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Jozef Opdeweegh of Premier Farnell: How To Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book

Celebrating — writing a book is a big deal; in some cases, it’s a life or career changing event. So, let’s celebrate that and have some fun along the way. Maybe have a launch party, or acknowledge a milestone in your sales. But most importantly, smile and be proud that you’re a published author!

As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jozef Opdeweegh.

Jozef Opdeweegh is an international Chief Executive Officer with more than 20 years’ experience of leading and growing mid-cap public and large private companies. Known for a style founded on the core values of respect, transparency, and integrity, he has served as CEO for Premier Farnell PLC, Neovia, Americold Realty Trust, and Syncreon. He has also held several board director roles in North and South America, Asia, Europe and Australia.

Drawing on his knowledge of business accumulated across the globe, Jozef is an author and thought leader on the critical relationship between the values we live by and the value we create! His recent book Fair Value; reflections on good business has been critically acclaimed as a unique and even soulful take on how values shape us both as individuals and collectively as organizations.

Jozef is fluent in English, Dutch, German, and has a working command of French. He holds a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Applied Economics, Business Engineering and Quantitative Techniques.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?

Many years ago, when I was working in the financial services industry, I was invited to become the CFO in a start-up with 2 larger strategic backers, one based in Canada, the other in Europe. Initially, I was offered the position. A couple of weeks went by, and in the meantime the European backer had gone through a leadership change. Their new leadership had a change of opinion and no longer thought I was the most suited candidate for the CFO position, for reasons unclear and unexplained to me. So, the next Sunday after having been turned down, I drove to the home of the main shareholder of the European strategic, with whom I had a good working relationship. My visit was unannounced. When he opened the door, I told him that I would let me in, I would not leave without a commitment of the CFO job. He let me in, and 3 hours later I walked out with the job in hand. That was the start of my foray into the business world.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?

I am currently involved as the co-founder in a number of interesting projects, mainly in the health and wellness space in the US, with an emphasis on prevention. These efforts are specifically focused on communities that comparatively have less access to good healthcare due to constraints based on their disposable income, lack of health insurance or even a language barrier. With a long-time friend and cardiologist, we have developed a business that focuses on the provision of cardiovascular preventive services and related population health efforts. With the help of a team of wonderful clinicians, we provide — through a combination of screening, appropriate medication and adjustment to lifestyle and habits — services that will help our community to live a longer and healthier life. In addition, we have founded a business for the same demographic that sells natural supplements that have been proven to be efficacious from a scientific perspective, and provides weight loss programs.

In terms of writing, I continue to publish some articles here and there, all about business and value driven business philosophies. Whether a publisher ultimately finds value in stitching them together for a second book is yet to be seen.

Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?

Fair Value is a collection of essays and reflections on how in a world of constant change it is the consistency of the values we live and work by that provide the foundations of our growth as individuals and organizations. Drawing on real life examples I try to show how qualities such as trust, care, and integrity are essential for us to progress together and make the most of our collective talents. In a sense, my book is not so much a formula for success as a primer for thought, and while I’m influenced by great thinkers from the past, I’m equally inspired by today’s sports stars, authors, and commentators.

While working in the UK a few years ago I was watching the World Athletics Championship in Doha and was especially taken by Katarina Johnson Thomson who won the gold medal in the Heptathlon. Her victory required a balance of skills, none of them world beating on their own, but which collectively others could not match. And it struck there were so many parallels to the organization I was leading at the time. Later at Doha the UK relay team came second to the USA in two superlative performances that in their passing of the baton were more than the sum of their individual parts. Only very seldom do companies succeed by acts of individual genius; most often it is the collective abilities, will, and commitment to each other that delivers results. Harnessing those virtues and grounding them in values we can all subscribe to is, I believe, the core role of leadership today.

You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?

They say that every book is autobiographical to some extent, so it’s hard to separate one trait from another, but if I had to pick three they would be:

Clarity: for writing to be useful it needs to be clear. I’m influenced by authors who use real life examples and who speak their mind using plain language we can all understand. I’m not interested in communicating to a select few or trying to look clever by using jargon and terms that set out to impress. In one of my essays, I reflect on the coins in our pockets, how they are tokens of trust and how without that trust we cannot build a collective economy and all that comes with it. I’m trying to use everyday examples to show how values are not restricted to our workplace or churches, but are embedded in our actions and communities, binding together all that we hold dear.

Adaptability: in writing a book we have to hold in tension a clarity about what we want to say with a willingness to respond and adapt as ideas and thoughts emerge. For example, in Fair Value I included an essay I’d previously published on the importance of nurturing talent in organizations. This piece had been rightly challenged by a colleague who pointed out that nurturing talent wasn’t always enough, citing that I myself had often hired in new skills. What followed was a complimentary essay on the building and blending of talent which added — and improved — on my first thoughts. It was a good example of collective thinking and can perhaps be seen as a metaphor for leading a business and writing a book: we shouldn’t expect to have all the answers straight away!

Humility: I have said many times that Fair Value is not written as a formula for success. Rather it’s an invitation to follow a path of discovery based on the values and virtues we believe to be good. In sharing what I found I’m not saying that I have all the answers or even that I’m right in any absolute sense. This seems to me to be vital if our work is to stand the test of time. For example, there’s a piece in the book where I reflect on the turning of the new decade and what the Twenties might bring. Much of what I wrote is still valid, but oh, how it would change if I were to write it today after a pandemic and war in Europe.

In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book? What was the “before and after picture?” What were things like before, and how did things change after the book?

I’d say that writing a book provides a platform for authority. It shows that the author cares about their subject and is a shop window for their experience and expertise. Indeed, the metaphor of a shop window is extremely apt, for writing a book is deeply revealing of ourselves to others. On the plus side, while you are open to scrutiny, as an author you also have the opportunity to present your most curated and carefully presented thoughts. As a business leader it’s a unique opportunity to set out your personal manifesto and to capture the attention of your reader in a controlled manner that is otherwise rarely afforded.

Since writing Fair Value I’ve had many more speaking and writing commissions; my views are regularly sought by others and the opportunity to influence for the good has exponentially grown. Something I have learned is how writing, which is quite a solitary pursuit, leads these days to podcasts, interviews, articles… One we put our words out into the world they have a life of their own and that is hugely exciting.

If a friend came to you and said “I’m considering writing a book but I’m on the fence if it is worth the effort and expense” what would you answer? Can you explain how writing a book in particular, and thought leadership in general, can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?

I’d say that if they have a passion and insights that they genuinely want to communicate then they should go for it! But I’d also say that integrity of thought — like brands — can’t be faked. Writing a book, particularly a one on leadership, is an investment in and an exploration of what we believe. For it to be successful, it needs to come from within and reflect our true qualities. If, as an author, you are able to write with that ‘truth to self’ then I think the opportunities for your personal brand (and by extension your company’s too) are immense. Being an author requires courage, truth, integrity, voice, care for your reader… all the qualities that make for great and trusted brands.

What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share some stories about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?

I learned that in writing a book an author is only half way there!

Promoting a book is where the work really begins, because your passion is not front of mind to others, nor is the world waiting for you to arrive! I learned that endorsements are key and that speaking and writing elsewhere is as essential to the book’s success as the chapters it contains. Effective promotion requires a mix of headline events such as launches and podcasts, but it also requires good networking, the constant seeking out of opportunities to contribute and showing gratitude to those who help you along the way. Few authors succeed on their own, so listening and learning from your publisher (they will do this many more times than you!) is vital.

Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging an expert?

I’d say that the front-end promotion has to be done personally: speaking and launching for example can’t be outsourced. Your publisher and agent should be there to help with distribution and trade marketing. And I’d recommend expert advice on what today are critical promotional elements such as supporting websites, Search Engine Optimization and social media.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Integrity — you must truly believe in what you are saying. There are few more exposing things than publishing your thoughts and beliefs for all to read. That doesn’t mean you have to be ‘right’ but it does mean you have to be true to yourself.

Tenacity — success will not come overnight and like anything worthwhile it requires hard work. I have written as many articles and smaller pieces as I have chapters for my book; I’ve also spent as much time on promotion as I did on writing.

Generosity — We don’t write books alone — in truth, we draw on the insights, the patience, and the support of many others. I have taken pleasure in sending complimentary copies to friends and colleagues who have helped me in my career, acknowledging their support and the influence they have had on Fair Value. The generosity they have shown in return has moved me and is one of the most beautiful aspects of publishing the book

Pride — take pride in what you have written and don’t be shy to promote it. In writing a book, you are saying, ‘come and see what I have found’ — it’s an invitation to others to join you. You will be surprised at the generosity and respect that others show you in return.

Celebrating — writing a book is a big deal; in some cases, it’s a life or career changing event. So, let’s celebrate that and have some fun along the way. Maybe have a launch party, or acknowledge a milestone in your sales. But most importantly, smile and be proud that you’re a published author!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

I doubt he will be reading this, but I have an immeasurable admiration for Bill Gates. His eloquence, thought leadership and incredible set of accomplishments would make him an excellent choice for breakfast.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can keep up with me through the links below!

Website: https://josopdeweegh.com/

Fair Value: Reflections On Good Business: https://fairvaluebook.com/

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.

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