As Atterbury spreads its wings over the globe, more members of the team are relocating to overseas territories. In the first part of a new series we spoke to Henk Deist and Raoul de Villiers about their unique experience living the motto of “it’s a matter of association” on foreign soil…
As the CEO of Atterbury Europe, Henk Deist is leading the team from Holland, with the city of Leiden soon to be the seat of the permanent office. As the business grew into a meaningful size, it was decided that from both a practical and economical perspective to headquater the business in Europe. The Netherlands was identified right from the get go as the best place for the holding company’s legal jurisdiction, says Henk. “It has a very competitive fiscal regime along with an established legal framework and access to top professional advisors; they use English as business language and there is a general ease around doing business and an openness to foreigners,” he explains.
When the decision was made to physically relocate people, the first thought was to be away from Amsterdam to be more cost effective, but still with good access to Schiphol airport as they are frequently required to visit their investments. “Our team is settling where most convenient, depending on each person’s individual circumstances, with Leiden being centrally located for all of us,” he says.
In terms of the term of the overseas contract, Henk explains that family considerations play a large role. “My youngest still has five years at school, so I cannot see moving her again; and that is my mindset on timing there. The business will also have a life cycle and will always change. The challenge will be to match the business life cycle and personal ‘life cycle’ of the team members, as it will be great to finish what we started with the same team. Not that a business ever ‘finishes’, it may just take a different form if we list or partly sell in the future.”
Relocating your whole family is always challenging, and the Deists had a slightly rocky start when they lost the first house they had picked to buy. “The Dutch have a website where all properties are advertised. We found a beautiful, modern house on a river with a mooring space for a boat and close to the kids’ school. I could already see the A-team doing a Sunday afternoon sundowner boat cruise to Amsterdam!” But sadly a local outbid him with a higher cash offer, so they have decided to do the “sensible” thing and rent first while they settle in. “We’ll take our time finding a place to buy – it makes so much sense to buy here because of the low interest rates.”
Last August, Henk took his family for a discovery trip and, he quips, timed it just right to catch the one week of summer in Holland. “My kids loved it. They had a school trip – the head of admissions even speaks Afrikaans – and they’re already on Whatsapp with some of the kids and looking forward to start. The flight is booked for 3 August, just after the kids finish up their second term in Grades 7 and 9.”
For Raoul de Villiers and his wife the move to the Netherlands in 2016 was their third one in a year! They’d left South Africa for Vienna, Austria in October 2015 where Atterbury Europe was initially set up, and then last year they packed everything up again and relocated to Holland. Although they loved the cultural richness of Vienna and the spectacular beauty of Austria, they’ve settled into the suburb of Heemstede, just outside Amsterdam with ease, he says. “There’s a lot of space, and grachte (canals) around us. People are friendly: our neighbours brought us gifts when we moved in and we’ve invited them for a braai the next time the sun comes out… which isn’t very often!
Not having the day-to-day contact with colleagues makes working in a foreign territory really challenging, says Raoul, who admits that being the only South Africans for the first year was tough. That’s why he is delighted that a little Atterbury community is being created in Holland. They see each other outside of work, and he invited his Atterbury pals over for a braai just the other day because spring is in the air, he tells us. ‘The boerewors was locally made and not bad at all!”
Henk agrees, and adds that the back-and-forth travelling over the past three years has at times felt as if he was living two separate lives. “It is bizarre! I would literally watch school athletics at a stadium in Oos-Moot in Pretoria, and the next evening be out for dinner in Serbia speaking to someone about a multimillion Euro deal through an interpreter!”
He is really looking forward to having his family close by and not to “reconnect” every time he gets back home. “The trip to Serbia is 10 hours shorter from Amsterdam than from Johannesburg!”
Can you share an anecdote of culture shock?
Henk: I must admit, there are not many Dutch culture shocks; it’s a really “soft” landing for South Africans. Oh, except for the cyclists – there are way too many of them and they ride like mad, ringing their bells all the time as if that solves the problem!
Raoul: I distinctly remember my first trip to the grocery store in Austria. The stress began when you had to pack your own bags at the till point. There is an art to packing the bags quickly enough as the teller scans, with no-one there to help, like back home… If the groceries start piling up, the teller just keeps them coming and you end up with three other people’s groceries mixed with yours, which can be really awkward!
What have you enjoyed more than you anticipated about this overseas experience?
Raoul: The “adventure” part. Like many others, we’ve always wanted to explore the world and feel what it’s like to live abroad. This has given us that opportunity and we capitalise on it every chance we get.
Henk: The travelling is mostly good fun, because we are an excellent group of people together. I enjoy all the different people and cultures we meet, and realising we are not all that different.
How is your Dutch? Do you find it easy to communicate?
Henk: My Dutch is nonexistent, but after a week in the Netherlands, I already find it much easier to follow. The language is a fascinating connection – Afrikaans and a sure winner to start any conversation. My kids will have Dutch at school, so I’m keen to learn to speak some of it.
Raoul: Dutch is so much easier than German if you speak Afrikaans! After a year in Austria we mastered only basic German, but now we already understand about 70% of what people say. It makes communication a lot easier – we must just be careful not to use some words that have completely different meanings over here!
What truly South African item did you bring with you?
Raoul: Marina Braai Salt, All Gold tomato sauce and a rugby ball.
Henk: I will be importing most of my wine cellar, and if I run out, I have a contact already that can import SA wine. Raoul found a boerewors contact, so we are sorted with boerewors rolls and SA red wine.
Next month we’ll catch up with the rest of the Atterbury Europe team