This month, Mercachem celebrates its 20th anniversary. Mercachem was founded in 1997 by Frank Leemhuis and Eelco Ebbers. Even after 20 years, they don’t just sit back and relax. They are still very ambitious. We found a moment to ask them some questions about the past 20 years, their secret to success, their thoughts on the future, and their personal lives.
Where are you right now and what mood are you in?
Eelco: ‘What a good question to start the week with... haha... it is Monday morning at 7:30 AM. I am sitting at my desk preparing for the items of the next two weeks.
Frank is at home at the time of writing and says he is feeling proud of what they have achieved.’
What do you miss most about not working in the lab anymore?
Eelco: ‘The scientific challenge of thinking about a solution for a chemistry problem and then discovering that the reaction worked is very rewarding, and that is what I miss the most. In my current role, we look at long-term forecasting with no immediate direct results.’
Frank: ‘Producing nice crystals; this is still a magical experience.’
You started a company that is still growing after 20 years. What is your secret to success?
Frank: ‘Quality, honesty, persistence.’
Eelco: ‘The basic principle still works after 20 years: “do and deliver what you have promised to do”. This seems so easy, but for many companies this is something that is difficult to accomplish.’
Frank adds: ‘And people. Put trust in people, so they feel confident in talking about professional and personal topics. These are the people that work in the lab together every day. They should feel part of a team. We like to refer to this as chemical bonding.’
Do you have any plans for celebrating this special anniversary?
Eelco: ‘We have an anniversary celebration weekend with our people in September. I’m really looking forward to that.’
Frank: ‘Champagne!! :)’
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in these 20 years?
Frank: ‘Stay true to yourself; this will bring you furthest in life.’
Eelco: ‘Being honest, transparent, and doing your best to deliver the best quality always pays off in the end.’
In the archives, we have found some nice, old pictures, as well as some items from your first project. What do you remember about this first project?
Eelco: ‘This was a project we initiated with my PhD supervisor for a company related to a joint venture with DSM (and does not exist anymore). The very first reactions were performed at the fume hood where I did the practical work for my PhD study. We moved to our first lab in Provisorium Chemie during this project, if I remember correctly. We had to make some compounds for this company and completed the project in good order. We kept a sample of this very first compound we delivered, by the way.’
Do you still remember which company it was for?
Eelco: ‘Chemferm; a joint venture of DSM Andeno and Gist Brocades.’
Who was your contact person?
Eelco: ‘Professor Alle Bruggink’
Do you still remember the complexity of this project?
Eelco: ‘It concerned some small heterocyclic compounds we needed to prepare. This was completely different from what I did during my PhD study.
What are the next big things on the agenda for Mercachem that you can already share with us?’
Frank: ‘The start of our second lab facility!’
Eelco: ‘We have come a long way again to initiate the second research facility. I am very happy that we are again at the point of starting that building process, which should be completed by July 2018. We have enough plans to fill it to capacity in the next few years.’
What is your outlook for the next 20 years?
Eelco: ‘Mercachem is well positioned for the next 20 years, but we will need to build an organisation that will be able to adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace. Flexibility and pragmatism will remain very important, in addition to the focus on quality and innovation.’
Frank: ‘We will continue to grow into a leading European drug-discovery CRO. We also aim to form new, and strengthen existing, chemical bonds between Mercachem and our clients.’
What specific moment from your Mercachem career do you remember best?
Frank: ‘Completion of our first lab facility at Kerkenbos Nijmegen as an important tipping point.’
Eelco: ‘The process towards our own research facility was a long journey and the final moment of moving (summer 2006) was a special one.’
What advice would you give to (chemistry) students leaving school?
Eelco: ‘I think studying chemistry will provide you with a lot of promising skills for the future. There will be many opportunities in the scientific community, as innovation will be very important for the future. But, also if you choose a career outside the laboratory, these skills will be useful for any job you will take.’
Frank: ‘I think the job market has never been better for chemists!’
And then, finally, some more personal questions for Frank and Eelco.
What is your most memorable moment from the last 20 years in your personal life?
Frank: ‘This is the birth of our children, so several moments.’
Eelco: ‘In 2013, we made a very special trip with our kids to Tanzania. This was a very special moment for us as a family and we really enjoyed that experience together.’
What is at the top of your bucket list?
Eelco: ‘A trip to Uganda to visit gorillas in the mountains. Furthermore, I have discussed with my daughters taking a backpacking trip for a couple of months.’
Frank: ‘Crossing the Atlantic by sail boat.’