America’s leadership position is weakening, the country is technically bankrupt and the economic focus is shifting more quickly than expected to Asia. The crisis is precipitating major relationship changes in the world. And what’s the Netherlands doing?Waiting and watching, says Rien T. Segers in his most recent book, Nederland na de crisis [The Netherlands after the crisis].‘We’re in danger of becoming a second-string country.’
‘The Netherlands has no strategy for the future’, states Segers, professor of corporate culture at the University of Groningen. ‘Politicians are irresolute and the business world too tentative.’ The Netherlands is stuck, says Segers. Both politics and business are underestimating the gravity of the crisis and the fundamental shifts taking place in the world.
Segers, who is also director of the Center for Japanese Studies of the University of Groningen, analyses the shifting balance of power and economic power in his book and describes the role that the Netherlands could fill in the future. Segers spent a year in Asia in preparation for his book and was also a guest professor at the University of Princeton in the US.
‘No other country is as “Americanized” as the Netherlands’, claims Segers. ‘That’s clear from TV programmes and our vocabulary. This trend is strongest where it’s least visible, however – in our corporate culture. This has completely shifted towards the Anglo-American model where shareholder value takes centre stage. That’s had a crippling influence on our businesses.’
The concentration on profit margins in American corporate culture forces managers to take radical measures and cut personnel in reaction to even a minor decline in the results, clarifies Segers. And that sort of behaviour is diametrically opposed to the original Dutch corporate culture, which the professor describes as the Rhineland model, and which concentrates more on shared leadership, solidarity and community feeling.
‘That American corporate culture has to be thrown out’, states Segers. ‘Ego capitalism is detrimental to the power and position of Dutch businesses.’
At the same time, we should be turning our eyes towards the East, declares Segers: ‘There are clear parallels with thirty or so years ago, when we were blind to the rise of Japanese industry – no-one foresaw the success of the Japanese. We’re now standing at a similar threshold, a second Asian wave is on its way. And this one is going to be much stronger than the Japanese wave was. I’m thinking in terms of innovation, productive power, market dominance and the haemorrhaging of jobs. It’s the result of the combined power of a group of countries.’
It’s precisely the open Dutch economy and the previously mentioned Rhineland Model, which dovetails with the Asian corporate culture, that create opportunities for the Netherlands to respond to the changing situation, states Segers. ‘Sadly no-one seems to be aware of this’, says the professor. ‘Trade missions are sent to China and every city worth its salt has a sister city in an Asian country, but there is no national approach. That is a direct concern.’
If we do not change course, the Netherlands will not be able to maintain its current prominent position and will become one of the B-category countries. That’s why the links with strong Asian countries and their businesses must be strengthened. More Dutch enterprises must strike deals with Asiatic companies. In addition, the Netherlands should breathe new life into what’s become the hollow phrase ‘The gateway to Europe’ by attracting new Asian businesses here on a large scale, before other countries do so.
Segers refers to the old Rhineland Model in this context as ‘incredibly strong’ because it enables Dutch enterprises to operate successfully internationally. ‘It’s somewhere in between the American and the Asian models, but rather closer to the latter.
The hybrid Asian corporate culture with on the one hand major concentration on innovation and results and on the other discussion and national interests has strong similarities with the Rhineland Model. These similarities mean that we are in the ideal position to do business successfully internationally.’
‘Matters appear to be rather sombre’, Segers acknowledges, ‘but we’ve not missed the boat yet. We’re at a point in time when major developments are underway – the US is declining and Asia is emerging. Now is the time to thoroughly review the institutions and conventions of our society and Americanized corporate culture. We need a national strategy in our contacts with this Asianization. Time is running out, however. Although the twenty-first century may be Asia’s century, that doesn’t mean that the Netherlands can’t play a leading role.’
Prof. R.T. (Rien) Segers is professor of Corporate Culture at the Faculties of Arts and Economics and Business of the University of Groningen. He is also director of the Center for Japanese Studies of the University of Groningen. Segers has worked at universities in Europe, the United States and Asia. He has written many books about Asia as a socioeconomic power.
tel 050 363 7988 (w), 06 4639 3912 (m), email: m.t.m.segers rug.nl
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