Ad van der Sluijs

“ It is too easy to blame the past, I prefer to ask myself how I can contribute instead”

Ad van der Sluijs started his impact journey in 2010: from developmental aid to entrepreneurship. After selling his family business, he also set up an impact entity with his 5 brothers. With this breadth of experience, he now advises other families in their journey towards impact.

What can you tell us about your impact journey?

I am the eldest of 6 boys. My father was an entrepreneur from North Brabant, and I grew up as a Protestant boy in a Catholic environment. So you can say that I was exposed to a wide range of values.
I started working for my father's oil business pretty early on and there was always the unspoken expectation that I would. I did try working in insurance in London, after my studies in economics - but when the oil crisis came in 1990 my father asked me to come back and help him. I felt a sense of duty to come back and so I promptly became the financial director of our family business. I was in that position for a while, but after I got married and my father left the business, I started to increasingly feel that I was supposed to do something else than make (more) profit for our family business.

I left the company and started doing developmental aid at ICCO, an organisation devoted to social return, albeit with a growing need for accountability from donors. But then our family business was unexpectedly sold and a financial crisis led to massive cutbacks at ICCO. So I left ICCO with a new sense of responsibility. And that is when I met Frank van Beuningen.

And then what happened? 

After meeting Frank van Beuningen who had set up PYMWYMIC and introduced me to the impact world in the Netherlands, I also met Tera Terpstra from the WIRE Group - who was a member of TONIIC. I immediately became a member and also went to America to meet Charly & Lisa Kleissner, which completely confirmed my new direction. From profit only, to impact only, it was ‘both sides now'. This also became the name of my impact investment vehicle.

At first, I started investing directly in developing countries, but I changed direction soon after, as I felt the impossible limits of distance. I also started the impact conversation with my brothers, with the aim to create an impact entity as a family, which brought up all kinds of new questions such as: What is our family passport? What are our values? Now every last Friday of each month we come together as brothers and discuss how we can make impact.

You are now very much an impact entrepreneur too. How did you transition into this role? 

In the impact world, you can add value in all sorts of ways. So it's important to reflect on who you are and to see where you can best contribute. I am interested in initiators who want to further develop their company - and I met my business partner with that mindset. We support entrepreneurs with an impactful product in building a scalable business, by being hands-on and involved on a daily basis. A good example is Vislift, an innovative solution to fish migration, in areas where humans have created barriers. 

What is the definition of success for you?

Everyone wants impact but do they still want it when it financially hurts? Making the world more sustainable costs money, which must first be earned. It is hard work after all, to bring about a transition.

A good example of a bumpy road to success is one of my first direct investments:  Yellow Pallet - pallet blocks made from banana tree waste. Banana trees grow 6 meters in 9 months and are useful waste for pallet production, after the bananas are harvested. Billions of pallets are shipped around the world, all made of unsustainable wood. In principle, it is an incredibly scalable product, so we started building a factory in Costa Rica. But then we found out that banana trees retained too much moisture so we had to pivot! This led us to experiment with other bio-waste and now we have become an agri-fibre processing centre, with a product that is much stronger than what was ever available on the market in wood.

How do you look back on your family oil business?

I do not judge our time of economic growth, that was necessary and appropriate then. It is too easy to blame the past, I prefer to ask myself how I can contribute instead. How can I do something that will benefit the 7 generations ahead of me?
I also learned a lot from our family business and our close-knit culture, which I still honour in my impact work. A (family) company is a community and in a community you care for each other.

What do you wish for your children?

I wish for them to discover who they are faster than I did. Become who you are, listen to yourself, follow your heart, and do what you like now. That will make you happy, which in itself will always lead to positive growth because that's how you discover where your natural and intrinsic motivation lies. I believe having this knowledge makes contributing much easier and more meaningful.

Join us on the 14th & 15th of April for the PYM Impact Days!

Come explore what we can learn from our ancestors
and how we can apply that in the years and decades to come. 

Would you like to receive stories like this and more news about the impact investment community directly in your inbox?
Sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter below.

Contact

Stichting PYM
Amstel 256, 1017 AL Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Legal information
Your safety is our concern: Privacy policy

Website design:
ADMORE, AMSTERDAM