Kijlstra from Drachten has been providing ambulance care and passenger transport in Friesland for over ninety years. With the fourth generation at the helm, the company wants to remain progressive and is experiencing plenty of growth. Nevertheless, the director of passenger transport Rudy Verwoert finds only one thing really important: his employees. “I can want a lot and bring in a lot of work, but if they are not doing well, I can stop.”

Kijlstra Ambulancezorg & Personenvervoer is in 1985 founded by Gerben Kijlstra. He started as a coffin maker with his own horse and carriage. Shortly afterwards, the first cars arrived and the company started with funeral, passenger and patient transport. They do this to this day with over 150 employees. When Gerben Kijlstra resigned from his position as director in 2007, sons Sietze and Roelof were appointed general and operational director of the company respectively. Not much later, Rudy Verwoert, who already made his entry to Kijlstra in 1985 as on-call driver and gradually rose within the company, as director of passenger transport.

In the years before he took on that role, he became acquainted with all sides of the company. Besides his work as a taxi driver, Verwoert also provided funeral transport and did the bookkeeping of the company. He occasionally had to leave by ambulance. “When I worked in the office, there were always two ambulances with staff on standby. As soon as a third or fourth ambulance was needed, everyone jumped in. Also the people of the taxi and of the office.”

25 percent continues to work Verwoert states that Gerben Kijlstra and his wife have always treated him like a son. ”I have always worked a lot and when I was at the office in the evening, Janny Kijlstra came by with something to eat.” According to him, these are the little things that make the company a real family business. Despite the growth that Kijlstra has gone through over the years, the family feeling is still there, according to him.

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Kijlstra coffin factory, 1930. All employees know each other and many of them have been with the company for ten, twenty or even thirty years. “We now even have someone from the third generation of a family working with us,” he says enthusiastically. “And 25 percent of employees who are of retirement age reached, will continue to work with us for a few more years. They would like to do something more.”

One of the reasons for the great involvement of the employees, according to Verwoert, is the personal attention. “I do all performance interviews with the employees myself and I am always present. If there is something private with a driver, I go there and help as much as I can.” When the director is asked whether this has never been at the expense of his private life, he is certain: “I have a treasure of a woman who understands what entrepreneurship is. Besides, I hate holidays. Every day when I drive here, I do it with pleasure.”

Continuity not endangered by corona Kijlstra has done everything it can to keep all employees on board in times of corona. This has been successful so far. All salaries have been paid, Verwoert emphasizes. “Because the continuity of our company must certainly not be endangered by corona. It certainly costs us money and government support is not sufficient, but we are happy that we can do this for our employees.”

Kijlstra did not give up during the lockdown . The company has inventively searched for new activities. For example, vaccination transport was driven, Kijlstra played an important role in supplying hospitals with protective equipment and the company helped florists with the delivery of flowers for Mother’s Day. The company currently transports general practitioners who vaccinate patients at home.

There are also orders for the longer term. For example, Kijlstra won the tender for organ transport for the Dutch Transplantation Foundation (NTS). Verwoert states that this is another boost for the company. Moreover, it leads to additional employment. However, transporting organs and transplant teams is not new to the company. As a subcontractor of the White Cross Transplant in The Hague, Kijlstra has been familiar with this type of transport for fourteen years.

The fact that Kijlstra also offers this type of transport means that taxi drivers can continue to develop. The company will start transporting NTS on 1 January. “Organ transport has a certain ‘status’ for drivers”, says Verwoert. “Working as a taxi driver is of course already wonderful, but this is a plus. People think it’s special work. After the announcement of the award, six new drivers spontaneously applied to come and work for us.”

16 years ago the first electric cars Like all other transport companies, Kijlstra notices that the requirements in the field of sustainability are becoming stricter. The company aims to be progressive in this area. “We started with the first electric cars sixteen years ago. For shorter journeys, of course, because of the range, which was already completely limited at the time.”

According to Verwoert, other carriers still often say that it is difficult to make more sustainable. “We can whine about it, but we can also look at what we can do with the vehicles on the market. You should not think in problems, but in solutions.” The number of electric vehicles of the company is growing and a large charging plaza is being considered, with power coming from the 480 solar panels they have on the roof.

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Drivers from Kijlstra in pre-corona time. The transport company continues to look to the future. “We have been around for almost a hundred years, but one thing: 150 year I think much more important. Because we are a family business and I would really like it if the children of the other two directors – the fifth generation – could continue later on”, says Verwoert.

“As soon as a if they are ready to lead, they can receive my title as director today and I will support them in the future.” Until the time he hands over the baton, Verwoert is present at the company every day. “For my people.”

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