Interview Kobe Verdonck

4 January 2021

SD Worx aims for the top position

There were only twenty-two days between sending the first e-mail and signing a four-year sponsorship contract. It was out of pure interest that Kobe Verdonck, CEO of SD Worx, sent an e-mail to team manager Erwin Janssen to inquire whether there was an opportunity to sponsor the professional women’s cycling team. When he heard a few hours later that the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team was in fact looking for a new main sponsor, he acted swiftly. “It’s not every day you get the opportunity to sponsor the best women’s cycling team in the world”, says Verdonck. 

In his previous role, Kobe Verdonck regularly visited Boels Rental’s head office in Sittard. He recalls seeing a magnificent Specialized racing bike, which belonged to the team, take pride of place in the lobby of the Limburg family firm.

The bike took him back to his younger years. As a boy of around eight, he became obsessed with cycling. He would watch the Tour de France on television for hours, admiring the riders as well as the beautiful landscapes. It was the hill climbs in particular that excited him. On his twelfth birthday, he got his first racing bike. Not to race with, but to discover the world and challenge himself athletically. His love of cycling and racing has never waned. He has attacked many mountain passes himself and he finds taking his racing bike for a spin is still the best way to stay fit.

Whenever Verdonck visited Boels Rental in the past, that racing bike was an inspiration for him. He saw the kind of publicity Boels generated thanks to the women’s cycling team. He followed the team and was amazed at how the team took top position in the world year-in-year out and dominated the field in the most important competitions. 

“When I started working at SD Worx as CEO I wanted to explore the sponsorship opportunities in women’s cycling. This was purely out of interest – not because we were thinking of becoming main sponsor.”

Verdonck initially sent an e-mail to the team’s info address, but that e-mail got lost in the spam folder. He then got hold of Erwin Janssen’s direct address through the former CFO of Boels Rental, Piet Donners. On 21 January, at 4.50 in the morning, he sent Erwin an e-mail. Later on that morning, Janssen contacted him directly and they spoke on the phone for almost an hour. Verdonck: “The budget was feasible for us. Presented with a golden opportunity like this, we did not think twice. If we had to build a team like this from scratch ourselves, it would take ten years for us to get to the same level. You build up knowledge and experience over a long period of time and this way it becomes part of your DNA. This is also true for our company, which has now existed for 75 years. In the end, that’s what makes the difference.”

For SD Worx, it was a conscious choice to opt for a women’s cycling team. “As an HR company, we fully support diversity. What’s more, women’s sport is on the rise", Verdonck continues. “I also think women’s cycling is purer than what you see in the men’s pelotons. It stands for all the values we hold as a company. We want to be accessible to our customers and cycling is one way of achieving this. We work as a team and we want to be the best, so we have a natural affinity for women’s cycling. Last year, as co-sponsor of the team, we saw first-hand how our company embraced sponsorship of this team. We love to win and celebrate successes with all our colleagues.”

SD Worx is very keen to expand the team into an international team. For Erwin Janssen and Danny Stam, that wish was father to the thought. “SD Worx wants to be the European leader in HR and payroll. That’s why it is important not to give the cycling team a Belgian or Dutch label but for it to have a European profile. Diversity is very important to us.”

The fact that the cycling team has been the best women’s team in the UCI ranking for the past six years was highly appealing to Verdonck, who also pursues a leading position in business with SD Worx. “You can sense in everything – with the riders and the coaches – that the team constantly strives for that top position. A good example was the Tour of Flanders in October, where you could see that everyone in the team goes flat out and that it’s all about the team result. It doesn’t matter who wins, as long as the team wins. Not only do you see this in the race but also in the girls’ sheer joy afterwards at having won. They were just as happy as Chantal Blaak with her victory.”

Now that Verdonck has closely followed the cycling team over the past year, his respect for cyclists has only deepened. “Everyone puts an incredible amount of effort into getting the best out of the team. I love seeing how everyone aspires to the highest standards. The girls have an incredible drive. But at the same time, the team remains down to earth and accessible. No airs and graces, but an upbeat, friendly atmosphere. They are athletes who give their all, put the team first and don’t let their egos get in the way. I think this is one of the team’s strengths. Other teams often have one strong rider. But Danny Stam always makes sure he has several irons in the fire. I think it’s this tactic that makes all the difference with the competition in women’s cycling.” 

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