Rynhard van As: "I have had many different roles in my career"
You were born in South Africa, can you tell us how you grew up there?
I am one of three children, I have two brothers. I have one twin brother and he is an engineer too! And I have an older brother, he is a project manager in Dubai. My twin brother is also coming to the Netherlands in a month, he has also found a job here. I have been interested in technology from a very early age. You know, taking things apart to see what I can do with them, and how it's put together. My father was an technician for the South African Railway Company. I learned a lot of technical things from him. My father had a lot of tools himself and we always repaired everything ourselves if it broke.
How long have you lived in Cape Town?
I lived in Cape Town until I was 33. And since primary school I have been interested in trains and cars. Pure technology, technical stuff. At school I was very focused on numbers, on mathematics, but also a bit of IT related things, programming. At the end of my school days I decided to become an engineer. Because there are so many opportunities there!
Which direction did you choose then?
Mechanical engineering. In South Africa it depends on which university you go to. I opted for a technical university, without a specific direction, in order to keep more opportunities for the future.
And was that the case in retrospect?
I think so. In my career I have had many different roles. I was a designer at an automotive company. A project engineer at an offshore mining company. An engineer at a fast-moving consumer goods company. And now I'm back in automotive. So yes, my background is relatively broad and diverse.
What was your first job after graduating from the university?
My first job was at a consultancy company in Cape Town. An automotive company. I started there as a design engineer and then progressed to senior designer. I was responsible for the integration of various powertrain components in the vehicle.
After five years with this company, I found myself missing the hands-on part. It was all very technical, but theoretically. So we never really got the chance to see the end product. We were working from South Africa and our client was based in the United States. So if you wanted to see a prototype or how something was built you had to fly over there. To make it worth while you had to stay there for three to six months. And that's a challenge if you have a family.
So then you moved to your second job? You took that into consideration?
Yes I decided I needed more practical experience. I wanted to see what I designed. And that's why I decided to move into the fast-moving consumer goods industry. It was a company which designed and built filling machines for the beverage industry. So pure mechanical design, that was what we did there. And I found that very fascinating, to actually get something filled into a bottle, and get a cap on it, is quite a challenge sometimes. It looks very simple, but it really isn't!
And which part of the engineering work, in the mechanical department there, were you responsible for?
Basically, the company was structured in a way that you were responsible for everything, from the inception of the product, thinking of the set-up of the machine, the conceptualization up to the actual design work. Then also managing the assembly and then assisting with the factory acceptance. So, the commissioning side of it as well. It was really sort of a project engineer type of job. It was much more rewarding. You could actually see, feel, touch, and speak to the people that actually used the machines. That was really a big plus and in next years after that, I decided to also again build a bit into my repertoire, and I decided to move into offshore mining with a big Dutch offshore mining company. And there I was a project engineer. So I was still a little bit involved with the designing work, but more in an overseeing sort of capacity. And I spent a lot of time on site, with clients doing commissioning work, trying to understand exactly their problems. How we do solve them, and trying to assist in that way. After that, I went back into the consumer moving goods industry, because I always found that the most interesting job that I had. But the second time, when I went back, I went back into more of a validation capacity, still on the designing side, but we had to develop products as well. And the challenge was always to find new ways of doing things. And to validate these before they were implemented across the board, on all of the machines.
Miranda en Jelle have helped me a lot so I felt at home real quick.
In my career I have had many different roles.
And when came the time that you started thinking about making a career switch into the automotive domain?
I think that happened by chance. So, first of all, my wife and I met about twelve years ago now and she is from Belgium. She always had the dream of coming back to Europe, to be close to her family, and to work and study here. And that is when I realised: you know, there's a whole world out there, that we need to explore. Early on in our relationship, we decided: okay, one day we will move to Europe, it's just a matter of time. She then started with her PhD, and it became a bit difficult to suddenly just pick up and move. But in 2018, one night I thought: 'You know, if it's gonna happen. we need to make it happen'. I sent one email to someone at Brace, and that's the end of the story. It really was just one email, and now I’m still working here, extremely happy.
What happened after you sent the first email? Did you come over to meet the people here?
Basically the whole process was taken care of virtually. I first met Jelle, who interviewed me and saw an opportunity with a local automotive company. They were quite interested so we had a couple of interviews with them as well. I also had an interview with someone at BRACE who basically talked to me about work culture in the Netherlands. And that really helped me to understand exactly what I was looking for, in a way. And it convinced me to actually come over. I'm really glad that I had that opportunity to see exactly what the company is about, and what general work life in the Netherlands is about.
And can you tell us more about the job that you are doing now? Is it still this first costumer, or are you working for another costumer now?
I'm still with the first costumer, for the last three years. I'm fairly loyal in that way, although I have moved around quite a lot. So this job entails a whole lot of things. It's one of the major automotive players in the Netherlands, worldwide actually, in the medium to heavy truck business. I’m part of a group that is responsible for essentially keeping the vehicle legal. We work with the mechanical side of the engine aftertreatment system. So essentially what we do is, we ensure that the pollutants and the exhaust gasses that are dirty, are clean once they are exhausted out into the atmosphere. It's a really challenging job, because it's not just a pure engineering job. There is a lot of management involved in terms of working together with our supplier. A lot of intricate communication skills that you need, to put our vision and our plan first, instead of our supplier, just giving us what they want. It's quite challenging in terms of meeting all the emission regulations, ensuring that we actually achieve our goal of having a reliable, sound and proper product. To achieve the strict emission goals, that have been set for us.
You said you are working with emission related systems, and now that the world is moving towards renewable energy resources: what are your plans for the future?
My plan is to contribute as much as possible to achieving those goals. In terms of the road map towards reducing our carbon footprint as human beings. The internal combustion engine will never die, that's my opinion. There will always be a market for it, and there are numerous types of technologies that we can implement, and develop to improve sustainability. I'm thinking about things like alternative fuels, for instance. Different types of combustion methods, different types of technologies specific to the engine aftertreatment system. I think the possibilities are endless.
How does a typical day at the office looks like?
My first function in the group that I'm in now, was to be the validation lead, or the validation engineer. So my job was to establish a validation program. I think I personally managed about 250 different types of tests for our program. When corona struck it was a lot more difficult to manage that, because of the limitation in terms of getting in touch with different engineers, different testing departments. So that really made it a challenge, but we got through it. Now I cannot really see a big difference in terms of working from home, or sitting at the office. Yeah, that's the wonder of technology these days, everything can work virtually. I have recently moved into the Project Lead Engineer role in our group, where I ensure I lead the group to successfully round off our current project.
You came here from South Africa a couple of years ago what do you think of The Netherlands now?
At first it was quite a challenge, because you assume that the culture is easy to understand. But it wasn't. I think there are nuances that a South African like myself still doesn't really grasp. But we try to integrate as much as possible. I try to speak the language as much as possible. I try to ride my bicycle as much as possible to fit in. We didn't have a car for over a year, because I believed I needed to be as Dutch as possible. And I'm really glad I did that, because otherwise, you miss out in a way. You miss out in terms of embracing the culture. There are how every some things that I would like to introduce to the Dutch in terms of maybe food and weather 😉
From a work point of view: it was quite a challenge. In South Africa you are not told what to do, but in a way you're managed to do something in a particular way. In The Netherlands I've found that you can create your job around you. You can really customize how you want to do things, and still meet your goal in an effective and efficient way. I really have learned to like that. I didn't understand it at first. It was a really weird concept to me, to not be told: “Hey listen, do this, and this, and this, and that”. I was literally just given a laptop and told: “Listen, find your way'. You know? 'These are the goals we need to achieve now go and have fun!”
If you set against each other these two approaches, which one do you prefere?
Which one would I prefer? I would certainly prefer the Dutch one, simply because it gives you more freedom in your job, it gives you more reward. You don't really just feel like a sheep being told: 'Go this way or that way'. You can really enjoy what you do, and you take a lot more responsibility in your work.
You started talking to Jelle, and then it became a bit of a snowball effect. Did Brace help you plan your move, and all the things that you had to take care of over here?
Yes. Jelle and I, we were in contact the whole time. I think the major issue for everyone coming to Eindhoven specifically, is finding a place to stay. And I had the same issue. When I did find an apartment, Jelle was happy enough to assist me in viewing the apartment, and doing all the background work to ensure that I actually got the apartment. We also spent two days together during which he showed me around the whole town. We got an OV chipkaart, you know, all the administrative things Jelle and Miranda handled. And I'm really grateful for that. There is a lot of administrative stuff that you need to do, before you can actually start living here.
With several BRACE colleagues I became instant friends. Just because of our background, and we all found the culture a bit challenging to adapt to, and things. So I'm really grateful for meeting them. Jelle really helped me a lot, Ruud as well. I think I felt at home immediately. And what I like about Brace is the sort of the social set-up here.