Talent Talk with Harrie van Oirsouw

Welcome to another instalment of Talent Talk. Today we are joined by Harrie van Oirsouw, Business Development Manager at Bosch Australia, who talks us through his rich 20-year professional journey, the importance of maintaining creativity in the midst of technological disruption, and why you should always remain curious.


1. You have had a truly global career. Can you tell us a bit about the journey that led you to your current role?

This year my professional journey has been 20 years. Following the path less travelled was a by-product of curiosity.

Upbringing in the Netherlands: No different to others I could speak and write in 4 languages by the time I got to university. Here I did something different: Instead of 2 internships close to home organised through uni, I wrote letters to companies abroad. Shell PAE Laboratory in Germany, developing fuel and lubricants, and Bosch Motorsport HQ Germany both accepted my applications. 

One day in the Shell office I walked into Michael Schumacher who was there on a work visit. A few seconds, few words, this was real.

My professional career started working with large German car OEMs. All that theoretical knowledge I had acquired from my studies was of little use in practice. Confidence in English communication, perhaps emotional neutrality, saw me leading an engineering team in new office expansion locations in Hungary. For some staff in the German offices it was hard to accept this effect of growth and globalisation.

Australia: The team had been working on a cost improvement, but not proceeded because the customer demanded a year notice. It didn’t make sense to me to keep that value sitting on a shelf for a year. I prepared a counter proposal that included a customer wish list item, and not long thereafter we were given the green light to proceed immediately. The compounding year-on-year effect was in the millions, bringing the project back to where it needed to be. 

Germany: The next was more complicated: A deep red legacy project with a team struggling and nothing ready on the shelf. With communication improvements and deployment of tight target costing, the mindset changed and creative juices started to flow. We decided on a complete design overhaul and moving manufacturing from Australia to offshore. That was a big deal, however not too dissimilar to the shift experienced earlier in Germany. As soon as the changes took effect, the project returned a double digit result and top performer for years to come.

Asia: Now a permanent resident in Australia I joined the executive team. Car OEMs in Japan often have a historical link to key suppliers: Traditional ties were the biggest risk to our strategy. With monthly visits to meet our local teams and target customers in Asia, the vibe was slowly starting to happen. We established resident positions on location and communicated daily. Soon we understood very well what was important to our customers, what we needed to deliver day in day out to win trust.

After the 3rd high value award we had achieved our target. After years of decline in the automotive industry in Australia, against all odds, we now had more work than ever. I had put myself out of a job.

Australia/USA: The next challenge we faced was how were we going to start a business that unlocked value to the agriculture industry? I prepared a 5 minute personal pitch to the board of investors located overseas. But so did another 180 start-up applicants, going after the same seed funding. 

We won, kicked it off in Australia and radically changed the team to agile. My input is the strategic innovation framework, business model innovation, revenue modelling, establishing a value based pricing strategy, scouting for and contracting partners, international trade related topics, securing subsequent funding, working side by side with product owner and scrum master. An exciting chapter that is ongoing.


2. What does a day in the life look like for you?

I get up between 5 and 5h30 and get my sport and daily social catch up out of the way. 

At work, meetings need to have an agenda or clear purpose. Participants are those that own equity in the team and the end result. It’s OK to be stuck with a problem but it’s NOT OK to NOT have a plan or specific request for support.

I help people steer clear of subjective evidence and guide them to a communicative process based on simple and genuine language based on known facts and not assumptions.


3. What do you feel is the best way to attract and retain top talent?

Attracting talent is more than AI ranking of CVs by key words. We know people shouldn’t be put in boxes because of how they look or the sound of their voice. AI will bias towards those best at monetising a skillset. That works until the neighbour pays a higher rate. Within my teams I look for people driven by purpose, willing to think and act outside the box.

Skills will get you in the door, drive, business value, ability to motivate, EI, will keep you there. Passionate people generally don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. A lot of talent is lost because of institutionalised thinking, defence of silos and lack of equity.


4. You’ve said that your passion is achieving results thought impossible. How do you motivate your teams to do that?

  • Mobilise untouched potential and drive people to achieve greater things

Listen with a different ear. Find clues of people’s motivation to come to work every day. Ask to formulate a hypothesis that describes the problem, in a single sentence, and ask at least 5 times why. In 9 out of 10 cases the result will be totally unexpected.


  • Manage risk

My approach is to manage risk and look for potential problems outside the bell curve of what can be expected. Risk management doesn’t work if you already have problems. Proper risk management forces the team to be creative. In my journey problems were often avoided by going a totally different way of what was the mainstream thinking. Chances are the end result is more profitable too.


5. What advice would you give to an aspiring leader or someone who is starting out in your field?

Agriculture, Automotive and other industries are in the midst of disruption by AIoT, resilience is key. It can be hard to recognise the forest for the trees. What served me well is to stay true to my values and to listen what you can learn from people around you, keep listening also when you don’t like what you are hearing. 

When it all becomes a bit much, it is good to remember this German saying: “die Kochen auch nur mit Wasser”, which says “they also cook only with water”. What you make of your journey is entirely up to you.


Read more stories of leadership in tech in our latest publication, Human 2: Bold leadership through crisis and change. Check it out here.