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The Swedish Chamber of Commerce 1960 – 2020
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Home > The Swedish Chamber of Commerce 1960 – 2020
years Chamber history: trends and highlights
A retrospection with the Honorary Members
By: Hans Duijn
The austere years of the Fifties were just behind us, gradually people started
to allow themselves some luxury goods. TV sets were becoming more and more
common. The European Economic Community (EEC) was only 4 years old and
consisted of the six member countries of ‘the first hour’. People blamed
occasional heavy rainfall on the ‘A-bomb’ and the cold war would soon enter a
new episode with the incident in the Bay of Pigs
and the construction of the Berlin Wall. Sweden would still drive for seven
years on the left, although the decision to move to the right was already final.
invitation of the ambassador of Sweden at that time, Sven Dahlman, a number
of executives of Swedish companies in
the Netherlands convened at the Swedish Embassy in The Hague on 14 February
1960 to discuss the future of Swedish-Dutch trade relations. With hindsight
this meeting was the very beginning of the Chamber, which would formally be
established on 12 May 1960 as the ‘Vereniging Zweeds-Nederlandse Kamer van
Koophandel en Industrie’. Cees Sollart of Sandvik Staal N.V. acted as the first
Chairman of the Chamber.
Chamber became a success, for sure, and is, as we know, also after 50 years a very
active network association for companies with a variety of interests in both Sweden and the Netherlands.
it happen, who made it happen and what were the trends during half a century
of Swedish Chamber activities in the Netherlands?
could we better ask then the Honorary Members of the Chamber? Therefore, Nils
van Dijkman, the current Chairman, and Kerstin Gerlagh, General Manager of the
Swedish Chamber of Commerce, took the initiative to invite the Honorary Members
for a luncheon in order to listen to their memories and views on 50 years of
history of the Chamber.
luncheon was held on a rainy day in November 2009 at a convenient place in Amsterdam. Of the Honorary
Members were present Claes-Ivar Schultz, Gerard Perik and Henk Lokin. Unfortunately
Bert Gort and Ben Hummel could not attend.
reason for the establishment of the Chamber was obviously the awakening success
of the Common Market and the aspirations of Swedish companies to operate ‘from
within’ rather than compete cross-border”, thought Claes-Ivar Schultz. Sweden had entered the European Free Trade
Association (EFTA), but this was a much looser trade association of countries
and lacking the two countries, which formed the engine of European economic
growth, West Germany and France. Many
Swedish companies were seeking to establish subsidiaries, especially production
plants, within the Common Market. The Netherlands were an attractive
country to establish because of its moderate wages and stable social
environment. On the other hand, Sweden
was at that time a ‘role model’ for innovation of labour relations on the working
floor, which explained the keen interest in Sweden from Dutch companies and public
the Sixties through the Eighties the membership was as yet predominantly
Swedish”, added Gerard Perik. “Companies were still actively using expatriates
to manage their plants and subsidiaries abroad, which meant that there was a
large contingent of Swedish managers in the Netherlands regularly frequenting
the activities of the Chamber”. With modern communication means further
developing and cost drives also reaching the senior management levels, Swedish
companies followed the global trend and hired more and more locals for senior
positions in their foreign subsidiaries. The trend towards ‘Dutchification’ of
the membership was further intensified in later years, when Dutch firms, in
particular from within the service industry, ‘discovered’ the liberalizing
Swedish market and joined the Chamber to broaden their networks.
second wave of ‘Swedishness’ came with the Swedish property investment boom in
at the end of the Eighties”, remembered Henk Lokin. With low interest rates and
booming real estate prices in Sweden,
many Swedish real estate investors had been very successful in the Swedish
market and were looking for expansion abroad. A more relaxed policy on
international capital transfers facilitated foreign investments. It was not
only Lars Magnusson, who entered the Dutch real estate market, many more
Swedish property investors followed. But as fast as they came, so quickly did
they leave, not seldom with substantial losses, as soon as the Riksbank steeply
increased the interest rates in order to protect the Swedish crown.
remember the third wave, the IT boom, which is not too long ago”, said Nils van
Dijkman. At the end of the Nineties, many Swedish Information and Communication
Technology companies, which then belonged to the most advanced in the world in
their industry, also came to the Netherlands and started
subsidiaries or took over local companies. Although hit by the subsequent IT
crisis in 2000, quite a few survived and became successful in the Dutch market.
co-operation between Swedes and Dutch worked very well. “The Swedes are well
disciplined, well organized and good technical executioners, but not often good
salesmen; the Dutch filled that in, being much more entrepreneurial and sales
oriented”, said Claes-Ivar Schultz. In any event, the co-operation within the
Chamber between both nationalities always worked well. The Board was, from the
very beginning, composed of both nationalities. By extensively using the mutual
networks, the Chamber has always been able to offer its members an excellent
program of activities. “The list of CEO’s of large international companies and
Ministers and other high government officials who addressed the members of the
Chamber at luncheon meetings is very impressive”, mentioned Henk Lokin.
Chamber counted many highlights in the fifty years of its existence of which
two should not be left unmentioned here: that is in the first place the
Conference ‘a Day of Visions’, organized at the occasion of the 40th
Anniversary of the Chamber. “Program, speakers and festivities were toprated
and we owe much respect for the organizational drive of Olle Werner, who was
then the Chairman of the Board of the Chamber”, said Gerard Perik. Another
remarkable event was the manifestation ‘Sweden
in the Marketplace’, a large exhibition of
Swedish industrial skills and cultural achievements in the center of The Hague, organized in September 1990 in co-operation with
the Swedish Trade Office and Swedish companies and other institutions in the Netherlands.
The manifestation was officially opended by HRH King Carl XVI Gustaf.
should not leave unmentioned here the enthousiasm and support of the
ambassadors”, reminded Claes-Ivar Schultz. Successive ambassadors for Sweden in the Netherlands have greatly
contributed to the quality of the program of the Chamber. In line with the
trend towards more business orientation, the distinguished residence of the
Swedish ambassador at Lange Voorhout increasingly became a hospitable function
for Chamber gatherings.
membership count has been a very stable factor in the existence of the Chamber
over the years. “It fluctuates of course somewhat on the tides of the economic
and business cycles. It is very encouraging that young professionals also take
a firm interest in the Chamber, given the success of the JCC (Junior Chamber of Commerce)
suborganization”, mentioned Kerstin Gerlagh. She added that the establishment
of a separate office of the Chamber and the move from The
Hague to Amsterdam
substantially contributed to the efficiency and professionalism of the organization.
“Although networking is nowadays just as important as it was fifty years ago, we notice at our Chamber events that the members present increasingly focus on direct business opportunities, which is obviously a reflection of a general trend in society”, observed Nils van Dijkman. He continued: “ The Chamber has proved its function over the years in many ways and we are looking forward to continue to do so. I like to thank you as Honorary Members for your contributions to this retrospection and your lasting interest in the Chamber”.