They do perhaps the most elusive work at NOM: the acquisition team, which warms up (inter)national companies to establish themselves in the Northern Netherlands. Three colleagues give an insight into the job they are so enthusiastic about. The fact that not everything works out is what makes our work interesting. We remain fully committed to everything that will strengthen and boost our region.
Unknown makes unloved. The acquisition team is well aware of this. Because turn it around: where does a Northern Dutch entrepreneur end up when he or she is looking for a foreign business location? Exactly, with the most well-known cities and regions of the country in question. The same goes for companies looking for a place in Europe. If they already look specifically at the Netherlands, then the Randstad comes to mind. 'Or Amsterdam region, as many foreign entrepreneurs call it,' says Annefloor Wilke, the junior of the acquisition team. She understands. 'During my college years in Groningen, I was convinced myself: the Randstad is where it happens! I wanted to leave here, until I discovered how much beauty is going on in the northern Netherlands.'
After her studies - which she did partly abroad - Annefloor chose Groningen after all. At NOM she is committed to the opposite movement: not leaving the northern Netherlands, but bringing entrepreneurs here. 'The big challenge is to show that we exist and that more is possible in this region than you think,' says the enthusiastic project employee. In doing so, she likes to be inspired by her seven colleagues, including Gerard Lenstra and Wubbo Everts. These men know from their wealth of experience that for this work you especially need enthusiasm, lots of energy and a long breath. And you have to be able to deal with disappointments, because even after huge efforts, the best opportunities regularly fall through due to factors beyond the control of the acquisition team.
Northern Dutch perspective
'We turn every possible knob that we do have influence on,' say the gentlemen. That starts here in the Northern Netherlands itself, by talking to entrepreneurs and governments to find out what is needed. We want to strengthen the economy here, and if something is still missing for further innovation, we are happy to do our best to get the missing links here. We look at what is needed to do this and keep the big picture in view. It is up to us to rise above municipal and provincial interests and operate from the perspective of the Northern Netherlands. But also from the perspective of potential establishment candidates. We map out what is necessary and desirable for the companies we would like to have here. In that interplay, it is often a matter of balancing different interests'.
When all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and an acquisition succeeds, that's the best thing there is. 'But it doesn't work out more often than not,' the trio explains soberly. 'That's why this work is not for everyone. You have to be able to go for it again after every setback and accept that you cannot influence everything. Although we do try, of course. This work is always in the back of your mind, always asking yourself: do we have all the facets in view? Are we not overlooking anything? Especially in the final phase, when we have been working towards something for months or years and are working on the last details. Even if we have done everything right, it can still fall through. Sometimes at the craziest things: a partner who chooses a different location, funding from the parent company suddenly dropping out, or the central contact person taking on a different function.'
The other way around also occurs: that companies would like to come to the northern Netherlands, but the region is not really waiting for it. 'We look at economic factors such as employment and the realization of innovative chains. But we pay more attention than ever to sustainable and circular development. Ethical aspects and livability also come into play, because when you work on economic activity in this region it affects everything in society. We would like to bring companies here that really add value to the region, so we are critical of that. It requires us to know what is going on, in the region and elsewhere. We will not get anywhere with hot air, acquisitions must be clearly substantiated. Doing our homework properly is therefore essential in this work. And staying in tune with all the parties involved.
'When we have to deal with secrecy, the tuning is done very carefully and confidentially. For example, if large tech or publicly traded companies are doing exploratory research about settling in the Northern Netherlands. We use code names if something must not leak out. Even then it happens that we work for ages on large acquisitions that ultimately do not go through. No one hears anything about that. Our work is only news when it does go ahead. Incidentally, a process does not stop once a company has established itself here, the trio emphasizes. 'We have an Investor Relations program within NOM to keep a close eye on the developments surrounding successful acquisitions. Getting companies here is one thing, it's ultimately about a soft landing and connection with the regional economy.'
Speaking of connection: for Annefloor, Gerard and Wubbo, everything in their profession starts with good contacts. 'Networks are the breeding ground for acquisitions, so we put a lot of time and attention into building good relationships. Then we do so purposefully, each focusing on particular sectors. But chance also plays a significant role: which people and opportunities do you come across at trade fairs or other meetings? Corona has made the playing field both smaller and larger. You meet much less live, while online you have more opportunities. That seems more efficient, but the pitfall is that contacts remain fleeting in a sterile online environment. Connections often only come about when you experience something together and have real contact'.
'A good personal relationship is the basis for asking questions and creating opportunities,' the acquisition colleagues note. 'Many companies work through standard lists to arrive at a shortlist of possible business locations, even though these often include points that are less relevant to them. If you start talking about them, it turns out that the northern Netherlands is more likely to emerge as a suitable business location. Explorations are always a process of sounding out, thinking creatively and addressing any concerns. Americans, for example, worry about the fact that the Netherlands is so close to water. The decision factors are different for every acquisition. It is up to us to bring them to the surface and to respond properly. With everything that already exists in the region and with what we can still organize, of course.
The big picture
Are there any dream companies they would like to bring to the Northern Netherlands? 'Of course, but we're not going to name names,' says Wubbo. For Annefloor, it is important that there is a good mix between large and small. 'Because even an interesting startup can be valuable and drive new developments in the region.' To which Gerard adds, 'We look beyond the establishment of individual companies. It's about embedding in the big picture; about stimulating movements like you see in chains and on campuses. The philosophy behind every acquisition is that we strengthen, deepen and further develop the existing economic structure in the Northern Netherlands. The success of that, as a cog in the big picture, is what makes our profession so beautiful and interesting.
Staying distinctive with TopDutch
At the international level, the Dutch regions are structurally joining forces to put our country firmly on the map. For example, NOM - together with other development companies - is part of the Invest in Holland network, a valuable first entry point for foreign acquisitions. Still, it is important that the northern Netherlands continues to distinguish itself, to show that there is more than the Randstad. The TopDutch - so playfully launched years ago to excite Tesla - turns out to be a resounding brand name and stands for what we have to offer together in the northern region. Therefore, TopDutch - driven by the NOM - will soon be used more actively again for surprising forms of promotion and acquisition.