Gerard de Gooijer works on an instinctive level and has always followed his dreams. Throughout his life, he’s understood when to make a change for the best for his career and for his family. While he remains focused on developing HLG accountants and advisors into a reputable international firm, Gerard is also a dedicated family man. Spending time with his wife and children, and watching them play field hockey, is as important for Gerard as the day job.
Thirst for adventure
The thirst for adventure – following his dreams and living on his instincts – started after university. On graduating in business economics, Gerard spent six months in Australia and New Zealand with his then-girlfriend (now wife). The experience left an indelible mark on his personality, attitude to life and business outlook.
The travel bug gave him his passion for international business where he planned to combine new locations with his work as an auditor. Now, with an Indian joint venture partner and regular trips to distant locations for auditing (he was recently in Tajikistan for a client), Gerard has fulfilled much of what he hoped for as a student graduate.
“Yes you could say I’m a dreamer and live by my instincts – and at the same time, I’m a really dedicated family man. All of those things,” he smiles. “That’s how I’ve always lived.”
“On my return from New Zealand, I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I knew it had to do something with economics, business and international work.”
Accounting as a career
After initially rejecting the idea of accounting as boring, a friend suggested Gerard might like to explore a career in auditing. More challenging and suited to his personality as a problem solver. Although initially skeptical, Gerard decided to give it a try. He soon understood that auditing provided an opportunity to make a difference, help businesses thrive – and it was fun unpicking problems for clients.
Gerard continues the story: “Actually, my dad ran a typical small business in Amsterdam, employing three people. I understood the issues small businesses faced from a young age and knew I wanted to help SME owners.” “Once I arrived home from New Zealand, a friend said I should check out auditing for the business economy and that’s really what happened.
“He said ‘just do it for a couple of years, learn a lot and see how you get on’. So I started with a small firm for a few years and I realised that auditing was actually pretty good fun.”
During that time, Gerard honed his skills, learning the intricacies of the trade and developed an affinity for the service-oriented nature of the profession. His dedication and commitment paid off and he quickly rose through the ranks in his first company.
“I guess the reason I was good at it was my family background, growing up as the son of a small business owner. I really like to help people like that. And that is what accounting auditing is. We’re helping business people to get the best out of their businesses.”
Change of career plan
During those years Gerard learned a lot by working closely with people in the accounting firm and with his clients. Then the accounting firm he worked for was acquired by a larger firm and at that point Gerard decided he needed a change of direction. He decided to pursue new opportunities and took a leap of faith, backing his instincts.
As his family was growing quickly, he decided to work as a freelance, or interim, accountant offering auditing and advisory services to clients across the Netherlands. This allowed him to gain a fresh perspective and more experience, but the hours away from his family took its toll on Gerard’s work/life balance. His daily commute was several hours to and from work.
Recognizing the need for change, he set out to find a position closer to home that would allow him to prioritize his family while still making a significant impact in his field.
He joined HLG, a prominent boutique accounting firm, and was asked to set up a new office in his home village of Nijkerk, outside Amersfoort, about an hour’s drive from Amsterdam. Gerard jumped at the chance and began his journey with HLG, unaware of the transformative impact it would have on his career.
“My last interim job was on the other side of the country,” Gerard recalls. “I had to travel in the morning, from 7am and return 7pm. It wasn’t what I wanted.”
“I then heard HLG wanted to open an office in Nijkerk. They said ‘we need somebody to set up an office, would I be interested?’ Of course I was interested and now, 15 years later, I’m still here.”
“Right now we’ve grown to 30 staff. That’s three partners in four business units. These business units are accounting, audit, M&A, and tax. The first three are managed and led by the partners, each with his own division. With the last one, we have a tax director.”
New horizons – India
As the office has grown, so have Gerard’s horizons. Over the years he built an international business network that included a Mumbai-based accounting firm. The firm was looking for a Dutch partner and the two accounting and auditing businesses formed a joint venture in the Netherlands.
“They were looking for a partner in The Netherlands to serve their audit clients in The Netherlands. They would bring their clients to us and I would do the review and sign off as a Dutch auditor for Dutch entities.”
Meanwhile, this helped HLG to extend its services into the Asian subcontinent, while also relocating Indian colleguaes into the HLG office.“This is something I really believe in because our services are based on communications. They get to know the culture here and physically meet the clients. I also go there once or twice a year and spend time with the team for training and getting to understand their own business culture. Unsurprisingly, given the Mumbai technology connection, many of HLG’s clients are IT and telecoms focused. These tend to be large international companies with entities in the Netherlands as well as across the world. The balance sheets are often huge and the audits are complex, involving a host of international destinations – something that Gerard thrives on.
The IR Global network
This international perspective has also been helped by Gerard’s membership of IR Global. Joining the network opened doors to new opportunities and collaborations for Gerard and HLG. “With IR Global, the network consists of medium sized and small firms, more like boutique businesses. Very similar to us. Building relationships takes time and trust and with IR Global this is starting to take shape as we have referred clients to members and others know we’re here to help them.”
“The network is really critical because if my client is doing business in France, I would need to be able to assist him in France as well. But I don’t have the relevant knowledge. So I want to have a network in Europe and across the world to help all my clients.”
Gerard also continues to work with large IT and telecoms clients, embracing businesses in new technologies such as AI and Blockchain. One of his recent jobs was working on telecoms projects in Central Asia.
Despite the crazy hours and crazier destinations, Gerard still finds time to spend weekends with his children, watching them play in their various field hockey teams: “I love football, but for some reason they all love field hockey. I guess you can’t plan everything. But I get a lot of pleasure watching them play in their different field hockey teams.”
He also regularly watches his beloved Ajax football team: from 2-0 to 3-2 (CL semi 2019)
When he’s not spending his time watching sports (he’s also a Formula 1 fanatic), he likes to wind down at music festivals, with a preference for alternative rock.
“That helps take my mind off work,” he laughs. “Helps me to unwind and relax, although that sounds a bit strange if you don’t like that kind of music.”