From an early age on I was busy working. From the age of ten until I graduated from university I did all kinds of odd jobs. From harvesting tomatoes, to working in a company collecting, sorting and packaging rags and scrap metals, to tutoring economy students in the field of mathematics and statistics at bachelor level. My last assignment before graduation was to assess touristic opportunities in Turkey.
As I owed my life to my foster parents who were involved with the resistance against the German occupier during World War II, I felt that I should do something in return for the world as a gesture towards my foster parents. The most acute problem I could think of was poverty in the Third World countries, and I thought that by studying economics I could find out what to do for them at a macro-economic level. I topped up my study with cultural anthropology with an emphasis on acculturation. Not that I assumed that I could make a real impact. It was just that I wanted to take my responsibilities toward the world.
In between graduation and my expatriation to Turkey for the ILO in 1970, I worked as a teacher during one year at a secondary school.
The work during my first posting in Turkey was pretty boring. I had to assist the British regional advisor in writing handbooks for cooperative societies. My biggest contribution was in helping him to write a book about statistics for cooperative societies. It was not clear to me why a separate book about statistics could make sense. The book didn’t contain any specific applications in that respect.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of this posting was that there was only sufficient money budgeted during my one-year term in Istanbul to travel once from Istanbul to Ankara.
I told my superiors that in that case I didn’t mind to travel by our own car, the camper, and paying for travel costs by ourselves. But that was absolutely forbidden. Will be continued………
In 1972 I was selected to replace the managing director of a chain store in the Netherlands. This may seem to be a strange career move. If I would have to explain here all ins and outs it would, I fear, take too much of your time and patience, and after all, the career move indeed did not befit me.
From 1973 to 1985 I returned to development assistance employed in the following positions:
- Managing director of a fund-raising organization (HIVOS);
- Managing director of organization importing handicraft and non-perishable foodstuff produced by the poor in third world countries, founded by me while working for HIVOS (ABAL);
- Managing director of a consultancy firm to strengthen the absorption capacity of third world organizations (INDEC – Intermittent development consultancy).
- Managing director of a management training organization at post-graduate level, aimed at people from third world countries, nowadays The Maastricht School of Management; see https://www.msm.nl. It was here that I was surprised that my colleagues were lecturing from American management textbooks without warning students that this know-how could not always be applied in their home countries.
- As Professor Dr. Geert Hofstede had just published his book “Culture’s Consequences”, I went to check with him, if he wanted to contribute to my institute. It clicked between him and me, and we started a cooperation. My deputy perceived Hofstede as a threat and started to denounce him behind my back. Fortunately for me, this deputy had to leave soon after, and the cooperation with Geert Hofstede could start!
- In 1983 I became a part-time inspector for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The late husband of the former Queen, Prince Claus was our boss.
During that same year I was, as I called it, high-jacked by Dutch multinationals. I was asked by a several people responsible for expatriation in their firms, to join their informal circle, as they knew I was cooperating with Hofstede, helping him to build up a research institute.
Ballast Nedam was the first. I was approached by the responsible for expatriation to conduct a training on “intercultural management”. For many years I conducted this training, until my contact person inside Ballast Nedam was fired and the intercultural trainings came to an end in the early nineties. My counterpart was a special man, who apparently didn’t fit the organizational culture of this company. I don’t dare to claim that cancelling the intercultural management program caused Ballast Nedam to become less successful in the international arena. Yet, it is telling that they stopped working internationally in 2002 altogether.
My network of clients quickly grew by word of mouth, reaching more and more organizations abroad. People became aware of my success and wanted to join me. In a very organic way I moved from a one-man affair to a real company, called “ïtim” later called “itim-international”.
When in 1985 “In search of excellence” by Peters and Waterman was published I suggested to Hofstede to undertake a solid research project in the field of organizational culture. Despite the popularity of the book of Peters and Waterman in those days, the content was very thin on the ground. I proved to be correct: the research of Hofstede and his team was far more consistent and covered much more ground. It was the solid ground I was looking for to embark on organizational culture and later on “change management”.