Profile: Huub van Doorne

Huub van Doorne, Lucas Bols ‘chief energising officer’, talks passion, ambition and empowerment with Jaq Bayles

Framed in the doorway of his light, airy, Amsterdam office, Lucas Bols’ self-styled chief energising officer, Huub van Doorne, cuts an imposing figure – lean, angular and quietly assured.

His bearing is relaxed, yet poised and alert, like that of a sportsman ready for the games to begin – a skier or a tennis player, perhaps. As it turns out, he is both, having played top-level tennis between the ages of 13-17 (at one time he was Holland’s number three) and annually taking to the slopes for his winter holidays.

So this is a man used to volleying whatever life serves up and traversing the moguls of the runs to take on the mantle of mogul himself. But enough of the metaphors and down to business with the son of a family of trucking entrepreneurs who turned entrepreneur himself with the buyout of Lucas Bols from Rémy Cointreau in 2006.

The occasion is the seventh annual Bols Around the World cocktail competition and Van Doorne is in high spirits as he sees the culmination of six months of whittling down the 3,000 entrants from 66 countries. “These last few days are the most rewarding thing. I see the whole company working so hard and being so passionate. That’s what people in the end enjoy.”


‘Passion’ is one of Van Doorne’s watchwords – it was the reason he bought the Bols company in the first place, having seen an underperforming brand “lacking tender, loving care”, that he wanted to put the heart and soul back into.

He had been working for Rémy Cointreau for 15 years. He joined as MD for the distribution company in the Netherlands before being sent to build up distribution in Mexico from 1992-1995 then moving on to head up the marketing and commercial side in Paris. 

Van Doorne takes up the tale: “In 2000 Rémy bought Lucus Bols. I left the group in 2004 and I told them at the time that if they would think about selling off the brands I would be interested in looking at that. In March 2005 I had no job and I started literally at the kitchen table to make a budget plan.

“After a year of hard work and convincing people, in 2006 with private investment company AAC Capital, we managed to buy the company from Rémy Cointreau and brought it back to Amsterdam where it’s been since 1575.”

As what Van Doorne had bought was essentially a portfolio of brands rather than a tangible business, his next task was to create a company with a personality and purpose. To that end, four distinct elements were born in one building: the office, the master distiller team (concentrating on NPD), the Bols Bartending Academy and the House of Bols Experience – “to let people experience the past and also to link with the future”.

Van Doorne is clearly proud of his resurrection of the Bols name. “When you look at the history of Bols we had 300 liqueur recipes; in the 1700s we were traders; we were in Paris at the world exhibition so we were always at the forefront but lost it. 

“I said we need to be innovative again, be at the forefront and choose to go for the world of bartenders and cocktail culture. We really started to work with bartenders. Those were the pillars of our development and I have looked for partners to share our vision and passion and it’s only now you see the results of the hard work.”


He has never been one to shy away from hard work, fully admitting to being ambitious, and seems to have been at the top of his game throughout what has been a remarkable life to date. A burning interest in the economy and marketing led him to study business administration at university, where he became active in the Netherlands student union, AIESEC.

“It was there I discovered that I liked to work in teams and to lead teams. I headed up the local branch then, later, national.”

He started his career at Procter & Gamble, marketing on the detergents side. He was approached by a headhunter and went from being a senior brand manager to MD of distribution at Rémy Cointreau.

Yet nothing in his career has been the result of him mapping out a long-term path. “I don’t believe in those things. If someone says in 20 years I will be there, I think the most you can think is five years ahead. To go from being in the Netherlands to Mexico – I never thought I would do that. It was a different country, a new language, there was no organisation.

“One of the things I’ve learnt to be successful abroad is you need to speak languages and respect the culture.”

Van Doorne speaks English, French, Spanish and German as well as his native Dutch, and the global aspect of his business is one that really grabs him and is essential to the profligation of the Bols brand.

“A lot of companies don’t know how to go about liqueurs – it’s a general term for many different products. You have many SKUs so it requires a selling approach. I like brands in general and I like the multinational part, the global involvement. I can one day deal with Japan and Argentina and Brazil and another the US, UK, Germany.

“Bols is not a huge company but we are truly global.”


And what of the ‘chief energising moniker’? He attributes it to a colleague but admits: “It really corresponds with what I would like to be. My role is not just executive. I am a great believer in company culture. You can’t buy that anywhere. If it’s one thing you can influence as someone leading an operation, it’s that. I want to give people energy in terms of passion for the company and brands and give them their own responsibilities rather than imposing rules on them. To be entrepreneurial, take risks, make decisions, come up with ideas and try to inspire people in their cultures and to learn from those and bring them back here.”

Yet he is adamant that he achieves all this within the boundaries of his working life. “I don’t like to work 24 hours. I do my annual schedule and plan my holidays first. People can get hold of me 24 hours a day if there was a big problem but people can make their own decisions. It also forces you not to get used to 24 hours of working. This is the biggest threat at the moment with social media – you can be active all the time. You have to be strong to differentiate. The lines are very blurred between work and life, especially for younger people.”

This is not for Van Doorne. He has a healthy family life – wife Sandie, who works in the business, created the Bols Around the World competition and was presenting the final that night – with five chidren ranging in age from 27 to seven. One son has already shown that entrepreneurial streak by setting up his own company dealing in cars.

Van Doorne lives 40 minutes from work – “just enough time to relax” -– and is a big sports fan, playing golf and skiing in his spare time.

And for the future? Well, he has already said he won’t look too far ahead. “I am 55 now and enjoying things tremendously. We have ambitions on Genever and hope to expand in northern Europe and Asia. We hope to drive bartending further in places such as Eastern Europe and Asia. There’s still a lot to be gained.”

His conviction is born out by what’s already been achieved. And if anyone needed further convincing, look no further than the steely brown eyes and confident smile that accompany the farewell handshake. 

The grip of a champion.