Nirint Shipping B.V.: Lifeblood (English version)
In the section Going Into The Opposite Direction Quality Mark granted to… attention is paid to companies, organizations and institutions that have placed their logos on the Spookrijden.nu. blog
The next “Going Into The Opposite Direction Quality Mark” goes to… NIRINT SHIPPING!
Hennie Huigen (Director)
Nirint Shipping B.V.
Specialist in the liner shipping industry from Western Europe to the Caribbean, Canada and Asia and vice versa
A conversation with a diehard Feyenoord and Bruce Springsteen fan. It goes automatically and makes life as calm as the rippling coastal waters of the Bahía de la Habana while the sun goes down and people enjoy a glass of Santiago de Cuba rum. You only have to close your eyes to hear the sound of Dos Gardenias of the Buena Vista Social Club nearby, even though you are in the office building of Nirint Shipping. In Barendrecht, the Netherlands.
‘Hennie, it was January 5th 2018. The last time my father was in De Kuip. We had had a coffee at De Brasserie, my brother was paying. When my brother was helping my dad putting his coat on, the barman could see that my father was not well. “He has Alzheimer’s”, I said, “this is his last visit to De Kuip. After this, we will be taking him to a healthcare institution and he himself is not aware of any of it.” Then the barman asked if we wanted to see the pitch one last time with my father. We crossed the glass catwalk of the Maasgebouw building and walked to a business unit. That was your unit Hennie… right on the midfield line…’
It quietens down in Hennie’s room.
‘I never knew that, man’, Hennie says, after which he remains silent again.
Fathers. Sons. Feyenoord. Bruce Springsteen. Rotterdam. Cuba… Lifeblood.
‘My father was born in 1903. He was 22 years older than my mother, his second wife, with whom he was madly in love. He left everything behind to his ex and built a new life with my mother shortly after the war. They were both hard workers. My father had a carpenter’s business and my mother made some extra money as a cleaner. We did not have much, although my sister and I lacked for nothing. When I needed football shoes, I would get them. “Don’t tell your mother”, my father would say, “hide them first for a bit…”
Responsible for Hennie’s upbringing and his love for lifeblood Feyenoord, his name is Henk Huigen. With a big wink, he calls his father the first Feyenoord hooligan:
‘If anyone dared to say anything bad about Coen Moulijn, he would lash out at them ha ha ha. He could not bear it. Coen was his big hero. On May 6th 1970 he was there. In Milan. When we won the European Cup Final. Against Celtic. He went there all by himself. By train. I can still see him coming home two days later. All smiles as if he had personally won the European Cup Final. He was so happy! And so proud. I will never forget that face. A month later he had his first stroke and two years later he died. He was 69. I was fourteen.’
As an adolescent, Hennie was not exactly the academic type. He did not care for it one bit. He tackles his, in his view, dead-end life on the football pitch. Hennie appears to be talented.
‘I made it to the first of Neptunus and Xerxes: two major powers in the Rotterdam amateur football of the seventies and eighties. I was central midfielder, number ten. I had a wonderful time and was educated in the school of hard knocks. Back then, there was a far stricter hierarchy than now. As a seventeen-year-old rookie you had to know your place in the dressing room. At the first training I accidently sat down in the captain’s chair. Without saying a word, he threw my bag and clothes in the shower just like that. That’s how things went in those days. Really tough. But once you had managed to secure your position…’
As a nineteen-year-old, Hennie has an unassuming job at Incotrans. He leads a carefree but boring existence, to use his own words. He likes a pint, but would not call himself a famous boozer. He is not in a steady relationship. And his father… he misses his father’s hand that ought to have pointed him in the right direction. An on the face of it innocent trip to America inadvertently changes the course of his life drastically:
‘In 1976 I went for a holiday to Florida with a mate. As football lovers we spontaneously went to a game of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Well, that was not of an impressive level. I thought to myself I can do that too. So, after the game I waited in the parking lot for the General Manager of the Strikers. Did I give the guy a fright ha ha ha! He thought he was being robbed. Anyway, he let me come back for a trial. And that is what I did. The legendary George Best also played for the Strikers. I remember that the training sessions were very physical. We had to do horse-and-rider walking over the width of the pitch. Three times straight off. Unfortunately, in ’77 they didn’t take as many photos as today, but believe me or not, it really happened that a 21-year-old Hennie Huigen from the Schinkelstraat Rotterdam-Kralingen was pacing up and down the Fort Lauderdale Strikers football pitch with George Best on his back ha ha ha…’
Back in Rotterdam his conspicuous journey to the USA was noted by no less than Willem van ’t Wout, every inch a Rotterdammer and an influential entrepreneur in the Rotterdam port area, a prominent Feyenoord fan and, moreover, involved in football club Xerxes where Hennie was playing at the time:
‘”At such a young age on your own to America. You’ve got balls kiddo. I like that. I have a job for you at Niref / Greendown Holland. Nickel. We trade in it. Ever heard of it?” That’s how I entered the nickel trade. I started as chief coffee maker, chief mail room employee and chief copier ha ha ha. Factotum. Cabin boy. At Niref I learned the trade the hard way. No buttering up. Rigorous. Direct in the Rotterdam way. You know what I mean.’
It’s hard to believe in 2021, but there is nothing left of that steely upbringing and education in his way of acting. Hennie is quiet and kindness itself, stating that he is not afraid to be firm at work (“only when it is really necessary”) but prefers to call it clarity. At home it is a different story. He calls his four children his Achilles heel.
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‘You and I both intensely love Bruce Springsteen’s music. Primarily it’s his voice, his music, of course. But as a human being too, Springsteen is a source of inspiration to me. As a son… and as a father, as an educator. He seems such a kind person, so approachable. He too had a strict father who showed his feelings of pride and love in a somewhat uhm… peculiar manner. He does it differently with his children. Me too.’
Giving a description of our shared hero and lifeblood Bruce Springsteen, Hennie describes himself. Open, kind, approachable. Not a grain of arrogance, and Hennie and Bruce also share their elegant degree of vanity. They like to look good. The laughter of them both is as captivating as it is irresistible.
We talk about his career. Driven by Bruce Springsteen, especially his work ethic, Hennie climbs rapidly in his career. In his first ten years at Niref he learns everything about the trade. All this is in professional jargon – the author speaks from his own personal experience – comprehensively called the handling. The handling includes receiving customers, negotiating, making coffee, hedging foreign currencies, the logistics, the accounts (daily reporting of accounts payable to the boss), communication, stock management, contract management, stocking office supplies, making hotel reservations, listening, looking, remaining silent, learning, observing. Day in day out. Day in day out. Day in day out.
‘There was a lot of nickel being imported from Cuba. In order to exercise better control of the logistics, we decided to charter a small ship. Once a month. This is how the Havana-Rotterdam connection came into being. I immediately fell in love with Cuba.’
Partly through Nirint of Willem van ‘t Wout and Hennie Huigen, you can still see the famous RET buses driving up and down the streets of Havana, where local public transport authorities could not be bothered to remove the original route numbers (76), destination (Zuidplein) or advertisements from the former Rotterdam local buses.
‘Many customers in the Netherlands appeared to be looking for a reliable logistics partner in Cuba. This resulted in a roundtrip in which we called in at several ports. Instead of agencies, we entered into joint ventures in other ports. Nirint opened its first office in Bilbao. Fantastic people, those Basques. Mega stubborn, proud, pure, chauvinistic and direct. Bilbao is Rotterdam and Athletic Club is Feyenoord, believe me. In Montreal we opened an office with the Lebanese Canadian entrepreneur Elias Hage. Together we ended up doing extensive negotiations with the native inhabitants of Quebec, called Innu, talk about a proud people… We set up a joint venture that was called Nirinnu. We negotiated with the Innu about constructing a railway. Believe me, you had to come with a really good story then, otherwise you would not get as far as hitting a nail for the first railway sleeper. We nailed it, by the way. After that, offices in Beijing and Antwerp followed, where I spent enjoyable evenings with Kenji Kubo, our man there. He has a Japanese father and a Belgian mother. Believe me, that guy is a book in itself…’
Hennie Huigen is a man of the world, someone who converted his natural shyness into charm, class and good taste. He copes with disappointments in the way he learnt from his father: stop nagging boy. Get on with it. In the Rotterdam way. Lifeblood.
‘I am very alert when it comes to our corporate culture. What does that mean? Well, going the extra mile for your clients. Never say no. Transmitting respect and charm. There is no real vocational training for international trading. Above all, you must sense things. Sincerely wanting to help people, customers. That helping is often underestimated.’
Currently 25 people are employed in his spacious office in Barendrecht, the Netherlands, and another 15 in Havana.
After the world was forced to take a break because of Corona, Hennie cannot wait to get on the plane again. His first destination will definitely be Cuba, his second homeland.
‘The people, the culture, the music, the climate. The pace of life is considerably slower, which is something you have to accept. But the hospitality… unprecedented. All our people have a company car and a mobile phone from the company in their pockets. In the evenings and the weekends, these are easily shared with neighbours. We cannot imagine anything like that anymore. In Cuba we do much more than trading alone. We regularly host delegations from Rotterdam in Cuba and try to do something in the field of sports there. With Robert Eenhoorn, a true legend over there, make no mistake, our local hero Frank Vijg and Frans van der Heijde Jr. we took the Rotterdam baseball school Unicorns to Cuba for a baseball clinic, followed by a memorable dinner with the mayor of Havana. And the cooperation between Nirint and Feyenoord also resulted in football clinics in Havana led by Gido Vader with Pierre van Hooijdonk, Mike Obiku, Uli van Gobbel and Robin Nelisse as the most important coaches. Unforgettable journeys, I can still see the cheerful faces…’
And on we go… One story leads to yet another. Still more Feyenoord (“the hurt caused by the club has become pure shame”), still more Bruce Springsteen (“I drove my car right into a lamppost and that was because of Bruce’s Mona / She’s the One, I had completely lost myself in the song… By the way, do you know the performance at Winterland ’78?”), still more Gerard Baks (“talking about real genuine people”), still more Rotterdam (“somehow we owe everything to this city”), still more fathers (“would they be proud of us?”) and, finally, still more love (“my wife’s name is Romana… and she is more than my wife… she has been my rock and my refuge pulling me through the tough times… something Feyenoord, Bruce, Rotterdam and Cuba together couldn’t have managed”)…
I am thirsting for more.
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