by Tom Henihan
Originally from Holland, Eric Verstappen, has been in Alberta since 2008 and is keen to create greater dialogue and exchange of ideas with business people in the region.
“I am a business person who is fairly new to this community, “ says Verstappen. “I was a salesman for John Deere for a couple of years, quit that and started my farm business. I sell beef, lamb and chickens.”
Verstappen, who is also a financial adviser with the co-operators in Falher, says what he misses compared to his experience in Holland is communication between business people.
“I walk through town and I always go on foot, I go to the stores, I go to the different banks. All the business owners are hiding. I cannot walk into a business and have a short, quick chat with the owner. And that would be such a huge advantage for our businesses.”
He points out that there are so many things that everybody does and with which everybody struggles like succession planning, staff issues, accounting, tax, education, customer approach and service those kinds of things.
“There is no communication, there is no training, so if we don’t change that it is going to be like this for the next 25 years. “
Taking a page from his experience in Holland, Verstappen proposes starting a local group of 5 business people to meet once a month to discuss a predetermined subject. The initiative called “Let’s Talk Business” will have no rules, no decision making, just the constructive exchange of information and ideas.
“I was in a group like that in Holland. Five people is the optimum for a discussion; seven is too many three is too little. What we used to do was go to a restaurant that offered privacy for a discussion but keep tings very informal. We would have a subject chosen before we went, so we knew what we were going to discuss. It was focused, there was an agenda; it was not just chatting away. The meetings would not last longer than an hour and a half to two hours.”
Verstappen also proposes that if there are more than five interested then the objective is to create other groups of five and have the different groups meet once a year. In Holland, Verstappen’s region there were five groups of five.
“At these meeting we used to take notes, and once a year all twenty-five of us would come together for a one day symposium, afternoon, evening, again have a good meal, get people in the right mood. The different groups would then present quickly, maybe in ten minutes, what subjects they discussed in the last year. Most groups would have discussed similar subjects at different times so you would get five opinions on a given subject and then we would discuss these afterwards, it would be like a forum. “
Verstappen says he is not just looking for people in big business, that he believes that small enterprises can contribute a great deal to a business environment. He does not want people to shy away from getting involved because they might think that their operation is too small.
“There are a lot of managers of big companies who have never been business people. They have never run a business; they have had their pay cheque every month. I want to talk to people who have run a business, who have run into good and bad times; those are the people who we need to talk to.”
Verstappen says he is not trying to sell the concept, that he is just trying to entice people to get interested in it.
The only objective of “Let’s Talk Business” meetings is to create a more dynamic business environment.
“In Holland, we measured the value of the group on people wanting to join.”