The American, Charles D.A. Ruffolo (or ‘Ruf’, as everyone calls him), discovered the power of networking by always arriving early at the meetings of the American Chamber of Commerce. The ex-serviceman was soon asked to give lectures and workshops and appointed himself as the world’s first, professional networker. Although networking is frequently associated with receptions, handshaking and meeting people that may ‘be useful to you’, Ruf developed it into a true science. He turned his own professional network into a successful company called The NetworKing BV’. The idea for the name ‘The NetworKing’ came from Stephanie Ward, from ‘Firefly Coaching Nederland’, who once said: “When I think of networking, you’re the King.” For him, networking is a system of standards and values based on trust, respect, honesty, integrity and a healthy enthusiasm for creating business opportunities – as well as always giving something in return, the most important rule of networking. In addition to lectures and workshops, Ruf organises ‘Special Events’ with prominent people. He is also founder of ‘The Network Club’ and ‘The NetworKing Academy’, author of the book ‘Network Your Way to Success’ – now translated into Dutch and Chinese – and creator of the ‘Ruffle Shuffle’ card game. He is also founder of the ‘Giving Back Foundation’, a non-profit organisation which gives ambitious students – who have the potential to be role models in Dutch society – the opportunity to further develop their talents and skills.

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

In 1976, as an American soldier, I was stationed with my unit in Steenwijk. Although the intention was that I would in due course return to the States, I fell in love with my wife, Herma, and stayed here. At that stage I already had the drive: “Money, I have to make money.” And I was convinced that I was going to succeed in that.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
I wanted to be my own boss. In 1991 I was transferred, with my division, to Wiesbaden in Germany. Four years later I would have served the magical twenty years in the American army and be entitled to enjoy a lifetime pension. In my free time I obtained an MPA (Master of Public Administration) because I wanted to be ‘book smart’. I was already ‘street smart’ – now I had to prove that I was also on top of the theory.
However, the best decision I made at that time was to join the American Chamber of Commerce in the Hague, which organised meetings for the top echelon in the world of business. I always arrived there way too early and started to chat with others who were already there. This is how I met Buford Alexander, then a director of McKinsey & Co, a large American consultancy firm. He was surprised that I was prepared to drive for hours to attend these meetings and found that I had perseverance, daring and vision – and that I was a born networker. I made it immediately clear to him that my goal was to work for ‘one of the big boys’ when I left the army.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
The early nineties were hard for entrepreneurs. The Dutch laws and regulations on entrepreneurship didn’t make it any easier. And there wasn’t a climate that promoted or stimulated networking. In the meantime, the rules that govern becoming an entrepreneur have been relaxed. Thanks to YouTube and TV, ‘from newspaper boy to millionaire’ now also seems possible in The Netherlands.

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in America?
I find it typically Dutch that many entrepreneurs set up a foundation or association. They’ve chosen the easy way: you get subsidies and can get by without any risk. It’s as if you’re admitting that you’re not ‘allowed’ to be successful. Start a company straight away, then you can at least grow! The Dutch are also very into ‘going with the flow’. A few years ago a lot of entrepreneurs became head hunters, now there
are coaches everywhere…  I also find it strange that the Dutch find themselves to be tolerant. They mean it in a positive way, but the word ‘tolerant’ is actually quite negative. You hear:  “I tolerate you” – how unfriendly is that?

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
The Dutch are very cautious: “Look before you leap.” But this can involve weeks of observation, a number of tests and the erection of a safety net before any jumping is undertaken! In America they say: “If you want to do business, do it now.” Why would you wait? If you’re successful in The Netherlands society tries to make you small. I find the Dutch saying ‘just being normal is crazy enough’ ridiculous! If you are good at something in America, you’ll be placed on a pedestal. That starts with sports at school. The Dutch also remain very much within their own class. The wonderful word, ‘gunnen’ – to allow, grant or not begrudge (success) – is typically Dutch. No such thing exists in America. The great thing about it is that you allow someone (access to) something, without their incurring any obligation in return.

6. What have you taken from both the American and Dutch cultures?
From American culture, of course, perseverance. From the Dutch: not begrudging another’s benefit and ‘gezelligheid’ – their, untranslatable, liking of ‘friendly cosiness’.

7. Would you ever go back to America?
Sure, but only to visit family and friends, to go on vacation or to do business.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
I will mention two: giving and persevering.

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
The kiwi: the most nourishing and nutrient-packed fruit there is – bursting with the vitamins and minerals that you need to stay healthy and perform better.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or location?
My favourite place is my house in Kallenkote, in Overijssel.

TIPS van Ruf

1. Immerse yourself in the culture and use that to your advantage
2. Don’t be too cautious
3. Be proud of your success
4. Give back to others

“The wonderful word, ‘gunnen’ – to allow, grant or not begrudge (success) – is typically Dutch. No such thing exists in America. The great thing about it is that you allow someone (access to) something, without their incurring any obligation in return