Huddle is an exciting example of an innovative Australian company building commercial links between Australia and the Netherlands.

The Melbourne-based firm specialises in human-centred design and organisational transformation, and counts big Australian corporates like Telstra and Westpac among its customers.

Growing from around 15 staff eight years ago to 50 today, the company now boasts a dozen-strong team in Amsterdam.

“About two years ago we started working on digital transformation projects with ING Bank’s head office in the Netherlands, who are probably leading the charge in Europe in terms of the way they approach banking in the future,” says Managing Director Mr Paul

Having a big Dutch client on board accelerated Huddle’s European expansion, but was not the sole factor driving the company overseas.

“In our world where we deal with empathy, although Australia is catching up, we’re not at the same level of understanding or maturity as Europe yet,” Mr Fairhead says.

“We were always going to outgrow Australia.”

“We wanted to be on continental Europe, rather than base ourselves in London like most Australian companies,” Mr Fairhead notes. “Amsterdam was the city that stood out, being very bilingual, with a great awareness of Australia and a great relationship between our two countries.”

“Working in Amsterdam, we like being there; it’s a cultural fit and we have been able to attract a lot of really good talent because of the people who gravitate there,” Mr Fairhead says. “It’s also a very developed country in terms of thinking about the future – just look at their policies around energy or their approach to rehabilitation over incarceration.”

Once the decision was made, Mr Fairhead notes that the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) greatly eased the process of setting up in the country.

“We had a few problems initially, but a lot of that was because we didn’t know agencies like the NFIA existed,” he says. “Once we became aware of them, the help they gave us has been phenomenal in terms of guiding us through the legal and corporate system in the Netherlands, and introducing us to great contacts.”

“I wish we had some of the services they offered us there here in Australia,” Mr Fairhead adds. Mr Fairhead urges Australian companies looking to make the jump to Europe to put the Netherlands on their radar.

“Companies like to go to bigger, more traditional places because of the kudos that comes from an office in London or New York, and a lot of Australian companies think that the UK is where they should be by virtue of history,” he acknowledges.

“But if you’re looking for an ideal pad for your European operations, just the ease of everything in the Netherlands, the ease of travel, you can’t beat it,” he says.

First published on pages 14-15 of Autumn 2017 International Business Today. 

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