Joe Bekker, Founder & President, Thrustmaster of Texas

Joe Bekker

By Jack O'Connell 2017-01-11 13:53:45

Bekker likes to think big. That’s why he built the world’s largest thruster manufacturing facility.

By Jack O’Connell

Tell us about your background. Where are you from?

I was born in Amsterdam and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from HTS Amsterdam. I then worked for Byron Jackson Pumps in the Netherlands for more than ten years before being transferred to Houston in 1979. At that time Houston was an amazing place. The city was booming, boiling with activity. You couldn’t help but be successful.

How did you get into the maritime business?

After about two years in Houston I quit my job and started a trading company, and in 1984 one of my employees sold a “propulsion unit, outboard” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That’s like a big diesel engine-driven, industrial-type outboard motor for barge propulsion. We were going to buy it from a European manufacturer and resell it to USACE at a 15 percent markup. But when we placed our order we didn’t get a response and soon found out that the European supplier had vanished into thin air. We tried to find another source but couldn’t find anyone willing to sell us a unit for less than the price we were charging USACE.

So I explained the situation to our customer and suggested they place the order with the next bidder in line. The contracting specialist at USACE would have none of it. She explained that when you have a contract with the U.S. government, you have an obligation to perform. If you cannot or will not perform under the contract, you will be found in default and liable for the additional cost the USG incurs in buying from another source. You will also be placed on a black list, barring you from selling anything to the government in the future. So I decided to build the propulsion unit myself. That’s how Thrustmaster was born.

How many offices and employees are there?

We have our headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Houston. We have worldwide offices too: Thrustmaster Europe in Rotterdam, Thrustmaster Middle East in the U.A.E., Thrustmaster Asia Pacific in Singapore, and Thrustmaster do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro. We have service outlets in the U.S., Korea and China, and we have a network of sales and service agents around the globe. Our employee count fluctuates depending on our backlog and ranges up to about 250.

Your Houston plant is the largest thruster manufacturing facility in the world. What inspired you to build it?

If you want to accomplish great things, you have to think big. I want Thrustmaster to be the world’s leading thruster supplier.

How would you describe your management style?

Informal, accessible, decisive, often getting into details when warranted. Sometimes I micromanage new people until they can handle the job without close supervision, and then I let them do so.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I don’t have much spare time. I work seven days a week.

Have you read any good books lately?

The last book I read was Lean Thinking by James Womack. It’s a great primer for companies wanting to go lean. – MarEx

Jack O’Connell is Senior Editor of The Maritime Executive.

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