In the spotlight: Luuk van der Weijst

Luuk van der Weijst

This time in ''In the spotlight'' colleague Luuk van der Weijst. Luuk has been working at Districon for over 31 years. He will tell you all about his experiences in this article.


Who are you?

My name is Luuk van der Weijst and for the last 31 years, I worked on Warehouse & Materials Handling within Districon. In my heart I am a real technician or engineer as they call it nowadays, but not educated as a hardcore technician. When I was younger, I really wanted to do something in the Automotive business, but when I wasn’t admitted to the Academy for Automotive Engineering, I thought to find something similar in studying Technical Transport and Logistics at the Academy for Traffic, Transport and Urban planning in Tilburg (nowadays the NHTV), my birth town. “If it can’t be cars, then it just has to be trucks”. However, it turned out to be a much broader, technical business administration study, with special focus on build environment, traffic engineering and logistics engineering. Here I discovered that Logistics consisted not only out of visible trucks on the road, but also revealed an exciting invisible world behind the walls of factories and distribution centers. That world of Warehousing and Materials Handling grabbed a hold of me, and I stayed in it.

I am a real 'project animal', initially formed by the approach of the education at the mentioned Traffic Academy so many years ago. I get excited about taking on a new challenge every time, creating and designing the solution, realizing and finally celebrating a successful completion with a beer in hand. And then moving on to the next new challenge, in a new environment and with new people. So, it was not surprising in the end that I ended up working at a logistics consultancy firm. Nowadays, when someone asks me how I managed to last that long in the same job with the same employer, my only answer is, that I am in fact the greatest jobhopper of all, who only has his permanent base at the same company.

My experiences

I first met Districon in 1986 at an internship where I worked then and after that never actually left. I learned the trade from our founder Simon-Jan Bakker at a time when there was still much pioneering going on and Districon had only a handful of employees. I graduated with a comprehensive research into automated warehouses, which was pretty unique at that time, but is (still) much in the spotlight today. 

From then on, many new things were undertaken and the company started to grow steadily. Hard working combined with a celebration from time to time. A beautiful time in which the core values ​​of Districon were formed, which are still cherished to this day.

When I started 31 years ago, logistics was still simple. We just started working with PCs in those days, but that was not much more than typing reports, using simple spreadsheets to create tables and experimenting with the first drawing programs. Back then, data was often supplied in large printed packages of 'pinfeed paper' (what we called the telephone books), in which we would spend hours counting line by line. We then learned to rely on our own observations and calculated with the obvious logic within the limited data we had. During the ever-evolving computerization within companies and the increasing ease in which very large data files of companies could be provided, I often pointed out to several young colleagues that this large knit of numbers was not always the same as 'the truth' and that without understanding those figures, the correct answer could not be found. And that is still the case today. From the mid-1990s, distribution logistics became more and more international. Japanese and American companies settled here en masse in the low countries and the economies of scale within the European Distribution Centers (EDCs) grew. Partly because of this, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) strongly emerged and Logistics service providers step by step professionalized. Around the turn of the millennium, we started to develop e-fulfillment when the first tentative signs became visible at that time, but the wheel still had to be invented. That was really a back-to-the-drawing-board time. From there on, renewed interest in logistics automation developed, effectively closing the circle in the end. Logistics became a lot more complex in those 30 years, but at the end of the day it is still about moving goods from A to B; "the right quality, at the right time, in the right quantity, in the right place." The basic principle of Logistics Management for over more than 30 years now.

I have also experienced the entire development of Districon up close. From a small specialist and pragmatic logistics consultancy firm,  a key player with about 30 colleagues in the world of warehouses and transport for already a long time towards a boost as of 2010 with the rise and further professionalization of Business Intelligence and Solutions. Today I am proud to be part of a firm that has developed into a multinational with offices in Chicago and Singapore.

Although my heart is still with Warehousing and Materials Handling and I can still regularly share my experience in that field, I did switch to the world of Aviation and Cargo Logistics around 5 years ago. A nice new challenge with many international projects and now that my personal life has settled, this has given me the opportunity to travel more. It is also a field in which, in addition to my logistics experiences, my urban planning and traffic background also can be used from time to time.

Vision for the future

In recent years, the demand for warehouse automation not only has increased, but also the the range of solutions is expanding rapidly. Therefore, it is hard to see the wood for the trees. Regretfully it turns out that investments are of such a high level, that few projects can be recouped by only labour savings. To deliver projects successfully, these projects must outdo themselves every time by quality improvements and ergonomic benefits. As for example, the sourcing and housing of Eastern European labour force becomes more and more unsustainable. Or as catalyst for a giant quality driven leap ahead.

The recent COVID-19 crisis has also shown that the carried on global offshoring has made us very dependent on long, complex and slow supply chains. Perhaps now more attention will be paid to which critical products we should be able to make ourselves again. To do that competitively, we will really have to focus more on smart and highly efficient production and logistics. I think we are still on the brink of a new industrial revolution: Industry 4.0.

So quitting is not an option for me; I can still pass on a lot of substantive and project experience to my young enthusiastic colleagues.

Which colleague will be in the spotlight next?

Among these new young enthusiastic colleagues, there are more and more ladies and gentlemen who were born in a completely different part of the world. I love that, as it provides many stories at the lunch table between people with different experiences and backgrounds (and sometimes there’s an exotic treat as well). The Caribbean zest for life comes from Robbert Teixera, born in Curaçao. He also studied in my own Burgundian hometown, so come on Robbert, tell something about your festive life. I'd be happy to pass the baton on to you.