Closing event 400 years Turkey- the Netherlands

closing session 400 years NL-TR  Yesterday was the closing session of 400 years diplomatic relationships between Turkey and the Netherlands. The townhall of Rotterdam was beautifully decorated and hundreds of people had arrived for this event where according to my information the Turkish vice-prime minister Ali Babacan would be present. My invitation did not talk about the presence of Princess Máxima, maybe deliberately not mentioned but she was there too (try to find her in the photograph while holding her speech – it was very busy as you can see). Both Mr. Babacan and Princess Máxima helt friendly speeches, confirming the warm bonds our countries have.
Indeed the celebration year was a success, many contacts have been made (again) both between officials and business people. Mr. Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, opened the speeches and showed great involvement with the relationships which – I know from my Turkish contacts – he also does at personal and business level in daily mayor life. As a citizen of Amsterdam, I found it a bit painful to see the mayor of Amsterdam Mr. van der Laan arrive one hour late. But he works very hard too for our city so he must have his reasons.
 It was good to be there, to enjoy the beauty of the spot, the event itself and to meet many good friends again, all somehow involved in Dutch and Turkish business so full of energy and dynamics.

Trade mission to Turkey (4): Turkish businessmen about the Dutch

  Maybe it is because I have always worked with people with Turkish background in the Netherlands, that I assumed Dutch business people work easily with Turkish business people. Or is it the research that was done in peacekeeping missions of the army, where relationships between the Dutch, German and Turkish soldiers were studied? Unexpectantly, it appeared that Dutch soldiers cooperate better with Turkish soldiers than with German soldiers, although the Germans are our neighbours, our largest trade partner and a country with whom DE-NL exchange at army level has been intense since many years. One of the reasons was that both the Dutch and the Turkish soldiers showed a practical orientation when confronted with problems during the peace mission, while the Germans were more rule oriented. Maybe I expected that to happen in business too…
Well, the trade mission to Turkey opened my eyes: it is not true and doing NL-TR business is not easy at all. The main reason for that is: culture. There are quite some cultural differences that prevent smooth NL-TR business relationships. I have spoken to both Dutch and Turkish entrepreneurs and heard many stories, also about huge des-investments because it really did not work out.  On several occasions I heard Turkish businessmen describe the Dutch as: STUBborn, NOT flexible and ARROgant. This mainly refers to the style of doing business and daily work.
For example the Dutch are planners. Before doing the job, they plan it all the way, often in many details. The Turks are not planners, if they want to do the job, they start it. They will find out down the road what the consequences are and react immediately to difficult circumstances. This is very difficult for the Dutch. If they have to work the Turkish way, they meet with mistakes that in their eyes are unnecessary, could have been prevented. That is stressful for them. Also, Dutch workers are used to respond to difficulties by some reflection, to find out what went wrong in the planning phase. In the Turkish style this means that they are not flexible and too slow. And then when the Dutch start to explain to the Turks what planning is and how to PREVENT problems, the final perception is there: the Dutch are stubborn and arrogant!
The good news for me is that these kind of cultural issues form the expertise of my company: there’s a world out there for us! And we are looking forward to services in NL-TR culture and diversity issues …

Trade mission to Turkey (3): women entrepreneurship

  The trade mission to Turkey was brought to my attention by the foundation Talent naar de Top, a great Dutch organisation that brings female top talent to the attention of politics and organisations in the Netherlands, persuading them to set concrete targets to improve the number of women in top positions in the Netherlands. I really thank them for inviting me as it was a very good idea for me to join the mission to Turkey.
In Ankara we met with Angikad, a very interesting Turkish organisation of women entrepreneurs (see also http://www.angikad.org.tr). Turkey has quite some succesful women at top positions, for example 12% of the big companies have a female CEO. This is a figure that we can only dream of in the Netherlands, having maybe 1% female CEO in our top 100 companies. Also Turkey has much more female professors. However, they have only 1 out of 25 ministers who is a woman, but that is politics and we will leave that out of our business discussions. It was interesting to meet the business women of Angikad. What is remarkable for me is that women are more often found in technical professions than in the Netherlands. For example the chair of Angikad is a chemical engineer and vice-president of this company.
Nevertheless, Turkish women face their own challenges. They have more top women than we have in the Netherlands, but less women working at all and the total amount of women working as entrepreneur is also less than average. Angikad is actively taking up the challenge for development, they are in many projects both nationally and on European level.
We were received very well in the Big Chef’s restaurant (a succesful chain of restaurants owned by one of the Angikad members), I can advice everybody to have lunch or dinner in a Big Chef’s restaurant, it was delicious!
Apart from general presentations, we also took time to talk individually on business opportunities; this was both very nice and inspiring, and I am confident the conversations we had will have a good follow up. Turkish business women proved to be energetic, concrete and ready to go on ideas: such a nice experience! I hope Angikad will grow, as well as the number of Turkish entrepreneur women and of course their business!

Trade mission to Turkey (2): matchmaking

  What is matchmaking?, people ask me. To be honest, I didn’t know myself just a couple of weeks ago but I have learned a lot by joining the trade mission to Turkey. A trade mission offers a complete program with visits to Turkish entrepreneurs, institutions, policy makers and the like. Moreover, it is possible to ask for matchmaking: if you do, a supportive staff will try to find individual entrepreneurs and officials who are willing to talk to you in a personal conversation to exchange information and business opportunities. This is called matchmaking.
I was very curious to see how this would work so I asked for matchmaking. Just a few days before we would leave for the trade mission, I got a concrete reaction to my request: 12 companies had shown interest to talk to me! This was very nice and after some emails forth and back I ended up with a schedule of 8 or 9 appointments in two days (so I missed a part of the official program, you can’t have it all). It was possible to have an interpreter but I thought it would be better to speak Turkish in case my counterpart wouldn’t talk English: having an extra person at the table just for the translation might create distance, I thought, even though my Turkish is limited.
The matchmaking would take place in our hotel in Istanbul where a complete saloon was reserved for all the business talks, see the photograph in top.
As I expected already a bit (I know Turkey) my schedule soon became a chaos. Just 2 appointments followed the planning, the rest was cancelled, put in again, changed once or twice, or the location changed > I had to rush through the terrible Istanbul traffic to go far into the Asian part, in a taxi with an angry driver who couldn’t find the place and blamed me for that (this is also very Turkish, fortunately I knew that already and didn’t take it personally – anybody who has been in a taxi in Amsterdam knows that the Dutch situation is not much better).
I used to think I was a flexible person but the matchmaking’s unique and last minute schedule changes showed me that there is more to learn in flexibility for me. I had to admit at several moments that I did feel some stress 🙂 Still, I loved the dynamics of it! And I had quite a few matches showing good opportunities that will certainly have a follow up. If you join a trade mission and they ask you if you want matchmaking: go for it! Be ready to learn and don’t forget to enjoy yourself because it can be quite an adventure…

Trade mission to Turkey (1): to do or not to do?

  We were about 80 entrepreneurs travelling to Turkey this week in a trade mission headed by our Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Some entrepreneurs already had their contacts or even their own company in Turkey: others were only considering doing business in Turkey and looking for the right contacts and good opportunities.
Beforehand I asked quite some people about their experience with trade missions, and how useful it could be. Most reactions were not too enthusiast, telling that the best results usually come from the Dutch entrepreneurs who are also in the trade mission, and not from the foreign contacts made during the trade mission. The general advice was: don’t do it, it’s probably not worth the time and money. The reasons for me to go anyway were that I love Turkey and the Turkish language in the first place, and moreover that I never joined a trade mission before and I like to try new experiences that cross my path in life…
Well, I was not disappointed, on the contrary, and my experience was confirmed by most other participating business (wo)men. The trade mission to Turkey was a vibrant happening in entrepreneurship and good relationships. And the results were certainly not limited to the network of the Dutch participants but also involved the many interested Turkish counterparts. Turkey is developing in a very fast way. Its entrepreneurs are happy to do business with the Dutch. They are determined and concrete on the road to more, better, easier, smarter. While the Dutch economy seems to have come to a stand still these days, the Turkish economy is growing and full of life. Anybody who is respectful and ready to give the credits the Turkish entrepreneurs and their government deserve for this, will be welcomed for business.
As a participant to this trade mission I can only say thank you to our Prime Minister and to minister Ploumen who went with us all the way, even though there were many Dutch-internal problems to form an excuse not to participate; to the Turkish government that made this possible and received delegates in various ministries to discuss mutual insights and problems and come to common solutions; and to the staff of Dutch ministries in The Hague, the Embassy in Ankara and the Consolate in Istanbul who were very very creative, helpful and full of care for all the participants.
So when you are invited to join a trade mission and confronted with the question ‘to do or not to do?’: just do it! Of course it is important to know the goals you have for it and to prepare it very well – but with the right optimistic, entrepreneurial spirit you will enjoy every second!

Preparing for trade mission to Turkey

  Several meetings are held to prepare for the Dutch trade mission to Turkey 5-9 November 2012. The Netherlands and Turkey are celebrating 400 years of diplomatic relations with many cultural and economic exchange activities. Trade missions are part of these activities of course, as both countries have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. It is interesting to see how Turkey is presented at different occasions.
Two weeks ago, there was an official government presentation. Turkey is presented as a good partner and a country with excellent business opportunities. Information was given about CSR and the OECD guidelines for multinational entreprises. Many companies were present to tell why they join the trade mission to Turkey: it was an inspiring meeting.
The organizers of the trade mission also introduced us to a masterclass of the independent Turkije Instituut that took place today. The economic analysis shown by one of their specialists was very interesting. He was able to summarize ten years of Turkish economic development in a comprehensive and tangible way: it was intruiging to follow his lecture and helpfull for doing business. Also he gave a clear insight in how the EU becomes slowly by slowly less interesting for Turkey and how Middle Eastern countries become more interesting, which was visible in decreasing and increasing trade figures. However the Dutch-Turkish trade figures are still growing, if I understood well…
Then the director of the Turkije Instituut introduced us to the world of cultural differences when doing international business. She surprised with her view on bribery practices. The theory she follows says that many countries have a pattern of 3 phases for bribery. The 1st phase is when a political party comes to power, like the AK Party in Turkey: they do everything to end bribery and improve things for the people. That is because all the positions where the money is cashed are in the hands of adverse political parties. In the next governing period, they start to put their own people in the right positions and some bribery begins again. In the 3rd period, and the AK party is in its 3rd period, the cashing that comes with bribery fully flourishes. So that is Turkey now and bribery can not be avoided. Her advice to the companies present was amazing: if you don’t want to deal with bribery, don’t go to Turkey, go to Germany where they do comparable things but it is called for example paying for a service contract and it is not paying cash money to private persons who offer service like in Turkey, she said. If you go to Turkey don’t make a problem out of it, just pay, but don’t do it yourself, do it through your local partner, they know how to do it. You can offer the local partner more money for their ‘normal’ services so it won’t show officially.
Boiiiing…. so far the OECD guidelines given 2 weeks ago, that are quite clear about dealing with bribery (see http://www.oecdguidelines.nl/guidelines/combatingbribery/). Also the advice to Dutch companies to actively involve local partners in this and ‘hide behind their back’ is a surprising tactic. Of course bribery is a huge dilemma for companies but this way out is too easy, especially since the Netherlands are 1 of the 44 governments recommending the OECD guidelines: more of an effort is needed to make us dignitary of that position.

Turkish news leaving me flabbergasted and exhausted…

  In my enthusiasm to renew my competences in Turkish, I have started to follow Turkish news at TRT news (see www.trthaber.com). I remember from my studies in French that understanding a language at the level of daily news in the tempo it is usually given to the public, is a real sign of mastering a language. So I thought, that could be fun.
Fun! Turkish news is not exactly fun. The first three times I was watching, it started with at least 15 minutes of news about the war against terrorists in the east of Turkey (this is an internal conflict in Turkey with Kurdish fighters, mostly organised in the forbidden organisation PKK, but in the Turkish news the words Kurdish or PKK are never mentioned). You see F16s throwing bombs in the mountains, buses blown up and burials of young soldiers, killed in the blossom of their life and buried by serious colleague-soldiers, fathers with deep grief on their face and mothers crying.
Before you can realize what this means to people, the news switches to the next subject: the corpse of the former president Turgut Özal will be excavated because they want to investigate whether he really died for normal reasons or he was poisoned. Poisoned – the president!
You don’t get time to think that over because after that the court case (Balyoz davasi) against a group of army top guys is presented. Suspicion is they prepared a coup like the army did in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s in Turkey, but these guys in the 21st century were caught before they could act. Some say this is a real process, others say this is a political process part of the power battle between the secular army and the religious government. Anyway the first generals got 20 years of imprisonment, the same punishment as terrorists would have got, people noticed.
Just half an hour of Turkish news leaves me flabbergasted and exhausted… I am used to Dutch news, where the biggest highlights nowadays are the compromise our liberal-conservative party has to make with the socialist party after our September 12 elections, in order to form a government – and we worry about the banks of course and the crisis and the Greeks and so on. All of that is peanuts compared to war, treason and real state conspiracies….
At the Turkish film festival last weekend, I complained to my Turkish friends: there is no news about the Turkish economy, just war and court cases and the like. They laughed loudly at my complaints, hahaha, the economy is booming, no problem at all so there is no economy in the news! No sympathy from their side…
OK I got their point. Today I pulled myself together and watched more war, courtcase and some news about Syria and the leadership of Hamas. Even the economy was in the news for a minute today: ‘we will be the best performing European economy in 2012 and 2013’, I missed the percentage or maybe the guy didn’t mention it. Fortunately I do not understand everything yet so I can get used to the Turkish news step by step and thus survive….