Workplace savants bringing magic to the daily grind

The Corporate Rebels travel the world to brighten up your working day and take a challenge to management. HAL WILLIAMS reports

EVER felt overlooked and undervalued in your workplace? That your initiatives aren’t rewarded, your ideas never taken seriously, your input ignored?

Corporate Rebels
Rebels with a cause: Freek Ronner, Catelijne Bexkens, Joost Minnaar and Pim de Morree

You’re not alone. Standing right beside you, in spirit at least, are Joost Minnaar, Pim de Morree, Freek Ronner and Catelijne Bexkens, together known as The Corporate Rebels. The Netherlands-based team aim to address all those issues, and make work more fun while they’re at it.

“It started out of frustration,” says Pim de Morree, speaking to BV from the headquarters of business management consultants Haufe-umantis in St Gallen, Switzerland. The Rebels are constantly on the move on a seemingly never-ending world tour to learn, and share, the secrets of a happy workplace.

“Joost and myself started out in engineering degrees and found work in an organisation that suited the career path we had in mind. We liked the work, but were unhappy with the way the organisation was run. We became more and more frustrated by a lack of purpose and decision-making, the complaining around the coffee machine; so we decided to do something for ourselves, and for other people.

“We started with the idea, ‘Let’s make work more fun’. We quit our jobs, made a list of the most inspiring organisations around the world, and set out to visit them. We didn’t have any business models. We were opportunistic and naïve, but we thought if we shared the information, we could make a living out of it. We didn’t set out to teach, we set out to learn.”

Wherever the road takes the Rebels, there is inspiration, challenge and a wealth of new ideas. At Haufe-mantis, Pim and Joost found an organisation which brings democracy to the forefront. “Every year they have elections for leadership positions in the company,” explains Pim. “They simply shift the decision-making to the employees themselves. This company is about democracy, others are about creating more freedom and trust.”

Freedom? Trust? Democracy? These are radical, possibly scary, ideas for some employers, but they are ideas that many have begun to pursue – sometimes to the extent of letting workers decide how much they should be paid. The major surprise for more hierarchical, rigid workplaces, is how well this sort of system functions. “Listening is an important part of it,” says De Morree. “One thing (the places we visit) have in common is that they are all engaging, cool places to work.”

The Corporate Rebels are now a highly regarded group of consultants and speakers, giving workshops and offering consultancies, but De Morree is quick to point out that they dithered their way to the top. “At first, all we could do was share our findings on a blog,” he admits. “It was the easiest way to share with people. We didn’t really have an idea of what to do with the information.

“But we knew there was a need for people to know this, and we were damn sure there were a lot of people looking for solutions. (The blog) was irregular and poor at first, we sent it mostly to our family and friends, but it’s grown.”

The Rebels tend to work in pairs, usually Pim and Joost on the road, Catelijne and Freek taking care of the home front and the consultancy side of the business. The group has visited almost every country in western Europe, as well as Australia and the US – and the Rebels will soon visit Asia for the first time.

“We’ll be visiting (white goods manufacturer) Haier in Qingdao. It’s an interesting one – they have 30,000 employees.” De Morree isn’t sure how their message will be received in a country and culture known for strict hierarchy and formulaic business practices. “Some people have an idea that it won’t work there. There’s a different approach in different cultures and countries. In Holland, there’s not much hierarchy; in other places, more so.

“It can be hard to find examples of companies that have made the change. People in positions of power sometimes feel threatened, but (even in upper echelons) there are a lot of people not happy with their jobs, or about not being in a position to use their skills.”

Is that fear justified at any level? “Sometimes (companies) do fire all the managers, but usually they find a different role for them within the company.”

Are the companies they visit sometimes defensive, as a result? “Yes, especially when we are there for conferences and (talking about) letting people decide their own salaries, make decisions – but a growing number of companies are doing that.”

Tech start-ups like Google have become world-renowned for their go-ahead workplace attitudes, but surprisingly few Silicon Valley organisations appear in the Rebels’ list of inspiring companies.

“There are many organisations in the world that are way ahead of Silicon Valley,” says De Morree. “Not of lot of our ‘heroes’ are from there. We visited Google, but it doesn’t come close to some of the other inspiring companies we’ve visited (see the report at

“The beautiful, hidden pearls are often way more inspiring than the famous tech start-ups. For them, a lot can be learned from other pioneers around the world.”

What of upcoming plans for the globe-trotting Rebels? Every month they aim to visit a different city around the world. In 2018 they will be visiting Paris, Melbourne, an undecided location in Poland, and then on to Brazil to check out one of the Rebels’ original Bucket List companies: Semco Partners, whose stated mission is to “seek out new business, oversee existing businesses and promote synergies among them”.

The Corporate Rebels have built up a wealth of information which they share on their website and blog (, but BV wanted to get to the nut. What is the One Big Thing that all employers need to understand?

“The most important thing is to continually listen to what employees want, to really have a dialogue, and ensure people can do their job in a better way. They need to ask: ‘What barriers can I take away?’

“There are more and more examples of people doing that, there is more and more enthusiasm to attract and retain the right people and motivate employees.”