Martin Boers leaves an “enjoyable working environment"

In his almost 22 years at the university, he has driven one and a half million kilometers between his home in Meppel and his workplace on Kennedylaan, as a fellow director at another university calculated. As of September, Martin Boers, Director of the Facility Management Center, will no longer have to bridge those 350 kilometers. He looks back on a time that he has always found very enjoyable. “Whenever I’d drawn up a rather strongly-worded email, I’d generally leave it in my mailbox for the next day.”

photo Bart van Overbeeke

The cultures of Brabant and Drenthe are quite compatible, according to Martin Boers, who – despite his appointment to the Eindhoven university in 1999 – has never moved from his home in Meppel. “Especially when it comes to clearly expressing what you want; there was an immediate click in that respect.”

Boers had initially been hired by the former Facilitair Bedrijf  (Facility Centre) to work on a project for the purchasing department. “As a seconded employee, I worked on that project for a year. When I finished, director Adriaan van Mierlo asked if I’d be interested in working at TU/e. I liked the organization and I’d been well received so I decided to go for it.”

Soon, he was presented with the choice of whether or not to succeed Van Mierlo. “This was due to a reorganization that was being carried out at all support services, based on a report by Berenschot: the so-called AVA operation. As a result, the extensive Facilitair Bedrijf was split up into various units. For example, Dienst Huisvesting – now Real Estate – became a separate service.”

Baptism by fire

After just six months on the job, Boers had to decide whether he wanted to become Director of Dienst Interne Zaken, now known as the Facility Management Center (FMC). “I first discussed it with some people, because I didn’t have experience in a management position. Of course, I also talked to my wife about it, and she said it would be a good fit for me. Her advice was not the deciding factor, but it was very important to me.”

Those early days as director were intense, because according to Boers, the old structures had to be unraveled and his new service reorganized. “This also meant that fairly soon, I had to have conversations with people who had been given notice of dismissal as part of the AVA operation. Those are not the kind of conversations you want to be having after you just started as a director, but looking back, I do believe it was handled in a fair way. I’ve always considered it my baptism by fire as a director.”

That is the management style Boers says he has always been committed to: “Be straightforward and clear, treat everyone the same way and genuinely mean what you say. People will see right through it if you don’t.” Boers, whose service is comprised of many different service-oriented components (such as security, logistics, catering and cleaning), frequently spends time in the workplace himself, keeping tabs on how things are going. “There are currently about seventy people working at FMC and I want to get to know everyone. And I’m getting there, because the employee turnover within our service is not very high.”


One thing he wanted to achieve within his service was more flexibility. “As part of the ‘Facility Service’ project ten years ago, the facilities staff working at the departments transferred to FMC. It was clear that many people who had been working at a certain department for many years would rather stay there. This makes sense of course, because they know everyone there and they know how things work. I started to group people together in clusters and found that it was occasionally necessary for employees in a specific cluster of buildings to work in another building within the same cluster from time to time. ‘Keep an open mind’, was what I tried to promote. Of course, this was thoroughly discussed with the managing directors and the people themselves beforehand.”

Because talking always works better than sending emails, according to the FMC director. “One of my former employees used to have a rule in this respect: he never sent any emails, but would immediately pick up the phone or talk to the person in question face-to-face. But of course, nowadays, nobody makes phone calls anymore.” Boers says that he occasionally draws up a rather strongly-worded email himself, “but I usually leave it in my mailbox overnight. Then you can check the next day whether it’s really necessary to send such an email.”

Thick skin

You do need a thick skin if you work for FMC, says Boers. “Of course, we also get compliments, but students and employees tend to expect that certain facilities are already in place and that they always work perfectly and everything is well-organized. But when something goes wrong, they’re quick to find you and complain. It’s not great, but it’s something you should know is to be expected.”

Does that expectation pattern bother him sometimes? “No. Times have changed. More so than in the past, students now expect to have access to a proper study place on campus. So that’s what the university provides. If we’re asked for something, we immediately think about whether and how we can implement it. Not everything is possible, and of course, we’re always dependent on the loyalty of our people, but that loyalty is very great. Whenever an emergency needs to be resolved at night or during the weekend, they’re always there to help. I consider that a major strength.”


Boers was particularly aware of that commitment during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a lot of extra work had to be done to get the campus ready for students and staff to safely return to. One incredibly painful moment for him was the decision of the caterers who had to lay people off because the catering locations on campus had to close for a long time. “This concerned people who had been working here for a very long time, but for whom there were no alternative jobs. In cleaning, there were more possibilities to move people elsewhere. It’s sad to see that at the moment, catering is actually dealing with a shortage of staff.”

Again, Boers emphasizes that he has always enjoyed working at TU/e. Is there nothing that has kept him up at night? “Yes, there have been a few of those moments, for example when, after the departure of Mirjam Jahnke in 2016 and her successor Peter Bloemers in 2018, we struggled for almost two years to find a suitable head for the Safety & Security department. In an organization like ours, that’s a very important position; there are many things that happen on campus where security is directly involved. We were able to handle that reasonably well with the existing staff, but I was relieved when we finally found a good replacement in Gijs Spiele. “

The pile of garbage that regularly appears in front of the residential tower block Luna remains an eyesore to Boers. “It’s something I’d have liked to deal with, but as the responsibilities lie with other parties in this case, it’s unfortunately very complicated to find a proper solution. In theory, it’s up to Luna’s building operator, Mosaic World (formerly known as Camelot, ed.), to remind its residents to keep the area around the underground waste containers clean, but the municipality also has a role to play. As opposed to the rest of the campus, the municipality of Eindhoven is responsible for collecting the waste at this building (and also at the Aurora building). As a university, you might want to clean it up, but you also have to keep a business perspective.”


When this month ends, Boers will no longer have to travel the 350-kilometer trip he has been making weekly with great regularity for the past two decades. His official retirement from the university will follow on September 29. He has not yet reached retirement age, as he will be 63 this year.

“I’m going to focus on a farming business owned by our family, which did factor into this somewhat earlier departure. Also, our daughter is expecting and my wife and I really want to be there for that. Soon, we’ll be babysitting one day a week.” The fact that his daughter lives an hour’s drive away is, of course, no problem at all for road warrior Boers.

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