“There are very few places where you will find such a globally-minded and innovative service cluster,” he says. “In the Netherlands, the service sector represents 70 percent of GDP, and the situation in the Amsterdam Area reflects this.”

Innovation Nation

At the heart of the business services cluster in the Amsterdam Area are the national offices of KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Employing over 4,500, PricewaterhouseCoopers has many top Dutch and international companies as clients. Swaak says that his office – one of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 130 country offices – has a reputation for innovation. “For example, employees in our accounting department are involved in developing new International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS),” he says.

Neutral Outlook

He notes that the Amsterdam Area has many attractions for individuals, as well as corporations. “This is a tremendous advantage for us as an employer,” he says. “Plus, the quality of education and training is excellent here. Schools and institutions often work closely with universities and colleges abroad.” Another selling point is that the Netherlands is perceived as politically and culturally neutral by the rest of Europe. “This cultural neutrality arguably matters more in our sector than in others,” says Robert Swaak. “In a globalising economy, companies are confronted with more and more international legislation, which leads to misunderstandings. Having one foot planted in English traditions and the other in our own Western European cultural history enables us to mediate effectively.”

Open Networks

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area offers another plus for service providers: networks are relatively open and casual. “In the service sector, a lot of contracts depend on relationships based on trust,” says Swaak. “During the time I spent working abroad, I realised how important it is for you to know the right people.”

He points out that in the Netherlands, such relationships are characterised by transparency: “It is not a secret club that is off-limits to newcomers,” he says. “Quite the opposite: if you have a good pitch and can convince others, you will be accepted as one of the local ‘Amsterdammers’ in no time.”

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