Batenborch Speaks to Refresco’s Alexander van Assouw

Recently Batenborch International had the honour of sitting down with Alexander van Assouw, Managing Director Benelux at Refresco. In the interview, we were able to go in depth about his career trajectory and his best tips for success, among other diverse subjects. Read on to hear directly from one of the top executives in the Dutch FMCG landscape.

A short introduction…

We spoke with Alexander van Assouw in his office in Maarheeze. In a distant past he started his career in a field sales executive role. He made swift promotions from regional account manager to Key Account Manager and finally to National Account Manager. Alexander landed at Refresco 9 years ago and became end responsible for Retail Private Label Sales. After 2 years he grew into a Commercial Director role before being appointed Managing Director for Refresco Benelux.

Why Refresco?

“Refresco not only has vision, but a plan. Everybody has a clear understanding of where we want to be in 5 years and we translate this vision into concrete actions. For the past 20 years, we have doubled in size every 4 years. To me, it is exciting to work for such a fast-growing company. Not only do we continue to grow, but we have managed this in a consolidated market – people don’t drink more, but they do drink differently. It is up to me to devise our strategy in this market situation and to motivate the team for the continuous growth we envision.”

Refresco’s vision

“Agility, flexibility and entrepreneurialism is essential to our approach. Sometimes, the market changes in ways we cannot influence, but what is important is how fast we can respond to this. In my view, the fact that we can respond to market challenges swiftly is why we still exist and continue to grow today. Part of the reason why we can respond quickly is because we are divided up in local business units nationally, backed up by our international organization.
All of our Business Units operate essentially autonomously, with their own supply chain, HR and finances, but with support from the larger group in Rotterdam. This makes us particularly flexible and able to learn from each other. Of course, the risk is that we become slower while we grow. This is a continuous challenge for us to be aware of.”

Refresco as employer

“What I personally like about our company is that although we are a growing company, we are very approachable in character. Operators on the floor are in regular contact with higher management. This is of course something that has to suit your personality, but I think that the word ‘accessible’ is a good one to describe us. Within Refresco, there is room for growth, for fun, and for entrepreneurialism.”

“What I personally like about our company is that although we are a growing company, we are very approachable in character”

Challenges for Refresco

“The world changes in rapid tempo these days. Due to factors like corona, inflation, and supply chain disruptions, the market dynamics have changed a lot. To stay on course, let alone to grow in this environment is a great challenge. I would say recruiting good people and keeping good people with the organization to ensure continuity is therefore our biggest challenge. “

Pitfalls in Talent Acquisition

“A pitfall for hiring in general is that people tend to hire people that are like themselves. But a team is only good when it is diverse. The trick is to find the correct balance between people that you click with, who are often more like yourself, and people who are right for the role.”

Success at Refresco

“What are the most important competences to become successful at Refresco? In my opinion, you need to be entrepreneurial. Are you someone who can not only observe what is wrong, but also come up with solutions and put those solutions into practice? Can you make things happen? In short: are you flexible, entrepreneurial and agile? Those are our 3 core values at Refresco. We are an intensive company where you need to be hands-on, but you will have the opportunity to create your own path with us. You are allowed to make mistakes; if you make many decisions, you are bound to make some wrong ones as well. But the most important thing to us is that you make decision instead of procrastinating, being afraid and putting things off. Be proactive.”

“Find an employer where you feel comfortable to be yourself…Do not change yourself in order to become successful within a company”

Personal career path

Obstacles and learning moments

“The biggest learning moment in my personal career came during the early years of my career. I had not done the proper research into the company at the time, and it turned out the organization did not suit me as a person. At the same time, this experience shows that you should not let missteps demotivate you: this wrong choice taught me a lot about myself and has remained a great learning experience.
As you grow older, you become more comfortable with who you are. You will feel less and less of a need to define yourself in relation to others. My biggest tip would therefore be to make sure you find an employer where you feel comfortable to be yourself. Especially early in your career, you will have a tendency to look at those in senior roles and compare yourself to them, with the illusion that they know everything. But do not change yourself in order to become successful within a company. Keep calm and rest assured in the knowledge that if you are good, you will stand out and opportunities will come your way.”


“As you become older and more experienced, your leadership style will change. A sense of calmness will enter your work. As a young professional, you want to score and win on your own; as a senior leader, you need to learn to let go and trust. That is a learning process that you have to go through.
I have the impression that people are a bit more restless these days than they used to be. If people are promoted too quickly, they may hit a wall, but if they are promoted too slowly, talent will walk away from your organization. My advice would be to give your team more space over time. If you see they handle it well, give them even more space. This will create trust between you and your team – but only if the results are good. After all, you remain end responsible. But by giving trust to your team, you are essentially passing on a mandate and passing along some of your responsibility.”

Best tips for success

“Be curious. Be open to new things, but also give yourself time to find a sense of calmness and sureness in a role. If a role is the right fit for you, you will probably have to say no to short-term opportunities. But for me, that has always earned itself back in the long term.
Give yourself 5 years to become really good at something before looking towards the next step. Often, there is still room to develop yourself in your current role. So find the depth and the breadth in what you are doing now. Finish things. Make things happen. Finally, I have never felt too good for any role I was in. Make sure you can support the teams you manage and show genuine interest in the people you work with, no matter their standing in the hierarchy.”

Final thoughts

“Get to know yourself and find a company that suits you. Look beyond the image and reputation. But aside from that, be patient! Stay curious, become really good at what you do, and the opportunities will present themselves.”


Alexander van Assouw
Managing Director Benelux at Refresco
Oranje Nassaulaan 44
6026 BX Maarheeze

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