Philip Aarsman and a car called Romania

The Dutchman Philip Aarsman (55) moved to Romania in December 2014, after years of living and working abroad in cities like Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and Bratislava. He is an expert in developing operational leasing business and in international M&A. Philip Aarsman thinks operational leasing is “a relatively new product” for the Romanian market, where some of the local companies still focus more on “owning things”. As Managing Director of Business Lease Romania, one of the challenges he faces here is to make Romanian companies realise operational leasing means paying for what they use.

He is also a member of Netherlands-Romanian Chamber of Commerce, where, among other tasks, he likes sharing experiences with other expats. And although he has a tight schedule, he still finds some time to discover Romania and learn the local language. Philip Aarsman also explains in an interview for LeadersReunited why he thinks that if Romania would be a type of car, it would be a merger between a sophisticated luxury car and a van and moreover how he started living an expat life.

Philip Aarsman, Managing Director of Business Lease Romania. Ph. credit: personal archive

Cristina Dobreanu: You have been living in Romania for more than two years now, what makes it your home?

Philip Aarsman: My work, of course, and the people, the team. And also I have to say the warmth I felt here, the sincere emotions which I feel with Romanians compared to other countries where I worked in, for example in Central Europe. What I have noticed from the beginning is that people here all want to develop themselves, to have a better life, a better career, to make more money. Romanians are much more ambitious, from what I saw.

Is it a challenge, the fact that Romanians are more ambitious?

On the one hand, it is very good that they are very enthusiastic and they would like to reach further, but that makes it more difficult to manage. They are flexible, but if you are too flexible, then you are chaotic. If you are enthusiastic it’s OK, but if you are too enthusiastic you won’t finish anything. This is why you have to focus a lot on talking about expectations (with the members of the team, NA). I think Romanians are very eager to share their thoughts, especially the young generation. We have young people in the company, the average age is 32. In total, there are 40 employees working here, 37 in Bucharest and 3 in Cluj.

What is your relationship with the Romanian companies?

Good, yet sometimes challenging. Well, operational leasing is a product which came from the West, and so far, for Romania this a relatively new product. And you have to explain what operational leasing is. What you see in Romania is everyone being focused on owning things: a house, a car. We explain to them that for a company is it always best to invest in their core business. So why invest in a car? What is the big advantage of operational leasing? It’s that you pay for what you use.

How did Romania appear on your map? It seems you gradually moved towards East.

We follow our clients. It was them who gradually moved to other countries in East, out of which Romania is one of the biggest. In fact, Romania was already on the map from the beginning and we were only looking for the right moment to start here.

It was a business decision.

Yes. I’d also like to mention that I was responsible for buying new companies or establishing new companies, and I had some connection with Romania, since my first visit here in 2004. This was before the crisis. In 2004, CEE countries joined the EU, in 2007 it was Romania’s and Bulgaria’s turn. I actually wanted to come here in 2007-2008, but then the crisis started and that made us postpone the decision.

What did you know about Romania before coming here?

I had no clue. Everyone who visits Romania, my friends included, has the same reaction: “unbelievable, what a nice country, beautiful people, beautiful nature”. In that respect, Romania could do a little bit promotion. It’s a beautiful country and I don’t have so much free time, but if I can, we visit Sighișoara, Sibiu, Cluj, Brașov, Constanța, the Danube Delta.

All the highlights!

Yes! And then you discover so much potential. But I can say the same about Czech Republic. I can tell you a really nice story about how I became an expat, because I never have planned to become one. And neither had my wife. A new MD was needed for this country and I said OK, but I was thinking “it’s dark, they have grey chimneys, steel industry”. I really had no clue. This was for us the Eastern Europe. We were brought up with the Iron Curtain and we knew nothing. We went to Prague in April, it was a beautiful weekend, a beautiful town, and my wife said to me after a few days: “I think we should do it”.

How long did you stay there?

In total, seven years, from 2000 to 2007. In 2007 I went back to Holland. And I worked for the HQ for a period that was also much too long, also seven years.

You started enjoying being an expat.

Yes, and I knew that at a certain moment I would want to go back. Therefore, when the opportunity came, when we made a deal with Romania, I said I wanted to go back. And I don’t regret it. I have been here for more than two years.

How is your family adapting to the life here?

This is a nice question because my family is not here. That’s the only disadvantage, that my family is in Holland. And now, every two weeks I go back to Holland, and sometimes my wife comes here for a week. I have three sons and they visit me regularly. One of them has completed his internship in Romania for 5 months.

Have you started learning Romanian?

I’m taking Romanian lessons. But my level is not so good. (and he points to the paperboard where one could read “I like running. I like going to the gym (sala)”)

What is your favourite word in Romanian so far?

„Hai” – “let’s go”. Or „știu” – “I Know”. And „mici”.

Is this your favourite Romanian dish?

I like mici. It’s a very specific taste.

Do you meet here other Dutch expats? Do you have time for this?

Yes, I meet them a lot. I am also a board member of the Netherlands-Romanian Chamber of Commerce (NRCC) and this is how I meet a lot of people. It’s always good to meet each other, the expats, and share experiences.

If Romania would be a type of car, what would it be?

A type of car?! Maybe the front from the super sophisticated car like BMW, Ferrari or Porsche and the other part is a van, where a lot of people are sitting, even on the top. These are the two sides of Romania. A lot to be done, and one part is thinking we are already there and live in a completely different world and another part is still to be developed.

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