There’s one thing that has driven Eric-Paul Van Woerkom personally, professionally and throughout his life: the continued pursuit of learning. From history, to cultures, to new technologies, he is constantly expanding his understanding of the world around him. It’s a trait that has led to success, innovation, and a diplomatic approach to leadership.
Growing up in Den Helder, a Navy town in North Holland, Eric-Paul spent his childhood exploring abandoned fortresses and bunkers which dotted the landscape. Coined by Napoleon as the Gibraltar of the North, it was the site of numerous wartime footholds. These landmarks, and their architectural ingenuity, ignited his imagination about the historical secrets that lived within their walls.
When he was six years old, his family moved to the United Kingdom where they remained for three years. During this time, his appreciation for historic sites continued to blossom as they traveled throughout the country visiting castles and fortresses. This period also exposed him to the differences between countries and their cultures, even when so seemingly similar and close in proximity. A by-product of each region’s deeply rooted history, it developed in him an appreciation for learning and respecting unique traditions, ways of living, communication styles, and methods of working.
Eric-Paul (we call him “EP”) attended University of Amsterdam where he studied law. Part of the curriculum – automated judicial systems – exposed him to coding and software development. It wasn’t a subject he had considered nor thought he’d be interested in – but having a passion for learning, he embraced it fully and found that he had a knack for it. It was a pivotal moment which led him to change paths and explore a career in technology.
After law school, EP never considered his learning period over. Quite the contrary. Professionally, he has been attracted to positions that consistently presented new challenges and opportunities to expand his knowledge – through continuing education, certification, and training but also via hands-on exploration. In fact, inventing solutions for client needs inspired him to eventually build a consultancy with former colleagues. Here, they developed new products that solved a variety of problems, for both established companies and pioneering new start-ups.
“I found my calling was in the start-up world. Worked for quite a few. Failed a lot, learned a lot. I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of AI and a believer that it is a core component in this mix of technology that is making up the fourth industrial revolution,” explained Eric-Paul about his passion for technology and where it is heading.
EP has held leadership and executive positions at several notable tech companies and has managed multimillion-dollar accounts and projects. His career allowed him to interact with an abundance of different cultures. Because of this, EP has extensive experience working with software development teams in Europe, India, Pakistan, Japan, South America and the United States – where he eventually settled in Florida and married his wife, Mercedes, and had their son, Duran.
“I’ve learnt a lot at every different company. The biggest learning curve I had was cultural. Coming from the Netherlands where speaking your mind and dissenting is expected… you don’t beat around the bush or sugarcoat your feedback. You do it professionally, but everyone’s opinion is valued,” Eric-Paul explains about the differences working in a global capacity. “I remember coming to the States… that was such a paradigm shift for me. It was more hierarchal. You have to understand your role, position, be more aware of politics, and you have to nuance your responses. The culture I grew up in, that was not much of an issue, giving feedback was appreciated.”
“I’ve had the fortune of working with other [global] teams… and it has taught me even more. In the Netherlands, what you say is what you mean, it’s a ‘low context’ culture, but in Japan it’s not what you say, it is how you say it and your body language – a ‘high context’ culture. In the Netherlands you can just get down to business, while in South America it is about establishing a relationship. The U.S. is such a large country, Tampa Bay versus L.A. or New York, the cultures there are even different.”
EP then told us about a famous Dutch saying, “without friction there is no shine. When you polish things, you are essentially applying friction. You want constructive conflicts to clear the air, to get things off your chest, to hopefully provide some honest feedback around issues or proposals. This only works if there are other forces, other types of people, that look at the world more nuanced so that it doesn’t become destructive conflict and stays constructive.”
Speaking of an exciting new tech company with an opportunity to continue his learning, when the opportunity rose to work for a new start-up that aimed to be a global disruptor, one that would span all the world’s cultures and help impact the way we travel around the globe, EP couldn’t resist. BagsID Founder and CEO Marlon van der Meer – a childhood friend from Den Helder – reached out, having followed EP’s professional successes over the years, and asked him to lead the team driving the development.
“To help define the technology for baggage biometrics was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. It has been a phenomenal experience. Not just learning about the aviation industry, beyond being a passenger myself, but discovering the tech and avenues we’ve taken to get the desired result … the potential of the product and the journey that comes with it. I’m excited about the team that we have,” he continued. “My job is to make the impossible possible. I take the dreams we sell and think ‘how can I build out a product road map that is realistic,’ making sure that every aspect of our platform has experienced leadership. It’s not just the A.I. piece – it is security, infrastructure, networking, application development, architecture – everything has a talented owner who is passionate about furthering our products.”
So, what’s he going to do once BagsID is deployed the world over? Buy a castle of course!
“I’ve always dreamt of being able to restore a castle in France and starting my own wine label. The success of BagsID would allow me to pursue this passion. I’m fascinated by the architecture of historic fortifications and the idea of being able to not only own one but keep its history alive. If I had to think of something I’d love to do when I retire, it is this. Hopefully leaving something behind for future generations to enjoy.”
That sounds like a great plan to us, Eric-Paul. Here’s to toasting your success in your future castle with goblets of wine from your own Van Woerkom vineyard. Cheers!