Meet Frans Greidanus, former Head of Philips Research Asia and CTO Philips Asia. He is currently Heng Yi Chair Professor at the School of Management of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou China, economic advisor to Wuxi Municipality in Jiangsu China, a member of the Governing Board of the Foundation for the History of Technology, and until recently, advisor to the Board of the Technical University Eindhoven.
Frans studied physics and received his PhD from Leiden University in 1982. He joined Philips in the same year, and continued working there until his retirement in 2013. In 2011, he received the prestigious Shanghai Golden Magnolia Award for his contributions to Shanghai’s economic and social development. He now lives with his wife in Oisterwijk, just a few kilometers from Eindhoven.
We are sitting and talking over coffee at the Grand Café on the High Tech Campus (The Colour Kitchen). The café is buzzing with energy even in the middle of the morning, and the refreshing view that it affords of the artificial lake with the sunlight sparkling on the water adds to the effect.
Despite having such a long and prestigious career, I find Frans to be quite unassuming and down to earth. And since he has lived abroad in two other countries, we soon find that we have some things in common to talk about.
When Frans came to Eindhoven in 1982, things were very different from what they are today. He was particularly struck then by the omnipresence of Philips in the city. “It was still ‘Philips Town’ when I came here,” he recalls.
“Philips was everywhere. In every street lived somebody who worked for Philips.”
However, he also says that if you look closely, Philips’ influence still pervades the city. If you remember that companies like ASML, NXP, FEI, and parts of VDL that dominate Eindhoven’s economy today all used to be part of Philips, you realize that the roots are still there. “In a way, it’s still ‘Philips Town’, only the name has disappeared.”
The High Tech Campus is also different now from how he remembers it. He says that it used to be small, secluded, and difficult to gain access to. “It was kind of a reverse prison. It was easy to get out, but it was difficult to get in.” It’s hard to imagine the old version of the High Tech Campus now as we sip our coffee and gaze out over the water at the smartest square kilometer in the Netherlands.
I ask him about his experiences living in New York and Shanghai. He mentions some of the cultural differences that he became aware of while living abroad. For example, in the United States, he felt like there were fewer social obligations that what he’s used to in the Netherlands. “In Holland, you have all kinds of social obligations: Things you’re expected to do or not do, birthday parties you’re expected to go to – all kinds of things. In the U.S., nobody expected anything of you. [We] had more freedom in a way.” He says that even though he and his wife are not American, they still felt that they were truly a part of the American experience.
Frans says that in Shanghai, he was surprised at the degree of hospitality displayed by the Chinese people he met. “I don’t think I ever had a dinner on my own in the evening. I was always invited. People took me out – I was the guest,” he remembers, referring to his business trips to China before he moved there. This kind of welcoming behavior is not something Dutch people are likely to replicate towards foreigners, he admits. But he also acknowledges that it’s not necessarily that Dutch people don’t want to be hospitable – it’s just not “part of their thinking”. He believes that the Dutch often like to separate their private life from their professional life, and that eating dinner in the evening is part of the family’s private life. There is a benefit to that as well.
When I ask him if his experience living abroad has helped him to develop professionally, he responds emphatically with “Yeah, absolutely!” He says that before a person has experience living abroad (or working closely with internationals), they have certain preconceived notions about how things should be done. They tend to think that the way people work and make decisions is the same as it is in their home country. “Of course you kind of rationally know that that’s not the case, but in practice you think that everything’s the same.” Frans says that he first started really learning and noticing things about Eindhoven when he went to the United States. He realized that some things can be improved by doing things differently. The benefits of living abroad and gaining an international perspective are also manifested when foreigners come to live in a person’s home country.
“I think it’s very good that Eindhoven is becoming much more international […] the Dutch culture is becoming much richer.”
He believes not only that Eindhoven can benefit from contact between expats and locals, but that the whole country could benefit from more contact and exchange of ideas between cities and regions in the Netherlands. The universities in the Netherlands could also benefit from more communication and collaboration with each other. “All these small cities in Holland should not behave like they can conquer the world – they had better team up,” he argues. “They should be working together and not acting as competitors.”
Most of the successful global citizens of Eindhoven I’ve spoken to over the course of the interviews for the Global City Eindhoven event argue that one of the most important things for an expat living in Eindhoven to do is to try to integrate into Dutch society. Frans’s opinion on this is no different. But he offers internationals some practical and insightful advice. He thinks it’s extremely important try to understand the local culture. “And not only from a course [a textbook perspective], but to really try to understand it by interacting with people and looking around you.”
He doesn’t believe that expats should try to duplicate their known way of living in the host country. “You should be open to how people live here and maybe do things a little differently.” He also doesn’t think that an expat can ever truly take on a different nationality. Expats in Eindhoven will never truly become Dutch, in the same way that Frans will never become Chinese or American.
“But if you really want to benefit from the time you’re here, you have to live a little bit with the Dutch.”
Want to hear more? Come to the Global City Eindhoven event on October 2 to learn more about these and other topics and to participate in active panel discussions with Frans and other prominent global citizens of Eindhoven. For more information and to register (it’s free), visit http://globalcityeindhoven.com/.
Bottom-up enterprises such as Expat Spouses Initiative (http://expatspousesinitiative.org/) aim to achieve a more global future for Eindhoven by encouraging expats who follow their partners to the Netherlands to integrate more with the local community and to contribute to the growth of the local economy.
About the author: Kate Brunton is an American-born, English-, French-, and Dutch-speaking global citizen of Eindhoven. She recently graduated with a master of science in social psychology, and is a core member of the Expat Spouses Initiative team. She strongly identifies with the ideas and values at the heart of the organization. She also works for Startupbootcamp Smart Materials in marketing and communication. She loves writing and has enjoyed being able to share the stories of the Global City Eindhoven participants.
1) The Global City Eindhoven Event is organised by Expat Spouses Initiative.