Meet Frank Dewever, from triathlete to TerraCottem: a journey of versatility and perseverance

04/12/2023 - 07:32

TerraCottem is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. This year also marks the 60th birthday of Sales Manager Frank Dewever, who has been with the company since its inception in 1993. Thus, the TerraCottem journey already accounts for half of his life. This presents the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the story of this long-serving TerraCottem staff member.

Hi Frank. Let's start at the beginning. You graduated as a commercial engineer in 1986 from EHSAL in Brussels. Why that choice?

I had a strong desire to pursue a comprehensive course that encompassed languages, economics, mathematics, and sciences. Furthermore, this choice closely aligned with my academic background in secondary school, specifically in economics and languages. By adding these additional scientific subjects, I aimed to build a well-rounded foundation that would facilitate my entry into the professional world later on.

During that period, the option to study commercial engineering was limited to Antwerp, Leuven, or Brussels, specifically at the EHSAL Management School. Opting for the latter allowed me to commute daily by train, a necessary arrangement as I was also actively engaged in playing 2nd National basketball. I was determined to maintain the balance between sports and academics.

What did you do between graduation and your start at TerraCottem?

Following my graduation, in 1987, I embarked on my military service at the Bevekom air base, serving as an infirmary officer/ stretcher bearer. One memorable experience from this period was a six-week journey accompanying F16 pilots on an exercise trip to Corsica. During this assignment, my responsibilities included maintaining their anti-G suits and oxygen masks, and I also assisted the corps doctor with medical interventions when needed.

Following my military service, I began my career in the textile industry, where I spent five years. Initially, I worked in indoor sales for six months at LYS Yarns in Zulte, and subsequently, I transitioned to field sales at the Steverlynck dyeworks, where I worked for several years.

So how did you join the TerraCottem company?

In 1993, I came into contact with Bernard Devos, who had then taken over LYS Yarns. Bernard was looking for young, motivated people to set up a new company to market a soil conditioner.

  • Luc Van Cotthem, the son of Professor Willem Van Cotthem was the first to join. I was the second on the payroll.
  • Our team, led by Bernard Devos was initially completed with Christopher Kidder, an American, Laurence Van Ackere and Muriëlle Kockmann, a Dutch. Professor Van Cotthem was still teaching at UGent at the time, but acted as our scientific adviser.
  • In September 1994, Carol Devos joined to follow up the international markets.
  • And at the end of 1994, Gilbert Vangampelaere joined our team to oversee production. During the initial six years, we outsourced the manufacturing of TerraCottem through contractual arrangements.
From left to right: Professor Van Cotthem, Luc Van Cotthem, Bernard Devos, Ian Woosnam (profesional golf player),
Muriëlle Kockmann, Laurence Van Ackere, Frank Dewever and Christopher Kidder (photo 1993).

You have been with us since the inception, marking 30 years of both TerraCottem's existence and your tenure at TerraCottem. When you initially joined the company, your role encompassed responsibilities such as purchasing, production, shipping, and accounting. Can you share the journey of how you transitioned from an inside sales role to becoming the external sales manager?

In the early days, everyone had a broad range of responsibilities. For instance, I personally handled both raw material procurement and invoicing, as well as coordinated production and shipments. My prior five years of experience in the textile industry had equipped me with valuable skills in these areas.

During that time, Christopher was establishing an international customer network, while Laurence and Muriëlle were doing the same in the Belgian and Dutch markets.

When the company underwent a division, resulting in the establishment of TerraCottem International in London, responsible for 'export countries,' and TerraCottem BV, which assumed responsibility for the Belgian, Dutch, French, and German markets, it necessitated a reorganization. Subsequently, I assumed the role of commercial manager for the Belgian market.

This transition was a logical choice, considering my extensive familiarity with both our customers and the product itself. My administrative duties, including invoicing and accounting, were entrusted to a newly hired accountant, Michel Lagaert.

In 2003, my market responsibilities were further expanded to encompass the Netherlands and Germany.

What does an average week look like for you?

I strive to maintain a structured approach to my workdays. Typically, in the mornings, my priority is to address emails promptly. On Mondays and Fridays, I often engage in internal work meetings or meet with our Belgian clients. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are typically dedicated to attending domestic and international trade fairs or visiting customers.

What aspect of your work gives you the most satisfaction?

There are a number of things...

  • On the one hand, the pioneering work: not only because we started with a revolutionary product, but also because we built this from scratch.
  • On the other hand, there is the contact with customers. Offering people solutions to their problems: both our own customers, and TerraCottem's end users.
  • What is also satisfying is to develop new markets and/or applications of our soil conditioners.

You are responsible for sales in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. What are the differences and similarities between those countries?

There are definitely differences. In Belgium, the emphasis is mainly on private gardening... Based on my experience, Belgians spends quite a lot of money on their garden, while there are less government funded planting projects. In the Netherlands this is more balanced: both private use (where we have a strong presence in the potting soil sector), and planting projects by the government. In Germany, the emphasis leans predominantly towards governmental planting projects, particularly due to the involvement of numerous public authorities, such as "Strassenbauamten" and "Autobahnamten", which dictate planting decisions.

You can also see this in our distributor network. In Belgium, we have about 30 distribution points, which work regionally, to be able to serve all those landscapers well. In the Netherlands, we have national distributors per sector. In Germany, we have 1 large distributor, with several branches and representatives per region, and a few smaller ones as well.

However, there are similarities as well. Across all countries, our distributors serve as committed suppliers to the landscape and amenity sector. Furthermore, the vast majority of their employees have received training in horticulture or landscaping, or have familial connections to these industries. Once they become involved in these sectors, both business owners and their employees tend to remain within the industry.

What is your favourite fair?

In every country, I have a fair that I really like.

In the Netherlands, it's the Groene Sector Vakbeurs, which takes place in winter. That's a fair in Hardenberg, aimed at gardeners. In this role, I have the opportunity to directly engage with numerous end users and provide assistance to our Dutch suppliers in the professional sector, namely Mertens and Vitagro.

In Germany, Galabau is surely my favourite. A very large, international fair. It lasts 4 days and attracts more than 60000 visitors across 1,000 different stands.

But number one is without a doubt a Belgian fair: the Nationale Grasdag (National Grass Day). TerraCottem is one of the organising partners and we handle everything: from the kick-off meeting, over the construction of the demo fields (both grass and wild flower meadows), to the fair days themselves. It is a unique concept, with a large demo field, but also because of the range of exhibitors that is very diverse. And there is also a School Day, attended by future gardeners and landscapers.

Read the blog post "The history of National Grass Day" here

What was the most special project for you?

Something about every project sticks with me....

In Belgium, I have a special connection with the town of Oudenaarde. They take part in the flower competition Entente Florale every year. In 1999 they won a silver medal, and in 2019 (just 20 years later) they won the gold medal. And in 2022, they also won a prize in the international flower competition Communities in Bloom. Oudenaarde holds the distinction of being the inaugural city to adopt TerraCottem in their planting projects. Our collaboration with the residents of Oudenaarde allowed us to significantly enhance our understanding of the versatility of our soil conditioners across various applications, including hanging baskets, plant borders, wild flower meadows, and tree plantings. Throughout these years, I have cultivated a meaningful and personal rapport with the individuals involved.

Read the blog post "City of Oudenaarde: loyal TerraCottem user for 30 years" here

In the early stages of our presence in the Netherlands, we successfully implemented TerraCottem at De Kuip, the home stadium of Feyenoord football club. Subsequently, we extended our reach to Ajax Amsterdam's training complex, De Toekomst. Undoubtedly, these were two remarkable and prestigious projects.

In Germany, I have good memories of the first major planting project in Hösbach-Goldbach. The A3 motorway was covered over a large stretch and all concrete structures were hidden with plantings of trees and shrubs, all with TerraCottem soil conditioner.

You used to be a basketball player, but also a triathlete.

During my youth, but also during my student days, I played basketball at BT EUROSOAP Waregem. The team had faced bankruptcy, and from there, we embarked on a fresh start with a promising 3rd provincial team. Within seven years, we made significant progress and ascended to the 3rd National league.

As I started my career, balancing it with basketball became increasingly challenging. During that time, I had developed a passion for cycling and running in the summer months, which ultimately led me to contemplate participating in a half triathlon. I found the experience truly enjoyable, prompting me to commit to training for a full-distance triathlon for an entire year. In my inaugural full-distance event, I achieved a 10th place in the Belgian Long-Distance Championship. This success left me eager for more, leading to the decision to discontinue my involvement in basketball and shift my focus entirely to triathlon. Over the course of eight years, I competed in various events, with my most notable accomplishment being a 5th-place finish at the Belgian Coast Triathlon, the former national championship.

You remain highly active in sports, participating in cycling and engaging in survival weekends. Are there any parallels you draw between your sporting activities and your professional endeavors? How do the lessons learned from sports influence your approach to your career?

There is a certain parallel between my tenure as a triathlete and my early years at TerraCottem, in the sense that both experiences involved pioneering efforts. During that period, the sport of triathlon was still in its nascent stage in Belgium, necessitating a process of trial and error to develop effective training regimens. Similarly, at TerraCottem, we were exploring strategies for marketing both the product and the company.

Furthermore, both endeavours, be it the sport or my professional career, demanded a high degree of versatility. Triathlon comprises three distinct disciplines (swimming, running, and cycling), and in my professional life, I had to and continue to master various facets such as administration, procurement, sales, and more.

Undoubtedly, perseverance is a common trait required in both areas. My motto has always been:

"You can't be the best at everything, but you have to do your best at everything (laughs)".

30 years of representing TerraCottem. What makes TerraCottem so special to you?

I consider TerraCottem a bit like my "stepchild”, given my involvement from its inception (chuckles). The true parents, of course, are Bernard Devos, the company's founder, and Professor Van Cotthem, the inventor. Consequently, my connection to the company holds a deeply profound significance for me.

Read the blog article “How are things going with .... Professor Willem Van Cotthem?here

Do you have a green thumb?

Yes, because I believe that if you give advice to professional landscapers, you should have experienced it yourself.

Over the past two decades, I've been personally involved in the development and realization of my own garden. The initial design was crafted by garden and landscape architect Erik De Waele, and I actively contributed to the planning. I personally planted all the yew hedges, trees, and plants. Additionally, I collaborated with garden contractor Johan Terras to create a swimming pond, where I handled the final details. The extensive planting of perennial borders and ornamental grasses was also a hands-on effort. I even participated in the seeding of my sizable lawn, which I continue to maintain myself.

What is your favourite tree/plant?

I like combining massifs with solitary trees in my garden. Among my favorite hedge plants is the Osmanthus Burkwoodii, which boasts exquisite white flowers in spring and is easy to maintain. When it comes to trees, I have a preference for native species like the Alnus glutinosa (black alder) with its airy structure and delicate leaves. I am also fond of the Quercus ilex (holm oak), an evergreen tree that retains its vibrant green foliage throughout the year.

I have all three in my garden.

Sustainability is a growing concern in all sectors: how does this manifest itself in our industry?

What we're observing, particularly in the landscaping industry, is a decreasing trend in extensive paving, as people explore alternative options like grass beds and permeable pavements.

In the realm of gardening, the focus is shifting towards embracing 'green' and 'blue' elements. There's a growing shift away from minimalist lawns, with increased emphasis on the cultivation of trees and shrubs to promote biodiversity. In response to climate change, there's a heightened interest in exploring various methods for water management and the creation of water features.

Sustainability is also leading to greater attention to composting and recycling green waste. Many individuals are taking the initiative to compost and shred their own prunings for use as ground cover, among other applications.

How do you see our industry evolving in the next 5 years?

Over the next five years, we can expect a heightened focus on climate-resilient green space management. There will be a stronger emphasis on the expansion of initiatives aimed at softening landscapes and creating areas dedicated to water buffering, water infiltration, and enhancing biodiversity.

Finally, how do you see your role evolving in the coming years and what ambitions do you have for both your personal growth and your contribution to the firm?

"Those 30 years at TerraCottem have flown by".

I am normally allowed to continue for another five years, until I reach the age of 65. During this time, I plan to actively contribute to the further expansion of our commercial activities. Ultimately, we will need to identify a successor, and I am more than willing to assist in transferring my knowledge to them.

Thanks for this talk, Frank. It was a very interesting look back at your time at TerraCottem!

Do you wish to get in touch with Frank?

TerraCottem BV
Brugstraat 27A - 8720 Oeselgem (Dentergem), Belgium
T. +32 (0)475/38.19.49

If you know someone who would also like to read this article, feel free to copy the link and share.

Would you like to be in the spotlight too?

You can!

Send a quick email to and we will schedule an online meeting together.

Meet the other members of

Team TerraCottem