Robin Martens' first contact with Romania was in the early 90s, when he worked on the master plan for the port of Constanta. He has seen how doing business was in Romania back then and upon his return in 2001, he started to see the step-by-step changes. He has talked to Romania Insider about the things that shaped his life and about the principles he applies in business and in life.
By Corina Saceanu
When Robin Martens was 10 years old, he used to navigate the seas with his father and their ship crew for one or two weeks. He used to do small chores on the ship and mingle with the multinational crew. But his first ever job was to pick tomatoes, when he was a young boy, from 5 in the morning to noon, during summers.
“I come from a shipping family. In those days, people were away for months, my father was away for ten months a year” he says. His father was a captain, coming from a family with a tradition in shipping freight. Back in their hometown Rotterdam, this was an almost year-long job for some people.
But Robin hasn't chosen to navigate the seas, although he has stayed quite close to the area. He studied spatial economics and specialized in supply chain management. Logistics is his area of expertise.
Robin Martens, who is now the general manager of Archicom and a board member of the Netherlands – Romanian Chamber of Commerce, has first set foot to Romania in the early 90s.
“When I first came here, everything was literally dark in Bucharest,” he remembers.
His first project in Romania was related to the creation of a master plan for the port of Constanta. Doing business was different back then in Romania, but for those who had been working on projects in the Eastern European region, it was a bit easier.
“In 1991 we got a phone call from a company asking if we were interested to make a new master plan for the port of Constanta. We said yes and in the end, together with the support from the Dutch Embassy here in Bucharest, we created a solution for Romania to have the project financed on a larger part by the Dutch Government,” says Robin Martens.
Back then, the key difference, which is something he used to tell other Western Europeans, about doing business in Romania, was related to the abrupt shift from a fully controlled, centrally-governed system, to a free market, so nobody knew what to do and how to do it.
“It was a difficult situation. Then came a lot of people from abroad, and regretfully not always with a long term and transparent plan, with important objectives. Some Western entrepreneurs have used people and the system and left after a few years. People recognized it at a certain stage, became a bit evasive of more foreigners coming in,” says Robin Martens.
When the Constanta project was over, for a couple of years he has worked in the Netherlands, until he read a newspaper article in 2000 about another Dutchman who was involved into developing a small business park in the port of Constanta. The project in Constanta didn't happen, but in the end, the Dutchman asked Robin Martens to work together on a project for Romania. This was how he started his activity with Archicom.
Romania can become a logistics hub in Europe, but we're not there by far
“What I learned from my projects in the 90s is that if you look at Europe from a logistic points of view , than in the long run Romania has a very good position to gain a lot of economic activity from being on the right point on the map. But we're not there yet, not by far,” says Martens. He sees Romania as a future logistics hub of Europe.
He has been traveling back and forth to and from Romania since 2001. “I am more living in the airplane. I split my time between Amsterdam and Bucharest,” he says.
In Romania, Robin Martens has learned to be patient. One should always look at what they want to achieve, how they can use some of your international learnings and how they can apply those to the local situation. This applies anywhere, but it was not always applied by the foreigners in Romania, he goes on.
“And always listen first, appreciate where the other person is coming from, culturally wise, history wise, business and personal wise,” he says.
There are several principles Robin Martens applies in his life and business.
“Listen to the other, try to enhance the other one's view in what you want to propose, as a result from listening, focus on the actions, as opposed to talking always about the analysis phase, go to actions. Be practical. Keep positive relationships,” he says. Any market is a small market, so you will always encounter each other again at some point, so keep relationships on a positive track, even when you end them.
Focus on the strong points, he also says. His strong point is, in his perspective, the ability to combine the market view with the public view. “This is what I have been doing basically during my whole life.”
He sees himself as a logistics hub for information. When asked to help with information or a contact, even if he doesn't have the information at hand, he will search for it.
“We go by the rule that in business you share the information, you first build up trust in the other person, and it is because of this trust that you get hired for your core performance. So it all starts by giving. In the end you gain more. But you must have a long term orientation.”
With all the traveling, the projects with Archicom, his involvement in the Netherlands- Romanian Chamber of Commerce, Robin doesn't have too much free time. Even the time spent on plane is networking or work time for him. He likes to ask people what they expect from Romania, before their arrival in the country, and to check back their impression upon return, if they happen to meet again. In the majority of the cases, if the perception used to be negative upon arrival, it will be positive on return, says Robin Martens.