Now a Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s treaty with the EU is only weeks away. Some commentators say little is known about Ukraine in the Netherlands. Either that, or people are simply not interested. However, it’s this vote that could derail Ukrainian efforts towards closer economic ties with Europe. Yet, in fact, there are extensive business connections already.
Nard Elsman is an owner and general director at Elsman Group BV/Diamond FMS BV/Elsman Leadsoft IT LLC, a company which develops software for companies and connects local processes to banks and daily business, and has been in Ukraine for 12 years now. He tells about his experiences with Ukrainian entrepreneurs. This is an abridged version of an interview he gave to Ukraine Today.
“I saw that the economy in Ukraine grew 6-7% per year [after 2004], so, we though wow, this is really the land of opportunities, and everybody wants Ukraine,” the businessman shares.
The company (Elsman Leadsoft IT LLC) hired 10 employees in Lviv and opened an office where the software was developed. 10% of Diamond FMS’s clients are Dutch companies, and 30% are international companies based in Austria, Switzerland, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Belarus, and Russia.
The company brings its software to Ukrainian universities and does it for free. This part of the project aims at teaching students of such giants as the Politechnical University and KNAU University. “When you teach young people how to calculate properly, how to run business properly, how to set up step by step, these young people when they leave the university they know how to act. They know how to grow, how to calculate. So there will be more sustainable business in Ukraine from that side,” he explains.
“You see Dutch people everywhere in Ukraine”
Ukraine and The Netherlands are very connected, especially in the agriculture sphere, Elsman explains. Netherlands are very innovative whilst Ukraine is the largest economical agricultural country in Europe itself. That’s why in the sphere of agriculture there are a lot of innovations in Ukraine. “If you look from that side, you see Dutch people everywhere in Ukraine,” the businessman smiles.
Ukraine is a very broad and flexible economy with a very huge competition.– Nard Elsman
The Dutch mentality is very fast and very direct while Ukrainian mentality is much slower in that sphere, Elsman tells. Dutch entrepreneurs first want to build relations and a strong partnership, Ukrainian mentality is just the other way round. So that’s difficult in the first step. But once the trust is there, and the connection is being built, you can grow very good in it.
“Of course Ukraine had some difficulties, but we know you always come out a bit stronger. And that’s the same what Dutch people do as well. They try to innovate when there’s depression and they come up stronger and their export is all over the world,” the businessman compares.
According to him, Ukraine has a very broad and flexible economy with a very huge competition. “That means, if you have good ideas, you will set up your company and have a really big opportunity to grow. That’s risky and that’s difficult.”
Corruption-wise, Ukraine’s economy is in three “pools”: black water, dirty and clean
“Of course, there is corruption, there is black money, and you don’t want to go in that direction,” the Dutchman shares. He compares the situation in Ukraine to three pools: one has black water, another has dirty water and the third one is the clean water. Elsman demands that his colleagues stay in the third one.
The Netherlands are on the list of the top 5 least corrupt countries in the world. The fact that Ukraine is on the opposite end scares the Dutch people. “So if you want to do business in Holland and further you have to be sustainable, swim in the clear water and then you can build up your businesses,” he says.
Ukraine is recovering from crisis step by step
Ukraine has suffered from the crisis much more than the other countries and is recovering step by step, the businessman says. Since the export to Russia totally closed down, now is the time to prepare for export to Europe.
When compared to young people in the Netherlands, Ukrainians are much more far ahead. – Nard Elsman
Companies in Ukraine can be competitive, but there is a lot of inefficiency. “Our software calculates and manages the finances into daily usable figures. We do something in one hour what the normal bookkeeper does in two or three days or maybe a week.”
In the agricultural sphere (e.g. greenhouses, cattle) Ukraine is adopting the Dutch technologies, Elsman says. This is how the experience of small Netherlands are put into practice in the large scale of Ukraine. “That means you have to be very-very professional and very skillful,” the businessman emphasizes.
Old generation is ineffective, young entrepreneurs are aggressive and eager to learn
The key factor in Ukrainian business’ inefficiency is lack of professional attitudes, Elsman believes. The attitude “I’m not responsible for the department of my colleague,” the attitude “He did something, it is not my problem,” “We do something today, and if it’s not good, we do it tomorrow again” makes Ukrainian companies lose time, chances and resources.
Though the young generation is very different. Thanks to the Doing Dutch business in Ukraine project Elsman has a chance to experience working with students of economical departments and business beginners. “The young entrepreneurs are very aggressive, very eager to learn. When compared to young people in the Netherlands, they are much more far ahead,” Elsman states.
They have only one problem: they don’t know where to start, where to go to and they don’t have money. The businessman is sure that “if you give them the direction, you give them the tools, and they are professional, money will follow as well.”
As the date of Dutch referendum about Association Agreement with Ukraine approaches, the question about its pros and contras becomes more and more pressing. That is why Euromaidan Press in cooperation with Ukraine Today launched the #DUTCHINUA project gathering the views and opinions of the Dutch businessmen and entrepreneurs who work in Ukraine. Read its most interesting findings: Size matters: why Dutch businessmen like Ukraine