This week’s interview is about one of my favorite business cultures – the Netherlands. Experienced sales professional, business coach, and entrepreneur Roland van Leusden shares his perspective of how the Dutch business culture helps make the Netherlands such an international business powerhouse despite its relative size.
What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of the Dutch people that are reflected in the Netherland’s business culture?
With a rich history in globetrotting around the world to explore and trade and therefore used to adapt to other cultures, I think that Dutch people ‘inherited’ characteristics from all over the world. However, there are some deeply rooted Dutch traits worth mentioning:
- Direct communication – the Dutch are very straight forwarded and direct. A direct style is considered open and transparent, while being too subtle or diplomatic is a sign of ‘hidden agendas’ or ‘being untrustworthy’.
- Freedom – the Dutch culture values not only freedom of speech but especially freedom of opinion. With that comes a strong separation between work and a person’s private life outside of work.
- Equality – Dutch people feel passionately that all people are essentially equal in value. Factors like socio-economic status, university alma mater or country of origin do not elevate or downgrade a person’s status in society. Everyone deserves respect, including children.
In your opinion, what are the Netherlands’ most competitive industries in world markets?
Besides the well-known Dutch companies like Philips, DSM, AkzoNobel, ASML, TomTom, Heineken, I encounter small-and-medium-sized Dutch businesses in many international markets.
But in my opinion these are the most competitive ones:
- As the main ocean port of Europe (Rotterdam Harbor), the Netherlands is a leader in trade and logistics.
- Dutch companies are highly competitive in creative high-end and precision engineering in both pure technical as well as agricultural (food). The area around Eindhoven has been called the Silicon Valley of Europe. There are also clusters of innovative companies near cities with universities like Nijmegen, Delft and Utrecht.
- Because of our continuing fight to keep the sea from flooding our lands, the Dutch are experts in all areas of water management and civil engineering.
- The Netherlands is famous for its production and auctioning of cut flowers and flower bulbs.
What’s the best way to find potential Dutch business contacts?
The great news is that Dutch business people are open to making new business contacts without an intermediary’s introduction. The other plus is that Dutch business people are normally very comfortable communicating in English!
To start, I recommend doing an Internet search for ‘Dutch Chamber of Commerce’ or ‘Chamber of Commerce Netherlands’ or ‘doing business in the Netherlands’. A more official route is through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have more than 150 embassies and consulates all over the world http://www.minbuza.nl/en/services/trade-information/trade-information.html
What do you wish people knew about doing business in the Netherlands before they arrive in country?
The Dutch has many contrasts which make it seem almost contradictory. We are liberal in many ways, but conservative in others. We are proud of our accomplishments, but don’t like bragging. We like to give our opinions, but we don’t want to be told what to do. Before making big assumptions about an aspect of Dutch culture, be aware of its limits and a balancing characteristic.
Even though the Dutch are some of the most direct communicators in the world, people must say their opinion in a way that still shows respect for the other person and their opinions.
Business decisions are usually made after everyone on the team has had an opportunity to express their opinion. Everybody wants to be heard and have the feeling that his opinion does matter in decision making. This process will take some time, don’t be hasty!
In the end, the most important factor amongst gathered facts and figures in making business decisions is the cost or better: estimated value for money. After the decision is made or the deal is done things will go fast and efficient.
Do not present yourself or your company with too much emphasis on titles, achievements, dazzling figures to make an impression. It will likely be seen as arrogant and pretentious.
We have a saying: “act normal, then you’re crazy enough”. This means that while people have a right to express themselves, there is still an expectation of a certain amount of normalcy.
The Dutch want to be appreciated for their expertise. Given the fact that they want to keep business and private matters separate, offering at first a lunch, dinner or other gifts are more likely to be seen as a form of bribery or at least give an uneasy feeling that the favor has to be returned some way or the other way. When a business relationship has been established then these kind of things are accepted.
From your perspective, what’s the business climate like for entrepreneurs (supportive vs. unsupported, culturally accepted profession vs. not accepted, etc.)?
In the Netherlands, it is easy to start a company but much harder to deal with the regulations and tax pressures that come after. Entrepreneurship is growing into a more accepted profession. But traditionally successful entrepreneurs were seen negatively for showing off their wealth publicly (not socially acceptable in Dutch society). Another contradiction is in staffing. In most cases it is easy to find qualified Dutch employees and to hire them, but is very difficult to terminate employment. This may be an issue that the Dutch government eventually addresses in order to allow Dutch employers to compete better in world markets.
About Roland van Leusden
Roland helps small and medium-sized companies to grow in their markets. He offers business coaching and in-company training with special emphasis on operations and sales. Roland is based in the Rotterdam area and while his client base is mainly Dutch companies, he has recently begun to look at global markets. Roland has a Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Business Administration and professional background both in (production) logistics and sales/account management. Since 2006 Roland has owned and managed his company, SaleXperience, started because of his passion for small-and-medium-sized businesses who form 97% of all businesses and therefore are ‘the engine of the economy’. Roland offers sales training, as well as organizational and general business coaching, complemented with testing services for internal analyses and external hiring. In June 2010 he co-founded an international real estate classifieds website: http://khusan.com . Roland sees the Internet as a gateway to international business and entrepreneurship. He nicknamed himself ‘Dutch Roland’ because his last name might be hard to pronounce in other languages. As with Dutch culture, Roland finds himself balancing his business between his Dutch business coaching clients and his new international business ventures, and of course his private life. For more information about Roland and how to connect, please visit: