Royal Grolsch N.V.

Boy, experience is good. What am I talking about? Taking pictures. When arriving at a company's head office I instinctively whip out my camera and take pictures. Years of first hand experiences have taught me that even though its not raining when I arrive, it could be pouring rain 10 minutes later. My visit here is a classic example.

I arrive in Enschede, a city of 270,000, around 11:30 AM on a dark overcast day and have located the head offices of Grolsch, the 50th largest brewer of beer in Europe with 1998 revenues of 246 million Euros. I'm hungry for a snack and know I better grab something before the visit because one never knows how long the visit will last or if I'll get an invite to try the cafeteria food. Two blocks away I find a neighborhood bakery and purchase a tasty pastry. All of a sudden it starts pouring rain. Not a few sprinkles at first but, full on pouring. Jeez, do I pull out all my rain gear, do I wait to see if the rain subsides or do I make a mad dash sans rain gear? I put on the full gear.

Headquarters for Grolsch lies a five minute bike ride from the city center and it's a cinch to find-being located in a big brewery complex-the company's biggest. I enter the fenced-in facility and ride past the five story administration building to a nearby covered parking area reserved for bicycles.

The small lobby contains a glass display filled with various beers brewed by Grolsch. Near the front door stands an antique hand dolly along with an old piece of machinery used to drill holes in caskets. There's also a painting of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. Having a photograph or painting of the queen somewhere in a company's head office isn't unusual (many times it's in the boardroom). Matter of fact, I've seen it so many times (in other countries as well) I thought it was mandatory for companies to do so (it isn't). But, this is the first time I've seen the queen painted using water colors.

An assistant comes downs to the lobby and leads me up to the office of Cees Dubbeldam, Manager Internal and External Relations. Dubbeldam has stepped out of his office and the assistant says to have a seat. Aw jeez, this isn't going to be any fun because the room is filled with the stench of cigarettes. I have a low thresh hold for being stuck in a tobacco-filled room because I literally get a headache along with my eyes turning puffy and watery. Dubbeldam returns, we shake hands and he sits down whereupon he proceeds to hand-roll his own cigarette. Ugh!!!! What does one do? I've had to deal with this situation untold times over the last 10 years. I mean we've never met before, I'm in his castle (office) and he's been kind enough to meet with me even though I don't have an appointment. If I ask him to refrain from smoking it could sour the whole meeting and make him less interested in answering questions and showing me around. If Dubbeldam followed business etiquette he would have asked me if I minded before lighting up. Then again, if he had asked and I said "yes, I would appreciate you not smoking" it could alienate him towards me because he can't light up in his own domain (office). It's a lose, lose situation for me. I end up saying nothing.

Smoking aside, Dubbeldam is a super nice guy with a great sense of humor. Grolsch was established way back in 1615 and has been located in Enschede for over a 100 years. The five-story administration building was built in 1993 with about 200 people working here. Parking isn't a problem here, there're no recreational facilities on-site and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is an hour and a half drive away. A company museum with the usual beer paraphernalia is 20 miles away.

Did you know Holland is the world's largest exporter of beer? Most of that is due to rival Heineken. Grolsch may be small potatoes next to Heineken but, it has something it's much larger competitor lacks: the right to use "Royal" in its name. Here's how it was explained to me. Once a company has been in business for 100 years it's eligible to have the "royal" title bestowed on it by the queen. However, it's not only the length of time a company has been in business but also, how it has conducted itself over the years. Plus, it's limited to one company in any one industry having the title. For example, Royal KLM, the Dutch airline, has the title and any other Dutch airline is out of luck. Ditto in the supermarket field with food giant Royal Ahold having the name. So, pygmy Grolsch has squashed Heineken's chance at the title. Then again, would things change if Heineken were to buy Grolsch?

Dubbeldam invites me to lunch in the company cafeteria and on the way we pass the glass display in the lobby showing the different beers brewed. Some are specialty beers with some being named after people who never existed. Huh? Dubbeldam points to a bottle of Louis the 13th and says there was never a Louis the 13th. Getting to the cafeteria involves trekking over to another building. It's still pouring rain so umbrellas are in order. My lunch consists of a beef steak patty, Coke and strawberry yogurt. The verdict? So-so. For safety reasons beer isn't served during work hours but, there's a bar set-up at one end of the cafeteria.

Employees receive three free crates of beer a month. Do employees have to lug the crates home? Nope, the company delivers them. On the way back to Dubbeldam's office we stop by the company store and I'm told pick out three T-shirts. Luckily Dubbeldam agrees to mail them home because I have zilch space on my bike.

The boardroom features an oval-shaped table and 13 drawings of the new brewery that will be built in a nearby town. J.T.P.M. Troch, Chairman of the Executive Board, occupies a middle office on the top floor. The view isn't much because of the heavy rain but the surrounding area is mostly residential. Besides an eight foot by 20 foot map of the world on a wall there's a TV/VCR, two family pictures, two Grolsch beer ads, no computer and several beer displays. You know, of all the dozens of brewers and soft drinks bottlers visited I can recall only one CEO having a small refrigerator/cooler next to his desk and that was at Cadbury Schweppes in London (of course I opened it to see whether it contained the brand of sodas they bottled-it did). Also hanging on a wall in Troch's office is the framed proclamation by Queen Beatrix in 1995 bestowing royal status on Grolsch.

Oh, and about the picture which accompanies this story-it was taken across the street from the brewery-minutes before the downpour.