Menu Close

Leading in Sustainability: Jan Ostendorf

According to Jan Ostendorf, building and leading family businesses are by definition linked to sustainability. “Long-term thinking and acting, strategic anticipation of the future, caring about the employees who daily embark on this journey and constantly daring to be able to win in the marketplace are all criteria of successful family businesses,” Jan says, in his role as Business Area Director Northern Europe of Hempel Decorative Europe.

Jan Ostendorf, Business Area Director Northern Europe of Hempel Decorative Europe

Having worked with his parents and brother Jens since 2014 in developing the family business, J.W. Ostendorf (JWO), to become the leading European paint manufacturer in tailor-made private label concepts and sustainability, Jan was part of the crucial decision to join an even bigger family, in the form of the Hempel Group in 2018.

Now, the brothers are continuing the journey towards becoming market leaders in Europe as part of the Hempel Decorative Europe leadership team. “My whole life has been characterised by an entrepreneurial spirit and drive,” Jan explains.

“Being part of Hempel now, this spirit has not changed. Quite the opposite, I feel proud to be part of a great team driving our footprint in Europe both through organic growth and through acquisitions in the coming years.”


With his experience of a family firm (JWO has been run by three generations of the Ostendorf family for 70 years), Jan says he knows how important it is to “embed sustainability and sustainable entrepreneurship” in the DNA of any business that wants to be in “a leadership position in the future”.

And when it comes to the decorative coatings market, “size does matter,” he adds. That is why combining JWO, Crown Paints from the UK and RENAULAC from France to become Hempel Decorative Europe was just the starting point for growth in Europe.

By joining forces, “we were able to start exploring how we could link leading and tailor-made private label concepts with strong branded propositions from Crown or RENAULAC to offer more value to our retail partners. That’s a journey on which we have really just started to embark,” Jan says.

Hempel Decorative Europe has big plans to more than double in size in the next five years, convincing more family members to join the Hempel family, but also growing organically through leading in sustainability and being a trusted partner to its retail partners, both in trade and retail.

Building on a stable foundation

One of the most valuable assets of Hempel is that it is owned by the Hempel Foundation, which sets itself apart from other ownership structures in its industry by taking a long-term strategic view towards the future.

“The ownership structure of Hempel is unique as we know that the more successful we are, the more we can give back to society, investing more in research and development and contributing to the challenges of climate change by shaping a brighter future with sustainable coating solutions,” Jan explains.

Sustainability will be an integral part of the new five-year strategy of Hempel to double in size. In fact, being the sustainability leader is one of its key goals. “Sustainability is a complex phenomenon, therefore, we slice it up into different pieces,” Jan says.

“We look at sustainability from the perspective of our own footprint, which of course includes our whole value chain, our manufacturing footprint, our emissions and waste. We are constantly challenging the status quo and asking ourselves how we can become carbon neutral by 2025.”

But Hempel goes further by promoting sustainability among its customers and retail partners, helping them reduce their footprint and reaching their sustainability goals. This includes promoting more sustainable water-based, preservative-free formulations and recycled packaging, as well as routes to market to optimise the supply chain.

“We think about concepts to promote healthy living with end-consumers. The more you can translate a sustainability benefit into a benefit for the end-consumer directly relating to their health, the more you impact sales as people are willing to invest in their own well-being,” Jan says.

Leadership in times of crisis

Leading in times of crisis always presents challenges but especially in times of COVID-19, where social distancing and keeping people safe by avoiding unnecessary contact also means that leadership primarily takes place through digital tools.


“I am a firm believer of leading with a physical presence, but with the pandemic, this was not an option. Therefore, we started interacting virtually with each other, uploaded regular video messages but also held virtual town halls to connect,” Jan explains.

When COVID-19 struck Europe, Jan and the team were confronted with a challenge they had never encountered before. Stores across the continent closed and, in some places, turnover dropped to nearly nothing overnight.

Keeping people safe

“In some places, there was no activity, but there were some countries where the DIY retail stores did not close, and lots of people suddenly went into those stores because they were using the time at home to renovate and decorate,” Jan recalls.

“We saw a huge increase in demand in some countries, and it was actually a challenge to cope with this demand because on the one hand, we had the goal of selling paint, but on the other, we also needed to ensure that we were keeping people safe.”

Connecting to customers is one of our top values, and we’ve put a lot of thought into how to continue this as the pandemic goes on.

However, the pandemic also illuminated strengths in the business, which offered some crucial lessons for how to weather the crisis. “The main task was to anticipate on all levels what this pandemic would mean in terms of business decisions but also the behavioural changes needed,” Jan says.

“COVID-19 had an impact in the paint industry in 2020, but more importantly, it will have a lasting effect going forward as people see the gigantic value of living in and investing in their home.”


Connecting to customers digitally

Introducing social distancing and hygiene measures at the company facilities while also ramping up capacity to meet the heightened short-term demand was a priority. Another equally important element was shifting customer interactions to digital spaces.

For Jan, the shift was unexpected and challenging, but the whole team embraced the new reality and saw the opportunities. “We found that connecting with customers digitally actually works. It’s a very pragmatic way of dealing with the current situation,” he admits.


“Connecting to customers is one of our top values, and we’ve put a lot of thought into how to continue this as the pandemic goes on. At this point, I can safely say we have taken the situation very seriously, and we’ve also taken proactive steps thinking about how to improve processes and procedures going forward. We’re keeping people safe, but also focusing on keeping the business running.”

Painting a bright future together

Focusing on the future after COVID-19 and following Hempel’s approach to ‘grow better’, Jan strongly supports the concept of ‘winning together’ as a team.

Success lies with developing end-consumer concepts that hit their needs and wants.

“Winning together means reflecting on how we can operate better as a business and being able to offer operational excellence to customers. But it also means teaming up with them to become the trusted partner and develop innovative end-consumer solutions together,” Jan says.


Building on the expertise of designing tailor-made solutions for retail partners, Jan believes in focusing much more on an integrated model of co-creation and driving innovation and sustainability with retail partners.

“Success lies with developing end-consumer concepts that hit their needs and wants. In paint, this very often comes down to three elements: an easy and convenient customer journey, transparency of price and value or product feature, and the empowerment of the end-consumer,” he explains.

All About Hempel

Hempel develops and manufactures coating solutions for the protective, decorative, marine, container, industrial and yacht segments. Founded in Copenhagen in 1915 by JC Hempel, the company now employs colleagues across the globe.
• 150+ Stock points
• 28 Factories
• 6,300+ Employees (appr. 1700 in Decorative Europe)
• 15 R&D centres
• 700+ Coating advisors
• 80+ Countries
• More than 150 million litres production capacity in Decorative Europe
• Decorative Europe Product & Portfolio: Emulsion Paints, Trim Paints, Wood coatings, Spray Paints, Plaster/Rendering, Sundries

JC Hempel established The Hempel Foundation in 1948 as a commercial foundation and sole owner of The Hempel Group. Its main mandate is to provide a solid economic base for The Hempel Group and support for Cultural, Social, Humanitarian, Scientific and Artistic purposes around the world.

The overall paint category strategy and brand strategy plays a major role in this context. “Branded concepts and private label concepts need to work hand in hand,” Jan says. Another new reality is customers’ expectations that their journey is seamlessly integrated across all channels.

“There is a real opportunity to use digital capabilities to develop tailor-made solutions that empower the customer to search by project, by colour, find solutions to a problem, ask for help or just be inspired,” Jan explains.


He likes to quote his boss Joe Devitt when talking about the future. “Joe says that he sees us as a much bigger business, developed organically by growing with customers through the one-stop shop concept and through innovation, good services, digitalisation and sustainability.

“But we are also keen to attract new ‘family’ members who will enjoy collaborating with and being a part of Hempel Group and the Hempel Foundation,” Jan adds. “In five years’ time, I expect us to be significantly bigger than we are today with a strong record of organic growth and additions to the family.”

Proudly supported by:







Leave a Reply