Carmelita Bodha grew up in a warm and loving family in Surinam. Her father was very broad-minded and always said, ‘Never let society determine what you do, set your own course’. But when she decided to broaden her horizons by going to The Netherlands in 1993 he predicted that she would miss the charmed life she led in Suriname. That prediction never materialised. She started in Amsterdam as a pharmacist’s assistant, gained several diplomas and, in 2000, became manager of a branch of Etos. After eight months she took the step of owning her own Etos shop. She now owns four Etos stores and a Gall & Gall store, which provide her with independence, a passion and a hobby.

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

Since 1993.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
I had it in me from a young age. I obtained diplomas qualifying me as pharmacist’s assistant, beautician and as a senior teacher in fashion. Beside my job as a pharmacist’s assistant I had my own beauty salon and fashion school. In 1993 I wanted to expand my horizons and left Suriname for The Netherlands. I found a job as a pharmacist’s assistant in Osdorp, but had to re-do the training as my diplomas were not valid here. After a while I wanted more of a challenge and started working in a pharmacy in Amsterdam South-East, where I got to know my husband. I then successfully applied for the position of store manager at Etos. After eight months I thought it was time for more independence and, in January 2001, I started as a franchisee with my own Etos store in Beverwijk. I wanted to differentiate my store in terms of customer-friendliness and service. I learned to know other Etos franchisees and established a good relationship with one particular entrepreneurial couple. I took over their Etos shop in IJmuiden after the woman died. The change from one to two shops is the biggest step you take, as you have to lead in a different way. I received a lot of support in this from the Etos head office.
The next step was to my third Etos, in Reigersbos, which was quite a lot easier. But I also wanted to be socially involved as an entrepreneur and decided to become active in the area of franchise management at Etos. There I discovered the strength of networking and also came into contact with an entrepreneur who wanted an Etos in Vleuterwijde, a very new shopping centre. And he had a further unit he wanted to fill – with a Gall & Gall shop. “Give them to me,” I said jokingly – and, before I knew it, I had my fourth Etos and first Gall & Gall shop. A lot of networking, also outside of business hours, created a lot of opportunity for me. The shops are my passion and my hobby.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Actually no, on the contrary, the fact that I came from Suriname has only benefited me, as I always stood out in meetings and thereby got lots of attention.

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Suriname?
You need a network in both countries and networking advances your business in both. The difference, however, is in the nature of the network. In The Netherlands we mainly have business networks that don’t carry further (social) obligations. In Suriname it is more often a social network of family and/or friends, and that creates obligations.

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
In The Netherlands everything is well organised and there are many laws and protocols, although always for good reasons. Many entrepreneurs believe that all these regulations limit creativity. I don’t experience it as an obstacle at all and it’s certainly not a reason for me to leave The Netherlands. Our social safety net creates high expectations and people are quick to complain when things go wrong. I think this is a consequence of the system. For example, there is now a huge fuss about budget cuts in the health care sector. How will the elderly be taken care of in future? In Surinamese culture care for the elderly is not an issue. You take your parents into your own home. After all, they also took care of you.

6. What have you taken from both the Surinamese and Dutch cultures?
From the Surinamese culture, walking into my sister’s and brothers’ homes unannounced – and then staying for a meal.
Keeping your shoes on when inside a house is something I have taken over from Dutch culture.

7. Would you ever go back to Suriname?
Never say never, but I don’t think so.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
I bring out the best in my staff by building on their strengths. I make them the focus, not myself, which means they feel valued and involved. As a result, I create a lot of space for myself and can focus on other projects.

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
I don’t have a favourite fruit. I am very curious and like to try out new things.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or place?
I don’t have any favourites. I feel I am a citizen of the world and am very adaptable.

TIPS from Carmelita

1. Rely on yourself
2. Don’t live in the past, look to the future and make something of it
3. Don’t postpone things until tomorrow
4. Enjoy every moment of life

“The Dutch social safety net creates high expectations and people are quick to complain when things go wrong