We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2020-21 by sharing 75 personal stories from people who have a special connection to both the UK and the Netherlands. Read the 75 NL-UK stories and join us in celebrating our 75th anniversary. Watch the video message from Quinten Peelen & Björn Stenvers and expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Yvonne Thompson, Anton Valk, Jennie Monon, Arif H Shah, and Wim Mijs.
75 UK-NL Stories - Entrepreneurship
Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE
Nurturing and sustaining international relationships are essential to me as a founder of a global women’s network. While the bond with every country is rewarding and valuable, there is something special about our connection with The Netherlands.
Apart from nurturing a relationship with the British Embassy in the Netherlands, contributing to various events, delegations and three Apeldoorn conferences in Norfolk, Eindhoven and London, which all proved to be informative, invigorating and fostered international relations, it was my women in business network that really made the difference and lasting relationships from 1997 to now.
We also have grown a relationship with the Dutch Embassy in London who has hosted receptions for us to engage, network and celebrate Dutch Business Women who visit London during our annual Global Summit and Awards Celebration.
It was late 1990s with the dynamic Maritza Russell from Rotterdam. Motivated and inspired by winning an award at the UK's first network for Black Women in business and forerunner of WinTrade Global, the European Federation of Black Women’s Business Owners, Maritza went back to the Netherlands and started her chapter ZZVN, which changed its name to EZVN in 2009. Today Maritza is the President and Founder of EZVN who has provided countless opportunities to other black businesswomen in the Netherlands. Maritza continues to soar in whatever she does and remains one of my dearest friends.
My association with Maritza introduced me to the Dutch entrepreneurial spirit, exemplified by the impressive individuals and their stories that followed Maritza's footsteps.
Four Dutch women epitomise the special relationship between our two countries. Claudia Berghout is not only a successful lawyer, but she is also the CEO of her law firm, situated on the outskirts of The Hague, specialising in ‘David and Goliath’ cases and for those most in need.
Based in Rijswijk, Herma Kluin is a tough, dedicated private detective working tirelessly to help keep children and young people safe. Both these women are stars in their field and grounded by a philosophy about helping others.
In Eindhoven, we revel in the work that Margareth Maduro is doing as an NLP expert practitioner. Margareth is a natural-born entrepreneur. She is charismatic and boasts a great personality.
Finally is the effervescent Nancy Poleon of Branded Personalities. Based in Amsterdam Nancy is a 'super connector' when it comes to networking, knowing the media, how to grow and nurture contacts and connect women world wide. A must know personality when it comes to networking.
No mention of our relationship would be complete without mentioning the two Dutch photographers and videographer, we have come to admire, just outside Amsterdam. Desiree Hofland, from Hoofddorp, has been a consistent companion and supporter, along with Leon Wodtke. A model and photographer who is now a contributor in one of your top photographic magazines.
Even during lockdown, we engage, even more online, and this year we have several Dutch women in business being recognised in our Summit and Awards in July this year.
There is something special about the Netherlands. We continue to look forward to your eagerness to engage, inspiration, determination and friendship, for years to come.
Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE
Founder, WinTRADE Global
I came to London as the founding CEO and Chairman of Abellio, a subsidiary of NS (Netherlands Railways). I stepped down from Abellio in 2012. Since then I have built up a broad non-executive and advisory portfolio in which I always aim to connect the UK and the Netherlands. What I love most in the United Kingdom is the opportunity I have had to engage in British culture: it’s open for business, traditional and welcoming.
Railways in Britain are special. A social service which matters to everyone, which is highly political requiring huge public funding, and which operates since liberalisation in a complex industry structure. A daunting challenge for all involved. What surprised me coming from abroad was the camaraderie and pride of the people in the Railways and even more the feeling after some years that I too had become part of it. Cherries on the cake were becoming a member of the British Transport Police Authority and a trustee of the Science Museum Group and the Railway Museum in York. A boy’s dream, I pinch myself sometimes to see if it is real.
After 20 years the culture of the Railways has become an integral part of my being, even though I am less operational and spend my time on many different subjects. My Dutch grandchildren call me “grandpa train” which is for me a tribute to an unbelievable time. What did I learn in the United Kingdom that is still valuable? My choice out of many is that innovation and entrepreneurship will lead to success if you seize the opportunity. And that lesson I am now passing on to young generations both in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
I am Jennie Monon, and I am the current Chair (since January 2021) of the Commercial Anglo Dutch Society (a.k.a. CADS). The objective of our society is to promote the interests of and mutual business relationship and friendship between nationals of The Netherlands and nationals of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations, wherever they may reside. What I love about our society is that it is not about 'being British' in the Netherlands; but aims to build friendships and promote networking between the two countries, respecting the culture and traditions of both. The main way that we fulfil our objectives is through monthly lunch meetings at locations such as the K.I.G.C in Amsterdam or at one of the Hotel Schools, where we always enjoy wonderful Dutch hospitality with great company, excellent food, and a very decent wine list. Our membership is an eclectic mix of professional people, young and old, both British and Dutch; some retired, others still deep in the corporate world, and the odd entrepreneur. At these meetings we have such amazing camaraderie amongst our members, and I really believe it is because of the special relationship between our two countries. Our British members are sticklers for tradition and are always so polite, desperate never to offend; and the Dutch members are very gracious in that they always allow us to host our meetings in English while at the same time stating with typical directness – “You’ve been here how long? and you still don’t speak Dutch!" We were all so disappointed over the UK decision to leave Europe but since then our society has nurtured our ‘special relationship’ and long may this continue.
Arif H Shah
I think it was the stories from my father…
Sent to England from Pakistan by his parents, who hoped he’d go to university, my father – never a keen student – promptly decided academic pursuits weren’t for him. A personable chap, he found himself in the hospitality industry, working his way up from serving tables to becoming the general manager of hotels across the country.
In his 20s, living in the Midlands in the 60s and then the 70s, he would regale me with stories of his adventures. And there was one name that would keep coming up – Wolfgang.
Apparently, Wolfgang was one of my father’s best friends. Originally from Holland, he too found himself in England working in bars and hotels in his 20s. Somewhere along the way, their paths crossed, and the rest as they say was history.
Somehow, this Wolfgang - who I spent countless hours picturing in my head – convinced my father to visit him in Amsterdam. Generally averse to traveling, it was my father’s only trip outside of the UK in the 20 years he lived there, so you can imagine my marvel at Wolfgang’s powers of persuasion.
When I was in my 20s, living in London, I felt I had to follow my father’s footsteps. Aided by a scholarship I received, which involved conducting research in a European city of my choosing, Amsterdam was the only place I was ever going to go.
When I told my father of this, his excitement was palpable, and he asked me to look up Wolfgang. The only hint I had, other than the surname Urban, was that he had once been the Manager of the Apollo Hotel in Amsterdam.
I wish I could say I tried to find him but, in the midst of my own adventures, I was too preoccupied with the present day - visiting the museums, walking along the canals, lazing around in the parks, enjoying the nightlife, everything that makes Amsterdam the incredible city it is - to worry about my father’s past friends.
That was fifteen years ago.
In recent years, my father would still mention Wolfgang. Older, and more appreciative of the past, I used to spend my time searching for him on the internet: this Wolfgang Urban, who had once been the manager at Apollo Hotel, but – despite showing my father images of every person with that name on Facebook – we never managed to find him.
My father passed away last year, having lived a good life, seemingly made better - at one point - because of his friend Wolfgang.
He was 75, the same age as the British Council Netherlands, who we celebrate today. So as I raise a toast to the latter, I hope that somewhere in Holland, a son or daughter grew up listening to their father’s tales about his friend Arshad from the time he spent in England.
And in doing so, I marvel at these incredible ties that bind our two countries across generations, cultures, and even religion - exemplified by two men, Arshad and Wolfgang, who came together in the Midlands decades ago and played their role in ensuring the 60s and 70s were as wild and colorful as they were.
Arif H Shah
It is a great pleasure to give a short summary of why I enjoy working with partners from the United Kingdom. Although Brexit has saddened me, I do hope to continue to work closely on many issues with British partners going forward. There is no doubt that the Dutch and the British work well together on many levels as both are pragmatic people and trade nations. This leads to a common sense of purpose in joint projects.
However, there is no doubt that there is quite a lot of cultural misunderstanding. The fact that everybody speaks English is not always helping as many Dutch miss the nuances of proper English (as you would call it...) and the pleasant style of the British hides a ruthless negotiating style, which may come as a surprise to the more mono-layered Dutch. For many years I have been a big supporter and huge fan of the Apeldoorn series of conferences organised by our respective embassies and the British Council. They provided very valuable insights into the way in which both societies tackled difficult social problems and led to learning from each other’s best practices. The Apeldoorn Conference also built bridges between professionals and created opportunities for a group of young professionals. Going forward I strongly believe that this kind of exchange is very valuable and I hope that I may be a part of it once again.
It is not surprising that I have chosen a car as a picture with this short article. It is my car and I have had it for over 20 years. It is a Triumph TR3A and it is quintessentially British. It is one aspect that I love of British culture. Engineering originality and entrepreneurship. This car was a fantastic success after the Second World War and is one of many examples of smart and original engineering (which is not the same as perfect production and execution, mind you!). I enjoy driving this car, especially in the UK where it automatically falls within the landscape of 12th century cottages and winding roads. The spirit that is expressed by this 62-year-old car is still very apparent in British culture. If you look at new solutions to FinTech or creative entrepreneurship, there is always a lot to learn and even more to adopt.
Personally, I have always been a lover of art and literature. This was a journey that started when I was 12 and has not finished yet. The richness of British literature never ceases to amaze me.
Luckily, even after Brexit I still work closely with British partners and I enjoy it every day. The strong resolve and the sense of humour, but also the sharp negotiation and the will to win. I enjoy it, because I see it coming and I enjoy it because almost always the result benefits all of us.