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. Expand the box below to read the full story by Anton Valk. New stories will be added in the months to come.

Anton Valk

Anton Valk

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.

Anton Valk