Gerke Witteveen and “the country where everything is possible”

Starting from November 2016, Romania is back in Gerke Witteveen’s life. He joined NN Life Insurance in Romania as CFO and he is also President of the Netherlands Romanian Chamber of Commerce (NRCC). Actually, Romania is a constant in his life. Prior to this, between 2008-2013, he worked in Romania as CFO for Achmea’s subsidiary Eureko/Interamerican. But, on top of that, he married a Romanian. For the 43 years old Dutchman, Romania is “the country where everything is possible”, and it is not a surprise that he is in love with Maramures, Bucovina and the concerts at the Romanian Athenaeum.

“Always move forward, never have regrets” is Gerke Witteveen’s favourite quote. Nevertheless, like any other Dutch he seems to like analyzing scenarios and consequences before making any decision – no wonder he is working in the insurance industry. Gerke Witteveen kindly accepted to talk about Romania, favourite sport, the Dutch business community, and, of course, insurances.

Gerke Witteveen. Photo credit: personal archive

Cristina Dobreanu: You lived in Romania from 2008 to 2013, how do you feel coming back to Romania? Did you miss us?

Gerke Witteveen: Romania is a very beautiful and welcoming country in many ways. In the time I spent here, some years ago, but also from my wife, who is Romanian, I learned that Romania is the country where everything is possible. So, I must admit that I enjoyed my time here very much and I missed Romania when I returned to Holland in 2013 just like I miss my home country when I am here. It feels good to be back, even if I never left Romania completely, since I visited my family-in-law regularly during the intermediate years.

Do you see any changes around here, since you left?

One thing I love, is that a new entrepreneurial generation running a growing number of small businesses in Romania has developed, which supports the future development of the economy. And, in turn, they need support from the business environment to succeed. This is precisely why NN offers scholarships to future entrepreneurs from the Entrepreneurship Academy and invests in promoting social entrepreneurship through a program dedicated to college students and developed together with Junior Achievement.

Compared to 2013, there are obvious changes in the healthcare system, meaning that there are more options when it comes to private infrastructure. Private infrastructure has developed a lot during the last few years supporting also the development of the health insurance market. People could access top quality medical services without financial burdens through health insurance. Overall, there are numerous positive changes, without ignoring turmoil in certain areas. However, in my opinion, the changes are not as many and as fast as they could have been.

How do you see the Dutch business community in Romania compared to other countries in the region?

Here, the Dutch business community is very big compared to other countries from the region and it is a known fact that the Netherlands is the biggest source of foreign investments in Romania since many years now (NL accounts for 25 percent of the FDI in Romania according to National Bank of Romania in May 2017).

Today, the Dutch companies existing in Romania employ over 200.000 people, being both large corporations and small and medium sized companies or even individual entrepreneurs. This confirms the strong economic ties between the Netherlands and Romania. Moreover, the number of Dutch investors in Romania is expected to grow in the coming years, as we are seeing through NRCC studies and discussions with partners in NL.

What is your relationship with the Romanian companies?

From NN’s perspective, through our investment strategy we support the development of the local economy for over 20 years and are very active on the B2B sector as we are offering benefits such as voluntary private pensions to employers, which help them to improve their compensation and benefits offers and attract talents, thus becoming more competitive on the labour market.

From NRCC’s perspective, we are constantly sharing knowledge and business practices among Dutch and Romanian businesses and looking for new ways to enhance the collaboration between the two countries in support of Romania’s economic future development.

What are the main differences between the Netherlands and Romania?

It might not seem like it at a glance, but Romania and the Netherlands have many things in common and, as a result, have a track record of working well together. For example, both countries have a business culture that is internationally oriented, making it easier to bridge cultural differences. However, Romania faces a lack of structure and lower predictability than the Netherlands, often influencing the business environment. As for the people, Romanians are highly adaptable, finding rapid solutions to any situation and reacting to fast-changing circumstances, while the Dutch are rather structured in their approach and analyse scenarios and consequences before making decisions. Long-term planning and orientation has been imprinted in the Netherlands’ culture for decades and can be easily seen in the people’s financial behaviour. In Romania, this culture is still in its early stages.

What is the thing that annoys you the most in Romania?

Traffic would be the first thing to mention, as I am used to the biking oriented culture from the Netherlands. It would solve a lot of traffic issues if biking infrastructure would be at the same level in Bucharest and other large Romanian cities. Another thing Romanians would benefit from is planning ahead, especially when it comes to financial services, although I wouldn’t say this is necessarily annoying, but rather an opportunity for Romania to establish and build a healthy long-term financial culture.

What would be the three things you love here?

Only three are not enough, there are many things I love about Romania. Travelling around the country, for example, because the diversity of the landscapes is truly amazing; I especially like the Maramures and Bucovina areas. Or the concerts at the Romanian Athenaeum. I also enjoy the climate, which is more diversified compared to the Netherlands’, where we have 10 months of autumn and only two months of summer. Not to mention the Romanian hospitality – here there is no need to formally plan to visit your friends for dinner, like it happens in the Netherlands. And last but not least, I like that the benefit of Romania not being too structured, yet it is the sense of freedom that this gives you.

Have you started learning Romanian?

I took the first Romanian classes in 2009, a year after I moved here, and now I can say I have become pretty good at it. I also manage to make myself understood and there is very little that I don’t understand. The Romanian language has an interesting ring to it, which I love, but at the same time it is a difficult language that demands taking care in order to speak grammatically correct. This is exactly why I am still taking classes, looking to improve my grammar.

What is your biggest challenge here?

Cultural integration is, in my opinion, a challenge for any expat and, for me, it is also challenging to translate my own principles and values to the local context. But once you learn the cultural imprint of this country and know its people, Romania feels like home.

The Netherlands are truly a sports nation. What are your favourite sports? What sports do you do here?

Field hockey is what I enjoy the most, but stopped playing once I moved from the Netherlands, as I found that Romanians haven’t acquired a taste for it yet. I also like squash, but unfortunately, I don’t have a playing partner in Romania. So, while in Romania, I do a lot of running, mostly after my 4-year-old son, but my new year’s resolution is to start running regularly.

Your motto is….

Always move forward, never have regrets.

Let’s make an imagination exercise: If Romania would be a person who comes into your office and asks you for an advice about an insurance policy, what would be the goods you would recommend to be insured?

Interesting exercise. Looking at Romania, it is a young, only 100 years old, and emergent country, with great potential. But in order to reach its potential, it must maintain good health, so I would firstly recommend a health insurance. After all, “Good health / Multă sănătate!” is a first wish in Romania. Even at anniversaries or when Romanians celebrate the New Year’s Eve, even when they just raise their glasses you hear “Sănătate” or “Multă sănătate!” Secondly, I would recommend Romania to start a good retirement plan, while it is still young in order to benefit from capitalization as insuring a better financial future takes time and is of crucial importance in the long run.

Mr. Gerke Witteveen and Mr. Maurits Dohmen, NRCC Executive Director
Mr. Gerke Witteveen and Mr. Maurits Dohmen, NRCC Executive Director
Recommended Posts
HBAR-AAUR Conference 2018 - FB CoverMANAGEMENTUL TRAtamentului limfedemului