Meet our CTO and MVP, Maarten Eekels. At Rapid Circle, Maarten is responsible for everything related to knowledge and technology. From knowledge development to knowledge sharing, Maarten does it all. However, technology is not his only passion. Maarten also has a love for wine and can call himself a certified sommelier. Are you ready to meet our wine expert?
You are now a certified sommelier. What inspired you to achieve this title?
“In my student days, I had a group of friends, and one of them had a part-time job at a wine store. This was quite unique for our group because the rest of us were all working in computer stores. That’s how we knew each other. That friend would sometimes organize wine tastings, and that’s how I got introduced to it. Prior to that, I only drank beer, but through those tastings, I began to realize that wine is actually quite enjoyable. I always liked it, but I didn’t do much with it. About 8 years ago, I decided to delve into it. Looking back, I found it so enjoyable that I wanted to learn more about it and started taking courses. I have completed about 5 courses so far and I’m currently working on the sixth one.”
What kind of courses have you taken?
“In the Netherlands, the SDEN (Stichting Drank Examens en Normering) is the most important wine education provider. I have completed and passed SDEN 1, 2, and 3. If you were to take the next step to SDEN 4, you would become a vinologist. However, I wanted to focus on the international side, also considering my work, and that led me to WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). This is the international counterpart of SDEN, but slightly more advanced. Currently, I have completed WSET 3 and I’m working on WSET 4. Once I complete it, after writing and defending my thesis, I will be officially recognized as a wine academic.”
What is the most extraordinary bottle of wine you have ever tasted?
“That’s hard to say because I think wine is very much about the experience and the emotion. And yes, it’s very difficult to pick one because there are so many moments where you have a certain experience or emotion. However, I can mention a few. For example, when my wife and I celebrated our 12.5-year anniversary, when we sold our house, or when I climbed Mont Ventoux with friends on a bicycle. At the top, I was completely exhausted and probably had never been so depleted. I had brought a bottle of champagne, and when we reached the bottom, we opened that bottle. It wasn’t the best champagne I had ever tasted, but the moment and the experience will always stay with me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had ridiculously good bottles in my life. In New York, I had the opportunity to taste half a glass of ‘Screaming Eagle,’ which is considered the best wine in the United States, and a bottle starts at 3,000 euros. So, I would never buy a bottle like that for myself. But if I get to taste half a glass, that’s the ultimate enjoyment.”
Do you also have wine bottles at home that you consider investment objects?
“No, I drink them all. I don’t buy wines as investment objects. Some people do, but I have no interest in that. I have around 600 bottles of wine at home, and they are all meant to be eventually consumed. My passion is so great that I even have an Excel file for my wines, and I label and number all my bottles. I keep track of where I bought the wine, how much I paid for it, when the wine was consumed, where I can find it in my climate-controlled cabinets (because I have three of them), and when they reach their optimal drinking window. For example, in my cabinets, there are bottles of wine that won’t reach their peak for another 15 years, so I will only open them then.”
Is there something you gain from your sommelier hobby that you can’t get from your role as CTO?
“I think it’s more the fact that it’s something completely different. I enjoy studying both wine and technology, and I invest quite a bit of time in both areas. I read a lot of books and blogs and listen to many podcasts. But I do that in both the technology field and the wine field. It depends on my mindset at that moment. For example, when I’m in the car, I rarely listen to the radio; I almost always have a podcast on. And whether I choose something related to the Microsoft Cloud or something related to wine depends on my mood and what gives me more energy at that time. Sometimes, I’ve had enough of technology, and sometimes, I’ve had enough of wine. It’s nice that I have two passions that I can switch between.”
Do your sommelier hobby and your role as CTO align with your personal purpose?
“My personal purpose is to inspire other people. I try to do that with wine, but I also try to do it in my work. I see it as my goal to inspire others. How can you make yourself better? How can you better serve your customers? And how can you find more joy and energy in your work and break through your own glass ceiling? If I can achieve that with others, that’s the most beautiful thing and all that I want.”
I always thought I was a people person, but apparently, I still had a lot to learn in that area.Maarten Eekels, Chief Technology Officer Rapid Circle
Do you feel like you are currently working towards that?
“Yes, absolutely. I think so. When I stand on my soapbox and try to inspire people, in any field, I derive a lot of satisfaction from that. Even if only one person comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘Maarten, this was truly amazing, and I gained something from it or will act on it,’ then my day is made. And I experience that in the community and with clients, but also when sharing my passion for wine. That’s what I do it for. And of course, it would be nice to say that I don’t need the feedback, but I do. The feedback helps, and I appreciate getting that kind of confirmation. Ultimately, my goal is to inspire people, but I can’t deny that it’s fantastic when people actually indicate that something I shared has stayed with them.”
Do you have someone in your life who motivates or inspires you?
“Yes, that’s my wife. She knows me inside out and helps me maintain balance. I have an extremely busy work life, and I also have various hobbies. I not only enjoy wine, but also cycling, motorcycling, going out, watching movies, reading, and you name it. I also have two children and I’m involved in soccer. I’m the coach of my eldest child’s team, and without my wife, I would probably have burned out a long time ago. There’s no one better than her to ensure that I stay in balance. My wife understands me so well and immediately notices when I’m investing too much energy into something or when I’m getting worked up again. She can tell right away when I’m being a bit short-tempered or see it in my eyes. She calls me out on it and says, ‘Hey Maarten, we need to talk.’ Then we sit down, and I know what time it is. But that’s what I need, and she does it extremely well.”
What is the best advice or feedback your wife or someone else has ever given you?
“Early in my career, I took a project management course that included various role-playing exercises. On the follow-up day, I had a conversation with my former instructor, and he said, ‘Maarten, realize that you have a tremendous likability factor. But you are also perfectly capable of shooting yourself in the foot because you are so incredibly stubborn and always think you’re right.’ It was tough to hear at the time, and I was like, ‘Wow, what?’ But to this day, I’m still very grateful for it because nowadays, I often hear that I’m an empathetic person. I always thought I was a people person, but apparently, I still had a lot to learn in that area. I had to learn not to always push my own opinion and I have to admit that it still doesn’t always go smoothly, but I’m aware of it. So, that has been one of the most valuable lessons for me. When I look back at who I was 15 years ago, I think I’ve become more lenient and better at listening. Of course, there’s a danger of attributing it to age, but I prefer to attribute it to experience.”
If you were to compare the Maarten from 15 years ago to the current Maarten, is there a difference?
“I think old Maarten may have come across as a bit arrogant at times, even though I didn’t want that. The feedback from the training really helped me because it was so confronting when it was said to me. I didn’t want to be that person, but apparently, I sometimes came across that way to other people. Because I didn’t want to be that person, it was motivating for me to work on myself and invest in improving myself in that aspect. It was a characteristic I absolutely didn’t want to have. I think that over the years, I’ve managed to change quite a bit, and I hope that now I’m seen as a people person.”
Many people would say that you are quite successful. What do you think about that?
“I am happy with what I do. I have a wonderful family, I enjoy my work, I have helped grow a company, and I’m currently working on making another company even bigger. Everyone’s definition of success is personal, of course. For me, success is not only about performance on the business side but also about maintaining balance, and my wife helps with that. I have been fortunate to turn my hobby into my job, and I truly get energy from working with technology and delving into wine knowledge. Of course, there are times when I’m grumpy and need a cup of coffee to get some positive energy because I also face challenges that I dread. Sometimes, I have to have difficult conversations or clean up messes at a client’s site that colleagues or I have left behind, and those are less pleasant aspects. However, I have never had a day where I reluctantly went to work or reluctantly invested energy into gaining wine knowledge. Never. In that sense, I believe I can consider myself successful.”