With a degree in business administration and a recently-completed qualification in investment, Canadian Geoff Collier had a choice in 1982: either apply for a job in Canada or return to Holland for six months to play for the Amsterdam premier league ice hockey team. As his first introduction to The Netherlands two years earlier was an immediate success, he chose the latter. At the time the idea arose to set up a business with a fellow team member and print T-shirts. They called it Fox Productions. With minimal start-up capital – but maximum commitment – the company developed over a period of 30 years into a major supplier of merchandise, promotional textile products and workwear, thanks to Geoff being prepared to take risks and a talent for commerce. Not to mention his charming accent. …

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

Since 1982. As an ice hockey player I was scouted in Canada in the autumn of 1980 to play for the Den Bosch Netherlands premier league ice hockey team for six months. Two years later I was again approached, and again seized the chance and subsequently never left The Netherlands.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
I was an entrepreneur in spirit from an early age.  In Canada I had my own chimney-sweeping business, Geoff’s Chimney Sweep. During my second period in The Netherlands the idea arose to set up a t-shirt printing company called Fox Productions, along with my team mate Tjakko de Vos. He had a graphics background and my background was sales, which turned out to be an ideal combination. We started in a small cellar on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, with only 65 guilders in the bank… We bought our first screen-printing machine with our savings and eight months later we had a turnover of 86,000 guilders. Turbulent years followed, with long working days. We continued to grow and after moving five times occupied our own premises in Weesp in 2001.  Apart from merchandise, promotional textiles and workwear for big brands we also design, produce and distribute souvenirs (t-shirts, caps, bags, sweaters, etc.) for tourists in Amsterdam and the rest of The Netherlands. But we are also working hard to develop export markets in Europe.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
The biggest problem was that Fox Productions had already started before I got a residence permit. They first advised me to go back to Canada and apply for it at The Netherlands Embassy. After briefly telling my story about ice hockey and explaining that the company was already in business I got the necessary stamp on the spot and we could proceed. This would not happen in today’s world!

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Canada?
The Netherlands is much freer. When I first arrived here The Netherlands was the country of sex, drugs and alcohol. This was simply unthinkable in Canada at the time.  Over the past 30 years I have continued to marvel at the social system in The Netherlands – and everything it provides. It costs a company a lot of money and hassle to fire an employee or reorganise staff if business is not going well. As owner/manager in Canada one has more flexibility if changes have to be made. Although a lot has changed in recent years, there’s still a big difference between the two countries.

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
In the Netherlands doing business is a very social affair.  First you drink coffee and get acquainted and then, of course, you do get to the deal.  In America, for instance, one wants to get directly to the deal at the first appointment. Although the Dutch run things by the clock they have become somewhat more flexible about time in recent years.  In America there is no excuse for arriving late.  Here people realise that it’s busy everywhere and that you can be delayed for a variety of reasons.

6. What have you taken from both the Canadian and Dutch cultures?
From Canada: my approach to sales, readiness to take risks and a recognisable accent.
From The Netherlands: a friendly way of doing business. And open-mindedness.

7. Do you ever want to return to Canada?
At the moment I continue to travel back and forth between The Netherlands and Canada. I love the peace and space there and have a second house in Montreal. In The Netherlands life is increasingly busier and more pressured. Half an hour of driving here is more tiring than four hours of driving in Canada. Nevertheless, The Netherlands is a fine country in which to live and work and is well-situated for travel in Europe.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
Persevere and focus 100% on what you do. Work hard to build positive relationships with colleagues, customers and suppliers. And lways deliver just a little more than you promised.

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
Apples, which are the only fruit I eat.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or place?
My favourite place is Limburg: it has more space, a Canadian-type landscape and is easy-going. And, although it’s not really a product I’ll mention it anyway: the many restaurants with a wide range of good food from all parts of the world!

TIPS from  Geoff

1. Learn the language immediately but keep some of your accent, it can have a certain charm
2. Pay attention to the rules and regulations
3. Make sure you have good people around you
4. Always keep a close eye on your financial affairs

“We started in a small cellar with only 65 guilders in the bank…”

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