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Making an impact: How Count & Cooper helps build a sustainable future

Interview with Jasper Blaauw, Partner

Count & Cooper is not a construction company. Nevertheless, it contributes to a future-proof Netherlands. How? By forming an optimal project team together with builders in the complex mega projects that convert Dutch sustainable ambitions into reality. What is distinctive here is that the project and tender management agency links its revenue model to project success and often joins the construction consortia itself. We spoke to partner Jasper Blaauw about how Count & Cooper forges these partnerships.

A few years ago, McKinsey sounded the alarm in a report: large infrastructure projects place too much risk on the builders. But where the researchers found that many builders dropped out because of this, Count & Cooper very consciously chose to bear the risk when it was founded – a highly unusual step for a project and tender management agency.

Jasper Blaauw, Partner

“Taking risks is of course not our goal, making an impact is our goal,” says Jasper Blaauw. “We need a good position in the projects for this. To enforce this position on our partners, a risk-bearing model is required. A model in which you, as a consultancy, really take your responsibility. So we always have skin in the game.”

It sounds like a logical addition. But in an industry where highly complex construction projects regularly exceed their budget and deadline, it takes a lot of trust – not only in yourself, but also in the construction companies you work with. As a partner, Jasper plays a key role in forging these partnerships.

Hi Jasper, how does the formation of consortia work?

“As you mentioned, the formation of a consortium or long-term collaboration first and foremost requires trust. It always starts with a first assignment. There you get to know each other and you see each other's added value.”

“From that point of view, our business development works in two ways. Firstly: we have won 70% of the tenders in which we are involved. By making project management part of the day-to-day decision-making on complex projects, we also realize healthy project margins upon delivery. Many potential collaborations arise from the bond of this success.”

“Secondly, we work proactively on consortium formation, in which we like to work with contractors who are able to carry out the work mainly with their own people, equipment and expertise. Those are the parties with which we are most complementary – we see each other's added value.”

“In both cases we have to do our homework before entering into a partnership. After all, sustainable success is our reason for existence.”

What are the most important ingredients for that sustainable success?

“If I assume our own role within construction projects: our core business is project management and project control. In order to win the projects, we also need to be very good at tendering. That is why tender management is also one of our specialties.”

“Also, a large part of the success of a winning bid or profitable project lies in a thorough understanding of customer demand and customer interests. We are good at that. Then, together with our partners, we find the ingredients to achieve distinctiveness.”

“With regard to forming partnerships, we are emphatically in favor of entering into long-term collaborations within certain sectors, as long as the relevant consortium tenders for suitable projects. Above all, we want to avoid steering on construction volume, and to safeguard tender continuity through as many intent agreements as possible.”

"We are in favor of hurrying if you have the time."

“Ultimately, every collaborating party benefits from excelling on scope that you are really good at. This is the basis of a high win rate and healthy project margin in our industry. In order to work together successfully, clear choices must be made and good cooperation agreements must be established.”

“Developing a common interest and really understanding this takes time. That is why working together more often is pleasant, but with good preparation and joint intention we can switch quickly. We are in favor of hurrying if you have the time. It often works very well that we, as an independent party, can take on the organization based on the interests of the project. We call this "front loading".

How do you determine which tenders to register for?

“We are constantly scanning the market for interesting projects. In some cases we are the initiator of the consortium, for which we look for the most suitable construction partners. In other cases we are approached for our added value to participate in a consortium that has already been formed. In both cases we take on a quartermaster role.”

“We determine what is an interesting project for us based on our mission to make an impact. We determined our focus based on the challenges arising from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) of the United Nations, where we looked at which SDG's contain a major construction challenge in the coming years.”

“Based on that, we are active in four sectors: the energy transition, hydraulic engineering, infrastructure and urban development. Within these sectors, clients such as Rijkswaterstaat, ProRail, provinces, municipalities, Stedin and water boards publish tenders.”

“We have developed our own technology to efficiently screen these marketplaces for projects that are relevant to us. We analyze these projects extensively on several criteria. For example, we determine whether we have added value to the project, whether our employees on the project have a challenging assignment and whether it fits what motivates them.”

“This is accompanied by more legal and contractual checks & balances. When the light is green, only then will we enter into a partnership and then we will go for it.”

Have you also set long-term goals for your mission to make an impact?

“As part of our portfolio management, we focus on the number of projects and initiatives with a sustainable character and we draw up a sector plan for each market segment for each year. This is an analysis of the market for the coming years.”

“In 2025, our portfolio will consist of a balanced number of projects across segments, and we are building an increasing number of projects that make a direct contribution to the SDG's. After all, we can only use our capital – the people at Count & Cooper – once. We prefer to do this on challenges that are most current in our society.”

"We are developing our own sustainable project to generate energy using the tide."

“Here I do describe aspects of 'a perfect project'. We are a fast-growing company and that comes with plenty of challenges. We also regularly have to opt for continuity on assignments. This continuity then enables us to do business and to participate more broadly as a shareholder in projects.”

“Finally, we naturally also look at the sustainability of our own business operations. As a consultancy company, we will simply obtain our CO2 performance ladder certificate, just like the builders.”

Finally, can you already tell us about the projects that are planned for the coming years?

“We started 2023 very well with two projects in the energy transition. Together with an investment company, we are developing our own sustainable project to generate energy using the tide.”

“This form of energy generation is perhaps a decade behind the development of wind energy, for example. We believe that this form of energy generation will contribute to a balanced energy network in Europe.”

“In addition, together with a specialist in building solar parks for large reputable customers and a Dutch energy supplier, we have prepared a bid for a floating solar park on the site of a private company. These are very nice developments within Count & Cooper and motivate us to take even more steps in helping to build a future-proof Netherlands.”

“Even within this enormous task, we see great added value in our innovative approach. We still see that large complex projects run out of time and budget and do not adequately meet customer demand. The market wants to change this, but continues to find it difficult. We see that we can accelerate this with our partners. We call that a catalyst for change.”

Text: | Images: Count & Cooper | Date: 05-06-2023