Ten miles west of Amsterdam lies Haarlem, a canal-lined city
of 150,000. Harlem in New York City is named after this place.
That's definitely where the comparisons end though as this thriving
Dutch city features a beautiful and extensive Old Town center.
Riding several miles from the city center brings me to the 12-story
head office of VNU, a big-time publisher of newspapers and magazines
with 1998 revenues of $2.8 billion.Since there aren't many tall
structures in the area the building (built in the 1970's) stands
out. It also helps having the name "VNU" in big letters
atop the building.
The reception area is filled with all kinds of goodies which
lets one know right away that you're visiting a media company.
The most obvious being the shelve display filled with over 50
publications published by VNU. The company owns and publishes
Adweek, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter as well as Yellow
Pages directories and the Dutch version of several prominent
American magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Playboy. What's funny
is I guess I'm a typical male visitor. Why? Well, after checking
in with the receptionist I think most visitors walk over to the
magazine display and pick out a magazine to peruse. Being the
Neanderthal I am, I immediately go for the Playboy and plop down
on one of the four blue sofas. It's then I realize this is the
only magazine on the shelf with a piece of white paper taped
on the cover featuring hand written words in Dutch. I walk over
to the receptionist and ask what it says. It turns out the words
say "No Looking" as in "put the magazine back
on the rack". Jeez, all I wanted to do was to see if it
had a crossword puzzle.
On each sides of the lobby entrance doors are two sculptures.
One is of a man sitting on high stool chair reading a book and
the other is the same except it's a woman. A third sculpture,
placed on a two-foot tall marble pedestal, is of two men reading
a newspaper. Several eight-foot tall potted palm trees dress
up the lobby My wait isn't very long because earlier when identifying
myself to the receptionist, she immediately pulled out a copy
of my letter of introduction sent a month earlier to CEO Joep
Brentjens. In a few minutes I meeting with Hanneke van Leeuwen,
Deputy Director-Corporate Communications.
The building is in
the process of being renovated with several floors being done
at once which means only 120 employees are presently working
here. When completed, 400 will return. My visit is short and
seeing Leeuwen's office is the extent of my tour. It "isn't
possible" to see the CEO's office or boardroom and I ask
Leeuwen if she knows what the CEO's view is from his 8th floor
corner office. She answers, "I don't know" because
she's never been in it. Hmm, second-in-command of corporate communications
and never been in the office of the boss?
Why is VNU in Haarlam?
Leeuwen says Haarlem has been a center of Dutch publishing going
back to the 15th century. It's also a good location since it's
a three-minute drive to the nearest freeway and 15 minutes to
Though it's noontime I don't receive an invitation to try the
food in the cafeteria. If employees get tired of cafeteria food
they're lucky in having the entrance to an enclosed shopping
mall within 50 paces of VNU's front doors. I venture inside the
mall and pick up a grilled whole chicken from a vendor. Returning
outside I join locals sitting on benches near VNU's entrance
catching some rays and eating lunch. The tasty chicken rates
two thumbs up.