outcomes looked like. Their advice helped us make well-considered choices, keeping the end goal in mind.”

Vermeulen was particularly happy with M3 Consultancy’s objectivity and honesty. Whenever outsourcing consultancy assignments, clients need to work with “experts who tell you the truth” – but this is not always a given. Consultants should acquire insights and share these with you, even if they’re not in line with your expectations.”

With this fundament, the senior leadership team of Bol.com approved an organisational model, on which the entire transition was based. In 2020 the transformation came to a formal close.

What were the results of M3 Consultancy's efforts? “We were able to make well-considered choices that led us to set up a solid organisational model,” says Vermeulen. “It was quite the accomplishment, as we were dealing with complex questions. With M3 Consultancy’s help, we brought the transition to a satisfactory conclusion.”

Looking back, Huub concludes the entire process went very smoothly: “The consultants briefed me perfectly. I knew exactly what was going on but was never flooded with information. And I could trust that progress was being made.”

Huub would definitely recommend working with M3 Consultancy: “If you want to gain insight into your current organization and create a clear-cut new organizational model, they're the go-to party.”