NAME: CHINO TONIN (on the right side)
IN THE NETHERLANDS SINCE: BIRTH
Chino Tonin is the fourth generation of an Italian family of terrazzo workers in The Netherlands. His great-grandfather came to The Netherlands in 1934 and since then the family trade has been passed on from father to son. Terrazzo is an Italian invention from the Friuli region and consists of marble and granite chips, processed for flooring and counter tops – a real craft. Considered as regular construction workers in Italy, terrazzo workers are valued in The Netherlands, where they draw a lot of respect and admiration. Chino runs Tonin, the family business, with his father while his mother does the administration. For him The Netherlands is a good environment in which to do business, thanks to its many laws and regulations – although the same laws and regulations made him decide not to employ any staff. In addition to the family business he also started a wine importer, Vino Friulano, that delivers special wines from the Friuli region to restaurants and caterers.
1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?
I was born in Nijmegen.
2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
In the crisis years around 1930, 1.6 million Italians left the Friuli region (near Venice) to look for work all over the world. My great-grandfather settled in Arnhem in 1934. His family followed soon afterwards. After first working in paid employment they started a family business, ‘Tonin’. My grandfather Nello expanded the business in the 1970s to include plastering and stucco work. He met my grandmother in Italy and soon after the war she came to The Netherlands. They had two children, including my father, who continued my grandfather’s business. He regularly went to Italy to learn the tricks of the trade.
My father married a Dutch woman and they had three children including a son, myself. Together with my father I now run a real Italian family business, specialising in a real Italian craft.
So hard work (which used to be physical, although now almost everything is done by machines) and entrepreneurship are, indeed, in my blood.
3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Not in the field of entrepreneurship.
4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Italy?
Italians are far more subject to the influence of status and hierarchy, prominent families and politicians. In Italy the boss is the boss and you never even think of complaining about him. In The Netherlands you can’t easily be fired and, as a result, one has much less respect for the boss. I’ve seen how many problems you can have with staff by looking at my fellow entrepreneurs in The Netherlands. For this reason I’d rather work twice as hard with my father than employ staff. There are trade unions in Italy, as in The Netherlands, but they are also the friends of the big bosses, so it’s better to lie low when there’s a labour dispute. Cronyism and corruption are, I think, the biggest causes of the economic crisis in Italy. As long as the people at the top continue to protect each other the rich will keep getting richer and the poor poorer. Nor do I believe in financial support from The Netherlands to southern European countries. Let them solve their own problems! And, although it has nothing to do with business, the Dutch food culture never ceases to amaze me. Italians care more about the quality of food and drink than the quantity. The same is true for clothing, Italians love good quality, beautiful clothes. They are proud of who they are and are keen to show it.
5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
I think The Netherlands is a fine country. It is clean and tidy, everything is well arranged, everyone is equal – and that is very pleasant. Here an agreement is an agreement and a contract is a contract. The Netherlands is a country of rules, Italy is a country of tricks.
6. What have you taken from both the Italian and Dutch cultures?
From the Italian culture, my Bialetti coffee percolator. From the Dutch, thoroughness.
7. Would you ever go back to Italy?
We have still strong links with Friuli, because one of my sisters has returned. I like visiting Friuli, but will continue to live in The Netherlands.
8. What are the secrets of your success?
I work hard and deliver on my commitments, even if I have to work through the weekend. And I do everything. In short, it’s just a question of doing your work well.
9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or place?
The place is the town centre of Arnhem and the product is the ‘uitsmijter’.
TIPS from Chino
1. Learn the language
2. Accept the culture
3. Mix with the Dutch
4. Show that you are making a contribution instead of taking something away
5. Stay sharp and don’t be afraid to be enterprising