- Name: Bob Van den Broecke
- Title: Managing Director of Evernex Japan
- URL: https://www.evernex.com/
- Hometown: Belgium
- Years in Japan: 4
Every year, electronics manufacturers invigorate their product lines with upgraded models of computers, smartphones and other mobile devices. For businesses, the pressure to upgrade is strong, as access to the latest firmware and software is essential for day-to-day operations. With each new release looms an anxiety that manufacturers will one day cut off support to older devices and restrict them from firmware updates needed to use the latest applications and services.
Despite its effects on technological consumption, production and carbon emissions, firmware distribution is often overlooked in conversations regarding sustainability. For Bob Van den Broecke, however, the fair distribution of firmware is a critical part of IT sustainability.
Van den Broecke’s firm, Evernex Japan, provides IT services centered on the maintenance, reuse and recycling of electronic devices. As managing director, he frequently sees firms of all sizes dispose of functional IT equipment, including servers and computers, simply because newer models with more sophisticated firmware are available. With first-hand experience of how firmware-driven obsolescence perpetuates unsustainable practices, Van den Broecke is trying to spread awareness among businesses of how sustainable IT practices can not only help the environment, but also help their bottom line.
“We’re not here to sell IT; we’re here to sell the concept of helping companies reduce their carbon footprint and reduce costs,” he said. “Businesses are being forced to change their equipment because the software is no longer being updated. This is a technique used by tech companies to force businesses to buy new equipment without providing any alternatives.”
According to Van den Broecke, Japan has distinct hurdles in its path toward sustainable IT practices. The risk-averse, bureaucratic culture of many Japanese companies amplifies concerns surrounding manufacturer support and firmware access, he said. “It’s incomparable to the rest of the world. Everyone is afraid to do anything if it isn’t 100% documented, or if it isn’t absolutely clear with everyone. It’s like walking on a path and looking under every stone before making a supercalculated step forward.”
Evernex Japan is growing despite these challenges. This is in part due to the relationship between IT manufacturers and what Van den Broecke calls Japan’s “dinosaurs” — industrial giants that are so big they can dictate their own terms. When one of Japan’s behemoths demands a manufacturer continue servicing old equipment, the manufacturer, whose engineers have already moved on to new equipment, will ask Evernex to service this equipment on its behalf. Evernex Japan, which started as a three-person operation five years ago, will welcome its 15th employee this year.
Van den Broecke noted that regulations requiring tech companies to provide firmware support for older devices can help curtail wasteful IT consumption. For instance, last year, in response to limitations imposed by hardware manufacturers that curtailed access to updates and prevented decommissioned hardware from being resold, the European Ecodesign Directive introduced rules requiring manufacturers of servers and storage equipment to provide firmware support for a specified period after a product’s release.
Other aspects of Japan’s bureaucracy have surprised the 34-year-old Belgian. Van den Broecke’s international background has instilled in him an unrelenting curiosity for new places and experiences, but his experiences living in multiple countries did not prepare him for some of Japan’s peculiarities. In what he humorously described as “Japan’s Bermuda Triangle,” Van den Broecke recalled the conundrum of purchasing a Japanese phone, opening a bank account and finding a place to live: “You need a phone to get a bank account, but to get a bank account you need a phone and an address, but to get an address you need a phone and a bank account. It was quite complicated, and a challenge, but that’s part of what makes this job interesting.”
For Van den Broecke, Japan is the latest stop in a life of international adventure. Born in Belgium, he grew up in Paris, where his father worked for Ajinomoto. When his father was assigned to head the Japanese food corporation’s operations in Asia, the family moved to Bangkok, where he attended high school and university. He returned to Paris and shortly afterward moved to Rome to attend graduate school for international economics.
In Rome, while searching for a job where he could use his language abilities (Van den Broecke speaks six languages, including French, English, Italian and Dutch), he came across the company IB-Remarketing, Evernex’s predecessor. It was here where Van den Broecke met his mentor, Bruno Demolin, who was CEO. “I discovered the joy of working through him,” Van den Broecke said. “He ran a close-knit, family-style business that encouraged entrepreneurship, and he was extremely giving.” Van den Broecke recalled how his former boss once gifted him a scooter out of the blue just to commend him for a job well done.
Inspired by his mentor, Van den Broecke tries to diffuse this culture of close relationships and generosity among his employees. It is why one of his favorite expressions is from “The Three Musketeers,” by Alexandre Dumas: “All for one and one for all.” “It’s not always easy, but when it is, I encourage them to enjoy it,” he said. “If my employees want to work from the beach, I say, ‘Go ahead, but make sure to send me a picture.’ It’s all about caring for each other and allowing people to have weaknesses and make mistakes.”