“The walhalla in the desert”

Approba in Geleen procures highly qualified people, for the fertiliser industry among others.
Currently the agency is looking for higher management staff for Qafco, a fertiliser producer in Qatar.
“You are pampered there as an employee; only it is in a Desert”, says Approba director Michael Hamers

The fertiliser industry came suddenly in the news recently. Negatively of course, because the exploded plant in Texas unveiled that certain manufacturers are not too strict about the stringent safety regulations. There clearly is a need for specialists and managers who set the standards high both at technical and safety level.

Natural gas

Nevertheless the food production does highly depend on fertiliser and therefore the world population can’t function without fertiliser. Natural gas is essential for the production of fertiliser. Fertiliser producers thus settle where cheap natural gas can be found. New investments are therefore no longer made here. Large plants that require an investment of approximately 1.5 billion euros are built in the United States, Canada and Africa among others. In the Gulf state of Qatar the Qatar Fertilising Company, or Qafco in short, has six huge fertiliser plants.

Qafco’s problem is that no suitable managers can be found in Qatar. That’s why the Arabic Emirate has entered a co-operation with the recruitment and selection agency Approba in Geleen. Approba, founded in 2005 by Michael and Marcel Dols, is specialised in the fertiliser industry and is considered an authority in the fertiliser industry.


That Approba has its headquarters in Geleen can be explained by the fact that the former DSM fertiliser producer is established there as well. The current owner, the Egyptian OCI, is one of the largest fertiliser producers worldwide and as a business partner not only uses the Approba services for recruitment and selection, but also the other specialist HR services the agency provides.

“The six plants of Qafco in Qatar run at full capacity. The problem is the succession of the managers of the six Qafco plants” says Michael Hamers. “In Qatar they prefer Western managers, especially for their know-how and the work ethics they bring. But expats are not allowed to stay longer than five years, so a suitable successor must be found every five years. The experienced specialists we recruit live the life of Riley there. They must work hard, but on the other hand absolutely everything is arranged and paid for them, including an international school for possible children. They feel in Walhalla, but in a desert.”


Approba consultant Erwin Amesz searches for suitable people for the client in many different ways. “Actually I apply a more sophisticated way of networking.

I rarely attend general networking meetings; they are not specific enough and therefore rarely attract the people Approba is looking for. But I do visit very specialised conferences like the Nitrogen+Syngas organized by CRU. That’s where the people we need go to. What I do as well is initiating communities online and creating an own network.”

Tony van der Werf (50) has been working as a freelance technical specialist in the fertilising industry for a long time. He usually is involved in the construction of new plants. Last year he worked in Algeria through Approba; currently he prepares a new project in Iowa. “After my HTS electro-technology studies I soon realised that a nine-to-five job was not for me. That’s why I went backpacking for a year and a half after my studies. I like adventure and freedom. I find all that in the fertiliser industry. I usually work for some six months at a time and then I am free for a few weeks. My wife and children like it too. ”


Van der Werf is aware that this type of work is not for everyone. “Firstly, you must be able to work independently. It is also important that you are not too structured. Of course you need a personal plan, but in Africa, the Middle East and India they work in a completely different way than what we are used to. You must not get unsettled by long winded procedures or permit problems.”

Approba not only sends people to projects abroad, the agency also brings over foreign staff here if there is a demand for it. Michael Hamers: “We arrange everything, we not only find the right people for specific positions, but we also go and view suitable houses with them. We can also arrange for spouses to get a job and that the house is near international schools for possible children. If need be, we even arrange for a satellite dish to be placed on the roof.”

4 mei 2013, translated newspaper article