Plain speaking in Amsterdam
International sales a natural fit for company that serves pharmaceutical industry
- September 29, 2011
Derek Duncan of Lighthouse Instruments finds the Dutch business culture slightly different from other European countries. “The Dutch appreciate plain speaking above all else,” he says. “They are very direct, unlike the British, for example.”
Duncan, general manager of the company’s European operations, began working for Lighthouse in 2003 after moving to Amsterdam. The Albemarle County-based company manufactures test and measurement equipment for the pharmaceutical industry. It established Lighthouse BV (its European arm) in Amsterdam in 2010 and currently has three employees in Europe, two in Amsterdam and a salesman in London.
When they first met, Duncan and Lighthouse founder Jim Veale were graduate students at the University of Virginia. Veale was looking at locations in Europe where he could open an office when Duncan moved to Amsterdam. “It was a natural fit,” Veale says. “The office in Amsterdam gives us the flexibility to initiate contracts to our European customers. We can do everything in a country’s currency, which helps us manage the risk of fluctuations in exchange rates.”
Lighthouse Instruments began selling to Europe in 2004. In 2005, it expanded into Asia with an initial focus on Japan. Since then, international sales have doubled every three years. Today, 40 percent of the company’s sales are international. The remaining 60 percent are domestic. “We have a lot of customers in Italy, Germany and France,” Veale says.
Veale’s decision to open the Amsterdam office was driven by the European pharmaceutical market. “We had been presenting papers at conferences attended by people in the European pharmaceutical community. The U.S. and the European and Japanese markets are the most advanced in the world,” he says. “It was a natural expansion.”
The same scenario led the company to Asia where Lighthouse had received inquiries from distributors. The company recently started to sell to China and India. “We think [they] will be the biggest markets over the long term,” says Veale. That’s because both countries have less developed pharmaceutical markets and regulatory infrastructures. “They are now developing and exporting to Europe and the U.S., so it’s more of a market for us.”
Living in Amsterdam has been a plus for Duncan when it comes to learning about the business culture. It’s important to be seen as unpretentious, he says, in dealings with the people. “The Dutch are not hierarchical at all. The lowest guy on the totem pole gets to speak his views for input into a decision. This is unlike the Germans or French where the boss is the boss.”
The Dutch also have a strong separation between work and their private lives. “When they are at work, they work diligently,” Duncan says. “When they are off work, they are off.”
Veale enjoys visiting Amsterdam because of its “energy” and its abundance of museums and good restaurants. “The Dutch are nice people,” he says. “I feel very comfortable there.”
Visitors to Amsterdam often use the Canal Bus to crisscross the city. Attractions include the Van Gogh Museum with the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s artworks in the world and the Anne Frank House where the famous teen hid with her family from the Nazis. The city’s Negen Straatjes district features shops and cafes. The Albert Cuyp Market, one of Amsterdam’s busiest, is packed with more than 250 merchants selling items ranging from fresh produce to shoes. Gassan Diamonds gives visitors the chance to watch diamond cutters at work and to participate in a free tour of the cutting and polishing process.
The city’s economy
Amsterdam, The Netherlands capital, is a leading trade center. The area has many technology-related startups such as Layar. It offers the largest open platform for mobile augmented reality, which sends location-based information to smart phones, and 22tracks, a web-based jukebox. Other vital sectors of the economy include the oil and gas industry in the North Sea as well as financial, manufacturing and business services industries. One of Europe’s major financial centers, Amsterdam is home to the offices of more than 70 banks and financial companies. Companies with a headquarters in the city include Coster Diamonds and Royal Asscher Diamond Co. as well as Congrex, a large events management firm.
Where to stay
Amsterdam has a variety of options for visitors. One of the city’s newer hotels is Mint Hotel Amsterdam, adjacent to the Amsterdam central train station. The 533-room property offers complimentary Wi-Fi and an Apple iMac TV and computer in each room. Other popular properties include the five-star Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, built in 1578 and furnished in French grandeur, and Hotel Pulitzer, which overlooks two canals in the city and is made up of 25 17th- and 18th-century canal houses. Despite its historic heritage, the hotel offers Wi-Fi and modern amenities as well as a modern gym.