Organisation - December 16, 2009

AFSG Director's departure causes surprise

Peter van den Elzen is positive about the collaborative atmosphere. But Human Nutrition professor sees an underlying problem.

Peter van den Elzen (right) in conversation with Frans Kok
Peter van den Elzen, the Director of the Agrotechnology & Food Sciences Group (AFSG), has announced his departure on 1 January 2010. He will be taking on a new position as Chairman of the Executive Board of the Zuwe Hofpoort Hospital in Woerden.
Van den Elzen's departure will come as a surprise to many people. Why go after barely three years? He can hardly have finished his assignment. What is more, an e-mail sent by Van den Elzen to his colleagues made clear that he was very positive about the collaborative atmosphere. In the e-mail he admitted he had sometimes been difficult and demanding. When asked for an explanation, he said: 'Something had to be done about the culture, especially at DLO. The employees had to become much more market-oriented.' Even so, he looks back on an extremely pleasant collaborative experience. That was why it was not easy to make the decision to leave AFSG. 'I really thought hard about whether I should be doing this.' The deciding factor was the nature of the new position: Chairman of the Executive Board. 'I like being able to direct things and to have the final responsibility. That allows me to put my ideas into practice.'
Frans Kok, professor of Human Nutrition, is surprised by Van den Elzen's departure. 'I don't really know why Peter is leaving either. I'm guessing there were some problems with the long-term outlook for AFSG, and then you're automatically going to be open to alternative options', he says. The professor sees an underlying problem associated with Van den Elzen's departure. 'There is something structurally wrong if you have three directors arriving and leaving again in the space of a few years,' he explains. Kok thinks Van den Elzen tried too hard to introduce a commercial culture at AFSG. Particularly at first, the director was also openly critical of the DLO institute. Kok: 'That is not the way to win friends.' Kok thinks Van den Elzen should have been less pushy and should have paid more attention to what worked and what didn't.
AFSG has been through a difficult period and Kok says himself that he has had his differences with Van den Elzen. He now prefers to look to the future. According to the professor, Van den Elzen's successor should concentrate on improving collaboration between DLO and the university. DLO experts should assist the chair groups in marketing the knowledge they have developed. 'It will go wrong again if you choose someone for this job who does not sufficiently understand university culture', concludes Kok.