Dennis Friperson made acquaintance with the funeral business while still completing his studies. The profession immediately fascinated him and he discovered that his background enabled him to add value to the content and form of other cultures’ funerals. In 2006 he successfully started his own undertaking business, Meersorgh, which differentiated itself from others by focusing on multicultural funerals. He nevertheless finds culture less important than providing a service to all people, irrespective of their backgrounds. His darker skin-colour initially caused many a raised eyebrow, but he was quickly able to break the ice with his humour and sensitivity. For him, a funeral service is as personal as life itself. His commitment and inspired approach have enabled his business to achieve a prominent place in the funeral industry.

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

I was born in Breda in 1979.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
It was pure chance. While studying I found a part-time job as a pallbearer at an undertaker. That’s how my interest in the funeral industry started. Despite my lack of life experience I was offered a work experience position by an undertaker, which deepened my knowledge of the funeral industry. A few years later, when I actually went to work for an undertaker, I noticed that there was little knowledge of the funeral rituals and customs of other cultures. Every immigrant culture has its own way of conducting a funeral. Surinamese people experience a funeral much more intensely than the average Dutch person, for instance. I was always requested for Surinamese funerals, as my colleagues had little affinity with other cultures. I then saw a gap in the market and started my business, Meersorgh, in 2006. I now have an entire network of people from different cultures who inform and advise me, so that I am always well prepared. In the case of an Islamic funeral, for instance, I always ask the advice of the chairman of the mosque. And have also been saved from an enormous blunder at a Chinese funeral: I had invited Mr Chang to assist me. When he saw that I was wearing a red tie he advised me to remove it directly. Red is, as it happens, is the colour of joy and therefore strictly avoided at Chinese funerals. I still learn something new every day, and every day is different.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
People were initially alarmed at my ‘colour’.  A healthy dose of humour and the ability to strike the right note usually helped me to quickly break the ice – which also turned out to be my strength. I don’t allow myself to be distracted by discrimination. That only creates negative energy. I’d rather focus on my work. I think all cultures should learn from, rather than exclude, each other. Cultural diversity in a company must be seen as a benefit, not a burden.

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands as compared to your country of origin?
The Dutch are very structured in their approach and everything revolves around time. Everything must be in writing, preferably in the form of a contract. In all the other cultures that I know a verbal commitment is sufficient and is worth the same as an agreement on paper. I think the Dutch are distant and cautious, compared to other cultures. And this goes beyond the single biscuit served with your coffee.
If I ask a Dutch client how many funeral cards are needed he produces an address list and counts carefully. Put this question to a Surinamer and he’ll immediately come up with a number – and be totally unconcerned if it later appears that far too many cards went unused. Every minute is predetermined at a Dutch funeral. At funerals of other cultures things simply take their course, and it’s seldom as originally planned.

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
The fact that Dutch business is so structured sometimes frustrates me but, to be honest, it also has its advantages. Which is why I recently approached a Dutch bailiff to go to work on my overdue debtors and I have a Dutch bookkeeper handling my financial administration. I also regard Dutch directness as very positive: clarity is often a big plus, certainly in business.

6. What have you taken from the Surinamese, Tunisian and Dutch cultures?
Hospitality from the Surinamese culture – and from Dutch culture the businesslike approach and the stress: you have to follow up on everything.

7. Would you ever want to go back to your country of origin?
I don’t want to remain in The Netherlands until I die. Although I have never been to Surinam I do see myself living there. And Curaçao and Aruba look like great islands.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
Perseverance; making many mistakes and learning from them; curiosity and an eagerness to learn.

9. What is you favourite fruit, and why?
My favourite fruit is pineapple, which reminds me of the tropics.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and place?
I love matured cheese – and my favourite location is Scheveningen, because I can relax there.

TIPS from Dennis

1. Be yourself
2. Always be open – to everything and everyone

“Cultures should learn from each other, not exclude each other”