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75 years of Fabory: four retired employees look back

"The company's greatest asset was its employees."

On the eve of its 75th anniversary, four former workers look back on their careers at Fabory. Some of them had already started their careers in the late sixties. The four former employees, who are also good friends, share many memories of the 'good old days'.


Photo: Hugo Smet, Cees Fouchier, Wim Jansen and Hans Oosterbaan reminisce.

The four friends meet on a foggy Monday morning at the Laurent Janssensstraat in Tilburg. A stop at the coffee machine quickly leads to the retrieval of a first memory: "Do you remember when employees used to put washers in the machine instead of quarters?" The first burst of laughter sounds.

Hugo Smet had only been working at Fabory for a year when the economic recession hit. Fabory (then still Borstlap) also felt the consequences in the early nineties. The family business acted decisively: temporary workers were allowed to go home, and office workers helped out in the warehouse one day a week. It created a win-win situation. Employees who usually worked in the office got to know the work in the warehouse and got a better feel for the product. Hans: "There was a real 'we' feeling. The commercial director also took part. He got to sort the fat nuts", he said with a smile.

Computer-controlled warehouse

Hugo: "The economy collapsed in those days. Still, we didn't end up in the red." All four worked one or two days a week in the warehouse that year. "We wanted to be ready when the economy picked up. So warehouses were cleaned out, and the old stock went into new Fabory boxes. We bought in new stock at market prices prevailing at the time. In early 1995 the economy rose, and we reaped the benefits." Hans: "That was also the moment when we were one of the first wholesalers to invest in a computer-controlled warehouse, very innovative at the time."

All four of them agree: anyone who started working at Fabory became part of a family. They always spoke in the 'we' language. Hugo: "We regularly had a jubilee, 25 or 40 years in service. We held a reception at 16.00, and in the evening, we invited the jubilee for dinner with family and management. Last but not least, we presented the jubilee with a gold pin. That was carried forward with the lapel." Wim also remembers it well: "John Borstlap always said that his greatest capital asset was the people in the company."


Photo: The computerised warehouse was put into operation in the 1990s.

2.5 MB capacity for the entire company

The former employees worked in the P&O department, as sales staff and the IT department. Hans Oosterbaan eventually received the longest job title, manager operations-critical systems at IT. He remembers well the hundreds of punch cards passed through his hands every day. Finally, as Head of Automation, he became responsible for the SAP system, among other things.

The punch cards were arranged in a tray and processed into packing lists and later invoices. "In 1973, we were already using an advanced computer system for this, with two fixed and two removable disks." The total capacity of the computer: 2.5 MB capacity. "The whole company used it."

Hans' motto was always: measuring is knowing. The monitors that were later hooked up to a computer cost 15,000 guilders each. Hans decided to compare the computer's far too long response time with an employee's hourly rate. His graph was the deciding factor: investment. "For Fabory, it was always a no-brainer: if the process is too slow and it helps the customer, then we have to go for it."

Wim Jansen was the first Fabory employee from Tilburg who, in the late 1960s, boarded the train to Scheveningen every day from Brabant for his induction program. "From the street where we were located, it was only a two-minute walk to the beach." The way back was not a punishment either, because together with employees of the PTT who travelled back to Tilburg from Rotterdam, he and his colleagues played many games of Hoogjassen. Later, he became responsible for Special Accounts and was given the portfolios of Tata Steel (then Royal Hoogovens) and Dutch Railways, among others. "Karel trained me together with his son John," says Wim. As a result, Wim became increasingly adept at commercial math and later taught the skill to his colleagues at the Fabory centres.

Anyone applying for a job at Fabory in those days could count on being asked what family you came from. Wim: "Someone from a middle-class family, we could hire immediately. Then you knew you were dealing with a hands-on mentality."


Photo: One of the first computer systems used by the entire company in the 1980s.

"Remember when employees used to put washers in the machine instead of quarters?"

"What does such and such earn? Very much"

When Cees Fouchier started working in the Accounting Department, processes were just being automated. Payroll was calculated on slips. Anyone who asked him what an employee earned received the answer: "Veul". If you were a little more curious, you would be asked about the salary of a board member: "Quite a lot".

In 1991 Hugo Smet joined the group of employees as the last one. The hiring process took some time, and I was therefore careful. "At the completion, I had to go to Mr Karel in Poppel, which became an instructive and pleasant evening with much wine; Karel was a fine man, the grandfather of the company." Hugo describes the organisational structure as flat, with few layers and short lines of communication. "That period Fabory expanded more and more. During the week, I worked in Tilburg and on the weekends, I flew to Prague, Budapest or Warsaw to take on new employees."

Slowly but surely, the systems that all these other countries ran on were connected to the central computer in Tilburg. Eventually, we added one more computer. Hans: "The fact that one computer could take over the other was already a big step in those days."

The feeling of a family business was noticeable in various ways, with good primary and secondary terms of employment. New colleagues had to live within a thirty-kilometre radius of Fabory. Extra hands were always needed in the summer period, and the help never came from far away: employees' children invariably earned an extra penny in the warehouse during their vacations.

Personally involved

If systems had to be expanded or replaced, days were chosen around Easter, Ascension or Christmas. Everything had to be up and running again on the following Monday. Hans: "The Borstlap family always came to take a look at those times. When the job was done, there was food for everyone." On birthdays, employees received a VVV voucher, and if possible, they accepted it personally from John Borstlap. Highlights were the annual Christmas celebration and the barbecue in the summer.

The men meet each other on Lauren Janssensstraat this Monday is an exception. They no longer meet here but in Fabory's senior citizen's association. This now has almost a hundred members. Outside coronation time, they like to get together to drink at the Oude Markt in Tilburg. Seventy-five years of Fabory was a lovely occasion to look back together, but these four men do just that. Their time at Fabory has created a warm, familial friendship.

Photo: Borstlap's office, the late 1970s.

Hugo, Cees, Wim and Hans looked back together, and we did so with even more people from our organisation. This resulted in an impressive timeline that takes you on a journey through 75 years of Fabory in words and pictures.

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