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Sebastiaan Sanders, director and owner of interior design company Leolux, is at the helm of the family business. With 350 employees who are passionate about the business and know what “Italian” class is, the furniture exudes sophistication. Leolux has been around since 1934 and was founded by Sebastiaan's grandfather. Each piece of furniture is produced to order and sold through a global network of Leolux dealers. MASTERS talks to Sanders: who put his career together? Text: Mical Joseph
Image: Leolux

What was your very first job?

“My parents taught me the value of money and thought it was important that we started with part-time jobs early. That's why I picked mushrooms in Venlo near us. It sometimes happened that I was in the pub with friends in the evenings, but early in the morning around 6 o'clock I was back in my clothes picking mushrooms among the horse manure.

I was actually sure from quite an early age that I also wanted to work in the family business. My grandfather was in the company and so was my father, so it seemed like a logical step to me. Still, I had kept a number of options open during my high school years. In addition to the 'family option', I started studying Economics and Law. Ultimately, I turned out to be the most suitable for the strategic direction and I chose Bain & Company. I gave a lot of advice to large companies such as Heineken and Philips.” 

How did you end up in your current job?

“I started at Leolux at the age of 32. It literally felt like coming home when I ended up in the family business. I noticed that the warm atmosphere I experienced at home was also felt in the corporate culture. That was of course taken by my grandfather and father.”

How did the family business actually start?

“My grandfather took over a small existing upholstery company after the Second World War. This was made possible with the last cents of the family's savings. After the war, his mother (my great-grandmother) received compensation for the bombing of their house. They didn't use the money to build the house, they used the money to build the business. It was truly a generation that worked hard to build something better on the mess that was left behind. My grandfather had a vision: he wanted to create modern design like the Italians did at the time. And he succeeded.”

 In the business field: how do you notice that you are a child of your father and a grandchild of your grandfather?

“I noticed that I actually adopted quite a lot from my grandfather and father. The motto from the start has been: as a company, wanting to be a brand itself and really add something to the market is very important to Leolux. I have adopted the passion and entrepreneurial stubbornness. By this I mean that when there is a setback, I do not hang my head, but rather make the most of what I can. This is very much part of the family culture and I am proud of that!”

Who was your wheelbarrow in that?

“One of the partners at the company where I worked before Leolux, the American Chris Zook, taught me a lot. Chris was very good strategically, he saw the essence of the problem and then explained step by step how to get out of that problem. This mentor taught me to focus and I have taken his wise words with me into my further career.

I actually went off the deep end at Leolux because the external director before me left earlier than expected and did not teach me the tricks of the trade. I invented a lot with the team I worked with and in fact these people have all been wheelbarrows for me. The combination of these employees took me further.”

What have you learned during the corona period?

“Keeping calm and creating clarity for my team are important aspects that I have learned, especially during the corona period. When things become unpredictable, a difficult time begins. In my position it is important to make adjustments where necessary, so that everything still runs smoothly.”

What is your greatest passion in your profession?

“What I like is that as a company we create design ourselves that is not yet seen anywhere. So from scratch inventing and designing things. I also appreciate the enthusiasm people have for our brand and product. The employees who work here create a great sense of solidarity and show loyalty. Some enter at the hand of their father and leave 48 years later to retire. So the employees first experienced my grandfather, then my father and now me. That's special.

My grandfather died when I was 12 years old, so I never knew him as a working man, but the anecdotes from the employees who did know him working give me such a good impression of him. As if I had experienced my grandfather.”

What has been the biggest learning moment in your career?

“When I just started my first job, I pushed myself very hard to achieve goals and I absolutely wanted to do everything myself. If something didn't work out, I could be really frustrated. My manager then really scolded me and said: 'Why don't you just ask me or one of the others?' Over the years I learned to ask for help. I put aside my misplaced pride. Asking for help is key. "

What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?

“You don't have to do everything alone and make sure you use your network well, in a positive sense.”

Have you been a wheelbarrow for someone?

“I hope so! I encourage young talents and also give them the space to learn all kinds of things. If things sometimes go 'wrong', I take full responsibility. These people also have to trial and get up.”