10 Dutch business tycoons
You think The Netherlands sells cheese, tulips and wooden shoes? Think again. The biggest Dutch tycoons have made their money from clothing, vodka, television shows, Venetian blinds and tanning beds. Special thanks to our colleagues from Quote magazine for their elaborate calculations of each person’s net worth, as found in their annual national rich list Quote 500.
1. Erik Brenninkmeijer and family
Est. wealth: €22 billion
The richest family of the Netherlands is also one of the most mysterious. The Brenninkmeijers, owners of fashion chain C&A, hardly ever give interviews and their company is extremely stingy with information. We do know, though, that most of their wealth is earned abroad. The success story of this catholic clan started in 1841 in the Frisian town of Sneek, where brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer founded a small textiles business. Nowadays, C&A is one of the largest privately owned retail chains in the world, with 36,000 employees who work in over 1,400 stores, only 130 of which are in Holland. Germany is by far the largest market for C&A with nearly 500 shops. Other key countries include Belgium (136 outlets), Austria (also 136), Spain (125) and France (122).
The chain’s headquarters is based in the ever so discrete – and fiscally attractive – Swiss canton of Zug, so no one really knows how much money the Brenninkmeijers make. Apart from total sales (€6.6 billion in 2010), their company doesn’t publish any figures. The highest boss of the family empire is 55-year old Erik Brenninkmeijer, who also lives in Zug, in a surprisingly modest chalet.
Apart from C&A, the family controls a variety of investments, ranging from Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and German solar energy company Q-Cells to DenMat, the biggest supplier of products for dentists in the US. And then there’s their vast real estate portfolio, which comprises over 5 million square metres of prime retail space at top locations throughout Europe and Asia. The buildings are estimated to be worth over € 7 billion and, reportedly, none of the properties is mortgaged. Even if the family took out a mortgage, they could still earn money from it, as the Brenninkmeijers also own their own bank. They’re that rich.
2 Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken
Est. wealth: €5 billion
Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken (57) is the only heir to the Heineken empire. She has a stake of nearly 25 percent of the beer behemoth. Heineken is arguably the most successful Dutch brand internationally. Thirsty drinkers around the world are willing to pay premium prices for the recognizable green bottles and cans, which is quite a feat considering that 92 percent of beer consists of water and most people don’t even recognize their own favorite brand in blind tastings. Only a small fraction of Heineken’s annual production of 146 million hectolitres (including brands such as Moretti, Sol, Murphy’s and Sagres) is consumed in The Netherlands.
3 Frits Goldschmeding
Frits Goldschmeding (78) is often nicknamed ‘the patriarch of temporary employment’. In 1960 he founded temporary staffing-agency Randstad, which has grown into the second largest HR company in the world, after Adecco. Every day, more than half a million people in over 40 countries are employed through Randstad. In 2010, the company reported over €14 billion in revenues, four-fifths of which is generated outside Holland, mainly in France, Germany and the United States. Goldschmeding is officially retired and no longer involved with Randstad’s daily operations, but he still owns 33 percent of the company.
4 John de Mol
John de Mol (56) is the front man for one of Holland’s biggest export products: television show formats. He’s the creative brain behind programs such as Fear Factor, Deal or No Deal and, most notably, Big Brother, the show that set off the global reality TV craze that still lingers on. De Mol became a billionaire when he sold his production company, Endemol, to Spanish phone company Telefónica at the height of the internet craze in 2000. Now, hundreds of millions more are coming in as his new media company, Talpa, is selling the rights to its talent hunt format The Voice of… to xx countries around the world.
5 Ralph Sonnenberg
Ralph Sonnenberg (77) owns close to 80 percent of Hunter Douglas, the world market leader in blinds and other window coverings. His father, Henry Sonnenberg, started the business back in 1919 and struck it rich when he invented a new – much cheaper – way of producing aluminium slats for Venetian blinds. Hunter Douglas is based in Rotterdam but nearly two thirds of its production of curtains, blinds and window shutters (roughly € 2.5 billion annually) is sold outside of Europe. Sonnenberg has been CEO of the company since 1971, but doesn’t even think of retiring. He once said he intends to be boss until his 90th birthday.
6 Carel Nolet and family
The Nolet family has been in the distilling business since 1691, but in the first three centuries they mainly produced jenever, the Dutch national grain spirit. In the eighties, tenth generation owner Carel Nolet (70) introduced Ketel One Vodka in the United States. It became a huge success: in 2008, beverage behemoth Diageo (Smirnoff, Baileys, Guinness) paid $900 million to become the world’s exclusive distributor of Ketel One Vodka.
7 Alfred Balm
Alfred Balm (75) was born in Holland, but now lives in Calgary, where he owns the biggest house in the city. His company, Emergo, is involved in real estate, air transportation, oil exploration and financial services. Never heard of him? That’s exactly the way he likes it. Emergo’s website doesn’t list a phone number, just the phrase: ‘Don’t call us, we’ll find you.’
8 Koos van Oord and family
Koos van Oord (64), together with his family, owns 78.5 percent of Van Oord, one of the largest dredging and marine contracting companies in the world. Van Oord built part of Holland’s famous Delta Works, but its more recent claims to fame can be found in Dubai: the artificial archipelagoes, Palm Jumeirah and The World. In 2010, Van Oord reported a net profit of €165 million.
9 Pieter Heerema
In 1948, Pieter Schelte Heerema founded a small construction company servicing oil platforms off the coast of Venezuela. His son Pieter Heerema junior (60) now owns and heads the Heerema Group, one of the largest global contractors for the offshore oil and gas industry. Despite the slump in oil prices, the business proved quite lucrative in 2010: net profit amounted to € 94 million.
10 Wim van der Leegte
Machinery, buses and semi-finished products
Even though most people in Holland have never heard of the company, VDL Group is one of the country’s most prominent industrial conglomerates, comprising 79 companies in 16 countries. Its 7,700 employees produce a wide range of products, including cigar-making machines, public transport buses, sunbeds and metal parts for the petrochemical industry. Owner and CEO Wim van der Leegte (64) oversees it all from his headquarters in Eindhoven.