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Life must be ‘gezellig’!
02.03.2015 | Rus | Freeflying


Schildershoven Finance is a Dutch company. Its origins deeply influence its nature, especially in business, how it interacts with its customers and partners, and its view of the world.

Ferenc Brewster

Managing Director Ferenc Brewster chose to take a look at himself and his fellow countrymen and share what he found with our blog readers.
How do the residents of the country which had the world’s first stock exchange see themselves and their homeland?

Afsluitdijk Dam In HollandAfsluitdijk In Holland

“God created the earth, but the Dutch made Holland.”
Dutch proverb

While preparing an answer to this question, I wondered, “what does the world knows about the Netherlands?” Usually my foreign friends think something like, “This is a small country in northwest Europe with a population of 16.5 million. Tulips, windmills, huge immaculate windows…”

And yet we are a nation with a turbulent history, one which has combined an entrepreneurial spirit with a strive for beauty – in other words, the Dutch opened the first stock exchange and developed futures out of love for tulips, invented oil paints in order to paint and became the best sailors in the continent; we’ve learned to live in harmony with harsh marine elements, allowing us to almost double the size of the country and built a society with a high tolerance for individual freedom, despite our strict Protestant traditions

Fishing vessel of the traditional dutch fishing fleet
Fishing vessel of the traditional dutch fishing fleet

What do we think about ourselves? In order to provide a picture that was both bright and objective, I decided to talk to my friends – men and women of different ages, occupations and lifestyles. In order to make it easier for my friends, I provided specific lead-in questions to each person I spoke to. In order to get acquainted with the results of my conversations, and thereby gain some understanding of how the Dutch see Holland, I invite you to read the following.


On controlling the element of water and liquidity management

F.
I guess the Netherlands is the only country in the world to have been mostly built on land that has literally been reclaimed from the sea – almost 60% of its territory consists of polders, which are artificially created by draining swamps, lakes or even seabeds. Some Dutch do not even need solid ground under their feet; they prefer to live in houseboats and barges. How do we manage to cope with the element of water?

The Python Bridge complex. Example of modern architecture and design (Amsterdam)
The Python Bridge complex. Example of modern architecture and design (Amsterdam)

Lucas, age 61, engineer
For us, water is like an old neighbor. You know how it is – we either find something in common with our neighbors and build something together, or engage in a constant struggle that poisons everybody’s life. That’s the way it is with water: we had to learn how to make friends, so that we could bring wealth to the neighborhood, rather than trouble. Thanks to trade and fisheries, our well-being grew, but numerous floods have caused great damage. I had to diligently study water management skills – they are essential if you live on the coast. We have honed these skills for centuries, and paid for them with countless lives, and today our engineering industry is an art, which combines high-precision calculations with a designer approach! The Deltawerken flood barrier network, which includes locks, dams and storm barriers, has been included among UNESCO’s “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.”

Driel Weir consists of locks, a weir and a fishway in the Rhine river (Netherlands)
Driel Weir consists of locks, a weir and a fishway in the Rhine river (Netherlands)

F.
Talking about water made me think about managing liquidity.There is probably some connection between this sensitivity in dealing with the element of water and the skill of the Dutch in money management. Thinking about it, I went to my good friend, who has worked for a long time in the banking sector. It turned out that it wasn’t the only time she had thought about the nature of the Dutch, or their special skills in money matters.

Anna, age 44, bank employee
Holland is a country of traders and fishermen and has a long tradition of managing turnover and financing. Just remember that the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is considered the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1602 by the famous Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie). In fact, the East India Company can also take credit for the emergence of shares; the company was the first to offer its founders the ability to be attributed profits and liabilities in accordance with the size of their shares. By the way, in its 120 years of history, the company’s stock price rose by 1,260% – a figure even Apple could envy. Let me remind you that the Amsterdam Commodities Exchange occupied a prominent place in the world when it arose later, in 1608. It was here that the trading of specimens and samples of goods was first introduced, and later on, quality standards for products were established, thereby sparing sellers from the necessity of paying additional transport costs by allowing them to trade goods without necessitating that the subject of the transaction be physically present at the exchange.

F.
And we owe the emergence of futures to our beloved Dutch tulips? I was joking about the matter, but she answered the question matter-of-factly.

Anna
Yes, if you can imagine. You know that during the Dutch Golden Age, people were so enthusiastic about these flowers, and they became such a luxury item, that they could sell their house and land in order to invest in tulips. The resulting craziness gave rise to two things: firstly, the term “tulipmania”, an economic bubble which has to break sooner or later, and secondly, the concept of futures. After all, we had not yet come up with complex systems for growing flowers all year round and tulips were sold from May to October; the rest of the year, the bulbs were traded. The price of the bulbs could be as high as 4,600 florins (€284,440 in today’s money). The Dutch made fortunes on buying seedlings in the spring and summer and reselling them at the beginning of the next season – the cost of flowers could grow significantly during this time. The famous Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel (Junior) even wrote a painting titled ‘A Satire of the Folly of Tulip Mania’, which portrayed his countrymen as monkeys, selling bulbs. Of course, in the end, supply exceeded demand, and the bubble burst, leaving many bankrupt.


Jan Brueghel the Younger “A Satire of Tulip Mania”

F.
Probably, many then concluded that concentrating your entire portfolio in one type of asset carries a risk of ruin


A country of clean windows

F.
Small countries are often characterized as having “parochial thinking”, but that can not be said about us. For 80 years, the Netherlands fought for independence from the Spanish Empire, and as a result became more than just another small European country, but a economic world power. The Dutch discovered Australia (formerly known as New Holland), New Zealand, settled at the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, brought spices from the East Indies, traded with Japan and China and established the town of New Amsterdam at the mouth of the Hudson River, which later became New York. I wonder, how we can explain our thirst for expanding our boundaries?

Modern architecture. Contemporary office built on water (Amsterdam)
Modern architecture. Contemporary office built on water (Amsterdam)

Sven, age 55, sociologist
The motto on the coat of arms of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is: “I will overcome” (“Je maintiendrai”, French). This motto perfectly reflects the national spirit of the Dutch, who year after year had to win back their land from the sea and wrest their independence from foreign rulers. We are used to dealing with difficulties and we are not attracted to the idea of remaining closed within established boundaries. Dutch merchants sailed on their trading ships from port to port, bringing new products and ideas to help develop the Dutch economy, as well as improve science and culture. You can not develop without communication, it is a law of nature. Today the only ones who survive are those who are organically integrated into the global community our world is becoming. If you want to be self-contained, the most you can lay claim to is a museum-reserve status for tourists.

F.
My foreign colleagues often say that whenever several Dutch people are gathered, they quickly decide to start a new enterprise…

Communication has always played a special role for the Dutch. You know what makes a city different from a village? The availability of public spaces. We love to share information and do things together: at each fish market and at every small Sunday bazaar, life buzzes, and because of it, residents exhibit a great deal of respect for themselves and others, a place of human interaction is ennobled and transforms into a town square or park. Thus, any living village fast becomes a landscaped campus.


Almere. Сity centre

F.
Many of my friends, especially from Russia, where high fences are very popular, wonder about the lack of curtains on our windows and their exemplary tidiness, especially women. For an explanation, I decided to turn to the venerable mother of a family and a great hostess – Abigail.

Modern office building (Haarlem)
Modern office building (Haarlem)

Abigail, age 71, homemaker
Yes, I’ve heard that Holland has been called “the land of clean windows”, and in office and in homes windows are always strikingly tidy and never have any curtains. The secret is simple – we really do clean our windows often. Personally, I do it every week and I really enjoy this activity. I think that it is how we demonstrate our openness and good-neighborly relations, which we really appreciate. These transparent windows simply say, “We have nothing to hide from you”. Sometimes it leads to funny situations – a foreigner who came to the Netherlands with his family habitually hung curtains in his new home. After a few days, a delegation of my neighbors went to him and sternly asked, “what are you hiding from us?”
However, this doesn’t signify that privacy doesn’t exist. It’s just that our private rooms are usually located on the second floor, and on the third, there are offices.

F.
Speaking with Abigail, I remembered that in the foreign offices of Schildershoven Finance, the tradition of “clean windows” was reflected in the transparent walls – even in the office of the president.
This is a good way to remind people about the lack of boundaries, and move from a vertically-oriented system with a rigid hierarchy to a horizontal one, where it’s not necessary to fight for a place on the social ladder. Such an organization of labor arose during the long years of collective flood control, in which all citizens, regardless of their social differences, worked together to eliminate the perilous consequences of the elements. It is rumored that even the restoration of the damaged levees in 1953 was completed without a chief engineer. All of the work was completed by community members working on equal terms and didn’t require special management. The Dutch are a very democratic nation that places simplicity above displays of status and etiquette. It was no accident that the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, which existed from 1581 to 1795, was the first modern democracy. By the way, the United States of America borrowed its political structure from us.


On risks and responsibilities

F.
It speaks volumes about our attitude towards risk that almost half of the country is below sea level, and there is a constant risk of flooding. Nevertheless, we have learned to live and thrive in such conditions. I decided to learn about Dutch attitudes towards risk from someone who deals with it on a daily basis – a financial analyst.


Pneumatic Marine Sluice (Delfzijl)

Max, age 31, financial analyst
Our proximity to the sea is really a constant risk to be reckoned with. In 1953, a storm in the North Sea caused several major levees to break and claimed 2,000 lives, but after the Dutch collectively mourned their national tragedy with heavy hearts, decisions were made and they built a unique coastal defense system, the Deltawerken, which is recognized as the best in the world. (this was mentioned earlier – Ferenc). Thus, risks allow us to learn from our mistakes and adopt a more responsible attitude towards live, and create more reliable systems. The simple truth is: living entirely without risk is impossible, but you can always learn how to manage it.

Max was used to working with financial risks, and therefore I decided to ask him one more question about the national character. What does money mean to the Dutch? How should it be treated?

Max
Seriously – regardless of one’s nationality, age or gender, I think we’re well aware of how money should be treated. It wasn’t easy for Holland to remain what I believe was the richest country in Europe for so long, and it is a big responsibility. We consider money to be a very important tool; it’s designed to facilitate people’s lives, which allows us to implement all of our wildest ideas for the benefit of society. Our children, on the one hand, are accustomed to working from an early age, and on the other develop the ability to deal with financial instruments. For example, my parents even opened a special account for me to place stock market bets. They believed that there was nothing wrong with the fact that people from an early age have the ability to understand the essence of working with financial instruments. Ultimately, it affected my choice of profession.


Balancing tradition and modernity

F.
Today, the Netherlands is truly a country of contrasts – while its modern neighborhoods resemble an architecture scene from a science fiction movie, its small towns look the same as they did five centuries ago. What does Finn, a Dutch architect, think about this?


Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam)

Finn, age 45, architect
The Dutch were the first in many respects – we opened the first stock market and discovered Australia, we came up with futures and invented oil paints for painting. While discovering new things, we’ve continued to cherish our traditions: we celebrate the Queen’s birthday, anxiously guard old lighthouses and even today you can see farmers in traditional wooden shoes – clogs. However, modernity presents new challenges and provides new opportunities. We are the only country in Europe where there is more public housing than private sector housing. Even the architecture is used as a means of solving social problems – we’ve decided to combine housing for the poor and for the affluent in the same districts, and even under the same roof. And you will have difficulty in understanding the difference, because we do not pride ourselves in our wealth; instead we think about the comfort of the people. Rather, we show the world our hard work – everyone knows that the Dutch are active and take joy in life; often even after retirement, we are engaged in some activity. One person may master the art of massage and offer his or her services at home, while someone else might take up photography or make porcelain figurines of small animals. The main thing is not to sit around!

Fishermen's wives demonstrate the repairing of fishing nets on the annual festival  ( Scheveningen)
Fishermen’s wives demonstrate the repairing of fishing nets on the annual festival (Scheveningen)

F.
I think we still have a very unique way of solving the problem of the shortage of land for new construction. What can you say about this?

Exterior of modern apartment buildings in Almere which is the youngest city in the Netherlands and lies completely below sea level
Exterior of modern apartment buildings in Almere which is the youngest city in the Netherlands and lies completely below sea level

I can say that we’ve come up with a really unconventional solution to the issue we’re addressing. In the past, residential buildings were always built to be more tall than they were wide. After all, the real estate tax was levied according to square meterage, and we knew how to count every guilder. Well, when it was time for us to develop new technology, our love for experimentation revealed itself in full. It is enough to cite the example of the new city of Almere, which is entirely built on land reclaimed from the sea, small clusters of homes are built on top of large residential buildings, houseboats which follow the rising and falling tides, and even a pig farm in giant skyscrapers.

City skyline and construction of Rotterdam Central Station (Rotterdam)
City skyline and construction of Rotterdam Central Station (Rotterdam)

F.
Yes, after we’d stopped conquering new lands in different corners of the Earth, we were not satisfied, and have now found new ways to express our national spirit as pioneers and experimenters. But for all our innovation, we continue to appreciate good old Dutch “gezellig”, which can be translated as “comfort and sincere company.” So come in and visit us and do not forget to present the hostess with a bouquet of fresh flowers, in accordance with Dutch tradition.

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