After Gerrit Voortman had completed his Mechanical Engineering studies at technical college in 1970, he went on to work at his brother’s mechanisation business. The first machines were built in a small building on the ‘Betonfabriek Riessen’ [concrete plant] industrial site. At the time, the H. Voortman & Co. operation developed and built machines ‘to order’. This meant that machines were being built for wide-ranging sectors: for the construction and concrete sector, for brickworks and even for the paperboard industry. One of the first developments was an automatic conveyor system between two machines destined for a joinery factory.
Gerrit Voortman designed and developed the machinery himself. “It involved a great deal of ‘invention work’: I drew all my designs on my sketchpad, not just the machine housing but also the electrical engineering part. Having trained in mechanical engineering, I didn’t know much about the latter. I learnt a great deal about this field from my brother. Later on I also drew the steel structures on my sketchpad. I was supplied with the main structure by the designer, whereupon I worked out the joints myself.”
At a certain point, other machinery suppliers came into the market. Gerrit Voortman: “I have never been afraid of competition because I believe that you must rely on your own strengths. Nevertheless, expertise is essential in order to be able to take on and survive the competition. This will enable you to stand out from your competitors.” It is self-evident that developing new machinery is important for the continued existence of the business, which the necessary technical knowledge. In addition, it is a matter of producing it as cost-effectively as possible, provided it is not to the detriment of quality. Gerrit Voortman: “Industrial machinery must be well engineered and the materials used must be of excellent quality. Cheap often costs more, because it leads in many cases to increased servicing and aftercare on a machine.”
Going from a family business with three brothers to an organisation employing over 400 people does not of course happen overnight. When Voortman moved to Nijverheidsstraat (where Voortman Keukens is now located) in 1973-’74, there were about a dozen people on the payroll. The split into Voortman Automatisering and Voortman Staalbouw in 1978 contributed to growth in both companies. The crisis in the early eighties led to the number of employees being cut from a hundred down to sixty. From then on, the Voortman Steel Group workforce grew steadily to the 425 employees currently on the payroll.