Geert van Ek, Project Manager

His greatest challenge

 ‘I try to make myself surplus to requirements.’

Geert van Ek probably has a more comprehensive overview of Gemini than anyone else. As a devotee of complex industrial projects, he is excited to be involved in the construction of the Gemini Offshore Wind Park. His greatest challenge: “I try to make myself surplus to requirements.”

Geert van Ek’s favourites


Book Equator by Miguel Souza Tavares

Music Blues, rock

Film Into the Wild, The Quiet American, Memento

Family Married, no children

Hobby Motorcycle racing (instructor), CrossFit (instructor)

TV Almost never watches

Favourite destination Northern Spain

‘Once the train is moving, and the work progressing well, the team essentially looks after itself.’

Geert van Ek was approached by the Gemini organisation shortly before the financial close of the project, in late autumn 2014. “It was a period of transition, marking the move from development to execution. Managing that effectively is quite a task. It was therefore decided that the CEO should be supported by an overall project manager, and I was the lucky one to be asked to fill that role. Fortunately, it fitted in perfectly with my schedule.” A fully trained mechanical engineer, Geert worked for many years as a project manager on the execution of construction projects, principally at refineries and power stations. “Enjoyable work, but after a while it started to become a little bit tedious and predictable. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the work, but as a constructor you largely end up implementing what others have designed. You take your cue from the specifications and working drawings that are already there.” Geert felt that he wanted more. “Ideally I want to be fully engaged in the development phase, and have end-to-end involvement in the project. In all honesty, Gemini offered me fewer opportunities in that regard, as many good choices had already been made. But that didn’t minimise the challenge. I want to operate at the interface between the client and contractors; having worked for both I understand the dynamics of each side. I then try to ensure a successful project for all parties. I aim for smooth project execution; any conflict can only be detrimental to the result. I want to enable the client to make the right choices at the right time, so the constructor can get on with the job of execution.”


Full speed

Geert had no difficulty with the fact he joined a moving train in the case of the construction of Gemini. “You need to be very flexible in this work. Every Monday we have a scheduled meeting at which we synchronize all watches, as it were. But the remainder of the week is always different. I have spent whole days in Antwerp working on the construction of the OHVSs, for example. That too is one of the charms of this business.” He explains the importance of keeping his agenda largely clear so he can respond quickly when needed. “Things never go as you think they will. If you pile pressure on yourself and give 120 per cent all the time, you’ll just burn yourself out. The secret is to find a healthy way of working. That applies not just to me, but to everyone involved in the project. With a project such as this, which can easily last three to four years, it’s impossible to keep going at full pelt all the time.”


‘Ideally I want to be fully engaged

in the development phase,

and have end-to-end involvement in the project.’


In spite of being economical with his energy, Geert admits most of it was already invested up front. “It might sound strange, but now the project is up and running it’s time for me to scale back my involvement. Once the train is moving, and the work progressing well, the team essentially looks after itself. Most effort goes into the start-up phase. After that I try to disappear into the background, make myself surplus to requirements, by ensuring everything runs smoothly in technical, financial and operational terms – and stays that way. That was new for me too. Quite aside from the fact I was used to showing my face a lot during projects, talk with people, get a feeling for how the project was progressing, that is simply not practicable in the case of Gemini since so many activities take place offshore.”


Supporting people

Surveying the construction sector, and beyond, Geert notes that many project managers succumb to stress and have a burn-out. “I try to ensure a margin of comfort for everyone in a project. That enables them to absorb any setbacks that may occur. It is reassuring for people to know that together they will deliver a first rate project. That also means supporting the people charged with carrying out the project. And also: making decisions and taking responsibility for them. I don’t dodge my responsibility in that regard, that is my role.” As Gemini project manager, Geert is pleased with the people around him. “I feel privileged to lead this team, which though small is highly motivated. And also to engage with our contractors, Van Oord and Siemens. They deliver excellent work, at a unique location and under unique conditions.” Geert is keen also not to underestimate Gemini’s role as client. “Professional commissioning is incredibly important, and is sometimes even more difficult than the contractor’s role, since you have to make the right choices at the right time.”


Many different cultures

Communication is another element Geert is keen to emphasize. “Choice of words, tone, formal or informal voice, they are all important. As a project manager I also have a role to play, particularly in terms of ensuring a good understanding between the parties. In a technical environment, such as construction, that aspect can easily be overlooked. It is important to consider in advance what you put in a letter, for example, since your choice of words triggers a particular response. With it almost being a matter of diplomacy and etiquette, experience is essential. Add to that the fact that we are dealing with many different countries and cultures and that our partners have very different ways of working. Siemens thinks primarily in terms of products, for example, while Van Oord focuses on projects. As a client we have to take careful account of this in order to ensure good cooperation between us.”