History of the NPCC

HISTORY OF THE NPCC

In 2013 the NPCC celebrated its 15th anniversary. Over the years our chamber has set up a bridge between the Netherlands and Poland and has helped many companies with advice and contacts to set up a business or to make their enterprise prosper.

Visit of Queen Beatrix to Poland in 1998.
Visit of Queen Beatrix to Poland in 1998.

Our chamber was officially established on 18 August 1998 by a board led by Jaap van Oost, then country manager of Philips. The establishment was celebrated together with Queen Beatrix when she visited Poland in that same year.

In 2016 the Netherlands-Polish Chamber of Commerce is more active than ever. Over the last 3 years we have more than doubled our membership and we have become active not only in Warsaw, but also in Łódź, and Poznań. More and more people are coming to our networking events. Our annual Charity Rijsttafel ball attracted 350 people last year, making it one of the biggest social events in Poland. Also in Łódź and Poznań, many members are finding their way to our events organised by active local boards in those cities.

 

Business support 80 years ago

Already in the interwar period two Dutch-Polish chambers were established. In October 1933 the Netherlands-Polish Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands was founded by the Polish Ambassador Wacław Babiński. At the height of its success, it had 87 members, three of whom are also members of our current Netherlands-Polish Chamber of Commerce, namely Philips, Unilever and Vredestein. The pre-war Chamber published a monthly newsletter with information about doing business in Poland and held regular meetings for its members.

The Chamber helped to find agents and advisers for Dutch companies that wanted to do business in Poland and supported companies that had complaints about government policies or that had problems with bills. In the first year of its existence, it handled 140 such cases. Furthermore, this chamber also gathered money for the relief of flood victims in Poland.

NPCC Board in 1933
NPCC Board in 1933

In its first annual report of that Chamber, we can read about trade barriers that imposed by both governments. Despite those measures, there was still a lively trade between both countries. Important import products for the Netherlands were livestock (horses), barley, seeds, coal, iron and fashion. Export products were salted herring, flower bulbs, rags and waste paper. Furthermore, Dutch entrepreneurs saw Poland as an important hub for Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states and Russia. Poland was also a large importer of raw materials from Indonesia like cocoa beans and soya oil. Membership of this Chamber costed 25 guilders.

The Polish-Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in Poland

In Government archives in Poland we found the founding act of the Polish partner organisation, the Polish-Dutch Chamber of Commerce. This chamber was established in 1935 on the initiative of the Polish-Italian Baron Roger Battaglia, who was a lawyer and member of the Polish Export Council. In the founding act we can read that there was a need to establish a Polish counterpart “because in Amsterdam there is already a Chamber that has been successfully functioning for two years.” The chairman of the board of the Chamber located in Poland was Zygmunt Sowiński, a well-known entrepreneur and politician.

Former Chairmen

Jaap C. van Oost:
Commitment of many major Dutch investors

jaap van oosten picWhen I received the invitation for the 15th anniversary of the Netherlands-Polish Chamber of Commerce, it was only then that I realised that time had passed very quickly. Meanwhile, 20 years have passed since I came to Poland to set up the organisation for Philips Electronics. Those were hectic times in which all foreign investors had to find their way in an environment that only some years before was confronted with enormous change and challenges.

At Philips, we were lucky that we had back office support and many years of foreign business experience, but many smaller companies and individual entrepreneurs lacked these important resources. In those days, I was frequently contacted for advise and support, which eventually lead to the initiative to create an independent body to deal with all these matters.

It took some 2 to 3 years of preparation in close cooperation with many interested Dutch companies and above all the Netherlands Embassy plus relevant (non) governmental organisations in the Netherlands before consensus was reached to set up a chamber of commerce. The initial fears that the existence of a chamber could only survive through governmental financial support were removed by the commitment of many major Dutch investors to support the initiative.
During the visit of, at that time still, Queen Beatrix in 1997, we were in the lucky position to announce the launch of the chamber, which was officially confirmed on 18 August 1998 by notary act. Now, the chamber has over 185 active members and activities are organised around its three regional centres. A tremendous success!

Its existence and functioning is widely appreciated and very well accepted by both the business community as well as governmental institutes both in Poland and the Netherlands. My sincere congratulations for these achievements and best wishes for a prosperous future.

Jaap van Oost served as a chairman of the NPCC from 1997  to 2002. He was managing director Philips Polska SA. Currently he is retired.

 

Peter van Duuren:
Support companies in improving their entry into the Polish market

Peter van Duuren Wazienki Parc WarsawHow did you became chairman of the NPCC?
“I was asked by a member of the Dutch Embassy and I gladly accepted because it would hopefully assist new Dutch companies interested in investing in Poland, as well as benefit my own company, DAF Trucks Polska, by gaining contacts in the Polish business community.”

What was your favourite meeting or event in which you took part as a chairman and why?
“I recall a large international meeting of several EU economic delegations, representatives of various other international chambers of commerce in Warsaw, various economic representatives of the Polish government, Dutch embassy, etc., which proved very useful in improving local economic and business contacts in Warsaw.”

What do you consider as the biggest achievement during your time as a chairman?
“I don’t remember a specific single achievement, but it was very gratifying to support Dutch companies in any way we could to establish themselves in Poland through numerous encounters with enthusiastic Dutch business people. Apart from that, there was an event whereby my input helped to reduce some tensions and disagreements within the leadership of the chamber itself, so that we could fully concentrate again on the business at hand.”

What is the best advice you have ever given to a company in Poland?
“Through the role of the chamber, business people not only received useful local information, but were also forced to look critically at their own business plans and avoid being led too much by emotions and assumptions, thus avoiding unnecessary business risks. In most cases, companies were able to improve their entry into the Polish market and in a few cases they even decided not to invest.”

What have you learned over the years about doing business in Poland?
“The biggest eye opener was the fact that Poland is one of the bigger markets in Europe, which is developing fast, offers great business opportunities, is an important growth market and merits long term business development.”

When was the last time you were in Poland and what was the reason of your visit?
“From a personal business point of view, Poland was the most interesting business environment I have ever worked in, and together with my team I was able to fully turn around a business which was suffering from low margins, low sales, incorrect market position and a badly organised dealer network, into a flourishing business where we became the market leader after only two years! This was a challenging but highly interesting task. I left Poland for the Far East in 2007, and unfortunately I have not had the opportunity yet to come back.”

Peter van Duuren served as a chairman of the NPCC from 2004 to 2007
During that time he was the managing director of DAF Trucks Polska
Currently he is retired.

 

Alle Ypma: 
Dutch consensus model doesn’t work in Poland

Alle YpmaWhy did you decide to become chairman of the NPCC?
“To contribute to the success of Dutch companies on the Polish market.”

What was your favourite meeting or event in which you took part as chairman and why?
“The trade Mission in May 2000 headed by the then foreign trade minister Gerrit Ybema and accompanied by 34 company representatives. The mission was organised successfully together with the Dutch Embassy.”

What do you consider as the biggest achievement of the chamber during your time as chairman.
“To further professionalise the chamber by outsourcing the service activities needed to create the sustainable future development of the chamber.”

What is the best advice you have ever given to a company in Poland.
“To screen your Polish business partner carefully and lay down the agreement in water-tight legal contracts.”

What have you learned over the years about doing business in Poland?
“The Dutch consensus model doesn’t work in Poland. Strong directive leadership is required to manage an organisation successfully.”

When was the last time you were in Poland and what was the reason for your visit?
“In June 2012 I came to Warsaw and Warka as member of the supervisory board of Brau Union A.G., which is a subsidiary of Heineken International.”

Is there anything you would like to add?
“Working in Poland was challenging but very rewarding. I can look back at a fantastic time in Poland and I have still many friends there.”

Alle Ypma served as a chairman of the NPCC from 2002 to 2003. During his time as a chairman of the chamber he was also the president of the executive board of Grupa Żywiec S.A. Currently Alle is retired.

 

Fred Hoogerbrug 
Shifting from consulting to networking

fred hoogerbrugWhy did you decide to became chairman of the NPCC?
“I had already been a board member for a few years before I became the chairman. It was also due to this experience that, after Peter van Duuren left, I was asked to become the new chairman. One of the areas of focus was international cooperation between the bilateral chambers, because it was obvious we could do more together than on our own.”

What was your favourite meeting or event in which you took part as a chairman and why?
“I look back with big pleasure on many events that we organised with the chamber. I think my favourite event was the prize-giving of the Dutch Polish Trade Award (now the Dutch Polish Business Award) at the Achmea premises in Holland. Since its start, the award has become more and more prestigious. It is a huge opportunity, also for the smaller firms, to present themselves.”

What do you consider as the biggest achievement during your time as chairman?
“We made a big turnaround with our activities at the chamber. We moved on from doing a lot of consulting as a chamber and focused more on networking and business issues. We took over the management, which had been outsourced until then, and I think this opened a way for the chamber to develop new activities.”

What have you learned over the years about doing business in Poland?
“Perhaps this is obvious, but I have always been impressed by the knowledge and the education of young people, who often held high positions in big companies. What I also learned is that at that time a deal, sealed with signatures, is not always a deal for Poles.”

What was the last time you were in Poland and what was the reason of your visit?
“The last time was in 2009. After my official farewell party, I decided to make a final trip back to Poland to take some time to say farewell to some particularly good friends and business partners.”

Is there anything you would like to add?
“I congratulate the NPCC and its board on its 15th anniversary and I’m convinced that they will also in the future manage to play an important role for Dutch companies in a market that is changing rapidly.”

Fred served as a chairman of the NPCC from 2007 to 2010. During his time as a chairman he was deputy CEO of PZU Życie SA. Currently Fred fullfils several supervisory board positions in insurance companies in the Netherlands and abroad.

 

Eric Drok 
Chamber increasingly important

evert drokHow did you become chairman of the NPCC?
“ING Bank Śląski has always been an active member of the chamber. In my opinion it is important as a Dutchman to represent Dutch interests abroad. That is why I agreed when Fred Hoogerbrug asked me to become his successor. An important element of the chamber are meetings where you not only have a drink together but where you can also do business, help each other and throw the ball into each others’ courts. At the chamber we have always been very successful in establishing business relationships. Also, the Netherlands Embassy has played an important role in establishing this. They are very well oriented and whenever network didn’t work, we could always call the embassy and ask for help.”

What was your favourite meeting or event in which you took part as chairman and why?
“That would be the first Rijsttafel that we organised as a chamber. Our board noticed that all the other bilateral chambers were organising an annual event, except for the NPCC. In those days, the Rijsttafel event was organised by the social club Poolshoogte. When we brought the event to the chamber, we made it open to a broader audience and it is great to see that over the years the event has become much bigger with many international guests attending. Furthermore, I can remember the visit of Henk Bleker, the minister for agriculture and foreign trade. He invited Dutch entrepreneurs and they discussed with him issues like difficulties with setting up a company or buying land. In the following days, he discussed this with his Polish counterparts and solved some of the issues that were raised by our members.”

What do you consider as the biggest achievement during your time as chairman?
“In my time on the board, we stimulated growth in membership of the NPCC and brought several groups of Dutchmen in Poland together in the chamber. We also attracted new people to the organisation, like the new director, which helped the chamber take a new step forward.”

What have you learned over the years about doing business in Poland?
“As a Dutch entrepreneur in Poland you need to combine our way of doing business with the Polish culture. That is not always easy, but it is the only way to succeed. It is very difficult to do everything alone. As the Dutch, we have a few very good products and a good management style, but you can only succeed in Poland if you set up your business together with the Poles. And I know from my own experience that there is some very good staff to find on the market.”

Is there anything you would like to add?
“The chamber is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year and some might say that it was most useful at the end of the previous century. One could also say that we should be able to do without a chamber, after all the borders are open, beautiful roads have been build and so on. However, I think that it has become increasingly important that we have a chamber of commerce representing Dutch companies. You can see that the competition has become increasingly intense and also Polish companies are active players on the market. There is nothing wrong with that. However, this has made the role of the chamber as a business-to-business platform even more important than in the early years. That is why I would say to the chamber: continue with your work and build on the success of the chamber!”

Eric served as a chairman of the NPCC from 2010 to 2011. During his time as a chairman he was also head of retail banking ING Poland and executive vice president ING Bank Śląski. Currently he is chief international direct and retail channels at Rabobank.

Geert EmbrechtsCan you take us back to the first few months when you started working for the Chamber?

“I had the honour to be the chairman of the Chamber for three and a half years. It was a great experience. I didn’t know the Chamber very well at that time, but I could already see that the Chamber had potential. My predecessor Erik Drok had dealt with many issues and created stability, which made it easy to take over, at the same time when Elro van den Burg joined as a managing director. It also enabled us to take some quick new steps with the new organisation. We had around 90 members at the start and have increased it to around 200 members today. We have focused on new Dutch and international companies and made them aware of our networking potential. After all, at the Chamber you can get a lot of information about doing business in Poland and about the Polish economy which you may not get easily from others. As a result of our activities, many international and Polish companies have realised the benefits of becoming a member and decided to join our organisation.”

Over the past 25 years, the economy and the business climate in Poland have changed enormously. Can you describe the implications of that for the Chamber?

“We have often discussed on the board the topic of the changing needs of our members. Indeed, Poland is undergoing constant and rapid change. You can see that, step by step, it has become easier to do business in this country. This is underlined by the many reports and rankings of Poland. On the other hand, the market has become much more competitive. In the early days, if you had a great idea it was easy to gain some market share in Poland. Nowadays, there is stronger competition from local companies. Poland is truly a strong economy: investors come more and more because of market potential rather than cost advantages or their unique selling proposition. You need a good product and a good plan to be successful. Therefore, the role of the Chamber has changed as well. It is not so much about helping companies to set up their business in a difficult environment anymore, but rather bringing them the contacts to do business. With the new possibilities of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, we should try to have more frequent contact with our members than we can currently provide.”

Looking back at the past three years, what would you say were the most memorable moments for you?

“One of those moments is the Rijsttafel event in 2011. It was the first big event just after I had been appointed chairman. There was limited preparation time and even during the day of the event itself we were still busy arranging all manner of things. The success of that event gave us a golden start as a board. I am very pleased with what the Charity Rijsttafel event has become as it has grown over the years into an event that is strongly embedded in both the Dutch and the international business community. I would also like to mention here our relations with the Netherlands. The added value which the Polish economy is bringing to the Netherlands was not being appreciated at that time. In cooperation with the Embassy, Dirk Aarts and the NPCH, we raised awareness of this issue, up to the front page of a leading newspaper in the Netherlands. We were one of the few parties who gave a voice to the positive impact of Dutch companies here in Poland and vice versa. This issue was dwarfed by the very successful visit of the royal couple to Poland. This was a very positive side of the relations between the two countries and it has done a lot of good to our mutual relationship. This visit, together with the matchmaking which accompanied it, gave a huge boost to the Dutch business community in Poland. Last but not least I also want to mention the Dutch Polish Business Awards that we organise together with the NPCH. These events are necessary to give Poland the attention in the Netherlands that it really deserves.”