Manja hastened to her parent’s home as soon as the day broke in Utrecht. It had been another long and tiring trip but this time much easier caring for Stephanie with her brother to support her on the way. Berend had not been informative about her father’s condition so she was apprehensive about what she’d find on arrival. She’d leave Stephanie with her mother for the day in case there was anything at the office she could cover for her father. She was surprised to see her father Dirk Smit sitting in his favourite chair having a hot drink and scanning the papers while her mother Maria ran from the kitchen to welcome her daughter home. Everything looked normal and Manja wondered why the need for her to rush home. Maria kissed her daughter on both cheeks then picked up Stephanie expressing her joy at their return. Dirk got out of his chair slowly and beamed at his daughter. “Welcome home Princess I hope your trip back was not as taxing as your trip to Australia!”
Manja regarded him carefully. “I’m happy to see you again Dad but Berend said you wanted me back urgently. Have you received some bad news about your heart?”
“Only that the doctor said if I don’t detach myself from the stress of running the corporation my next attack could be final. Under Berend’s management we’ve been expanding further but because of the Weber family attack against our interests in Germany we have litigation to deal with affecting our subsidiary there and in Turkey and more powerful corporations in America and Asia are circling our corporation looking for a takeover. Fortunately, we’re not public listed on a stock exchange, but they have ways to interrupt our supply chain and cause us grief. We’ll talk about that when Berend arrives later, In the meantime you will eat breakfast with us and enjoy your Mother’s cooking again. You look very happy in spite of the long trip Manja, quite different to when you left. We were very worried about you. Now you are back you can take over from your sister in law and give her a break. She is sinking under the combined load.”
Manja thought about her brother’s evasive answers on the trip home and it looked like her father was not in a serious health condition. She moved over and kissed her father on both cheeks. “Dad, are you sure that’s the only reason you called me home?”
He laughed. “You are very perceptive daughter. Everything I just said is true but the urgency was to get you home so we could talk over your obvious infatuation with this man in Australia. Johann Kavel is his name according to Berend. You are precious to us and we are all recovering from the Weber experience. We had to pay him an enormous sum to get you out of that mess and send him on his way and his well-connected political family have not forgiven us and continue to harass our businesses. You’re the one who suffered the most so before you get involved with anyone else we need to be sure you’ll be loved and protected and happy. We don’t know this man and your interest happened suddenly. If he’s serious he will need to prove himself to us. I know you are an adult and can decide for yourself without our input but Manja please listen to us. We will find out if this man is worthy by seeing what happens now you are over here with us safely.”
“And how will you know that Dad?” The irritation in her voice caused him to look at her in surprise.
“Because we will be watching him there to see if he has other interests you don’t know about daughter!”
Manja was angry now. “He’s not that kind of man Dad. In all our travels together, he’s not laid a finger on me and he loves my daughter!”
“Yes, you are angry, and you have the right to ignore us and go to this man, but I ask you in love to let us test his sincerity first. If he maintains an honest interest in you alone over time then we’ll be happy to see you in the relationship of your choice. If he looks for another to place his affections on then we have saved you from a second disaster. We will talk more when Berend arrives. He’ll join us for breakfast and a family discussion and then we can go to the office together.”
Manja stood thinking. She was an adult and could make up her own mind who she associated with and the family had never questioned that. They’d been supportive during her disastrous marriage and she’d just learned from her father the family had paid Weber to leave and not trouble her anymore and she knew Weber family were attacking their interests in Europe. The family had all suffered because of her marriage. She sighed they were right. If Johann were to be her future happiness he’d prove his sincerity by making an effort to keep contact with her. After all he’d not only be taking on her but a child that was not his. He had her calling card and it was up to him now.
Maria Smit called them to the breakfast table as Berend entered the room looking sheepish. Manja went to his side and whispered in his ear. “You’re the sneakiest brother I’ve ever had!”
Berend looked guilty but was happy to see his sister smiling.
After breakfast Dirk, Berend and Manja retired to Dirk’s home office and took seats. Dirk launched into the history of their family business and his children’s eyes began to glaze over. They’d heard the story so many times now but out of respect they listened again. Their ancestors had been blacksmiths morphed into engineering then in the 1920’s manufacturing household goods with expansion into Germany where they had another factory. The 1930’s had taken them into the manufacture of electronic parts and then electronic finished products. Dirk’s grandfather had established roots in North America where they had assembly plants and wholesale operations for their finished products. He’d become very prosperous but having insight into the direction the Nazis were taking he sold his operations in Germany and when it became apparent Hitler’s aim was to control Europe he disposed of his other interests in Europe and moved with his wealth to America. Expanding operations there his manufacturing supported American war efforts in Europe to defeat Hitler. When Europe was liberated he returned to see if he could be of assistance to relatives who’d remained through the occupation or his former trusted employees. He was saddened at the devastation he saw on that trip and resolved to be part of the rescue plan for his country. Once again they set up business in Europe but this time the ageing patriarch placed it all under his son Dirk. The business had expanded under Dirk until it was widespread in Europe and his children had taken them into automated robotic led manufacturing.
Dirk turned to his son. “Have you tallied up the value of our investments Berend?”
“About a billion Euros at present Dad but the market is volatile and moves up and down.”
Dirk nodded. “Now have you researched where the Dutch populations are scattered around the world if we should decide to move out of Europe?”
Manja looked at her father in alarm. “Why are you researching that Dad?”
“Europe is changing and not for the better. Our factories are serviced by all kind of people who are not of our culture. We employ a lot of legal immigrants and they are good at their work, but we’re being swamped with illegal immigration and our major cities are full of foreigners now. Our Dutch culture is eroding in the process. I feel nervous travelling Europe now and even Amsterdam is not what it used to be.”
Manja pressed her question again. “What does that have to do with researching where there are expatriate Dutch communities?”
“I’m going to announce my retirement Manja under doctor’s advice which means Berend and you will inherit our fortunes and the stress that comes from managing it all. I’m looking for a part of the world that is peaceful and where I can still enjoy the remnants of my culture in a peaceful environment. I want to hear how Berend and you will deal with the responsibilities I’m passing along to you now. So, there were good reasons for you to be with us as a participant in these discussions. Berend, you please take over the discussion now.”
Berend turned to his sister. “Sis I’ve been making Dad aware of our present vulnerabilities business wise. The Americans and Asians are coming after our business with a war chest we can’t match. Some of them are corporate raiders who buy and dismantle to neutralize competition and make money out of selling segments of a business operation to other multinationals. They hit the supply chain to make a business unprofitable then make an offer at bargain basement prices. Our billion Euros could be halved very quickly if they sense our vulnerability. I think it’s time to sell and get into something in emerging markets we have a good chance of retaining value in. Too much competition in our trade now, specially from Asia where labour is cheap.”
Manja thought this through while the men waited for her response. “I trust your judgment on this Berend. Both of us have a degree in economics so I understand the problem. What do you want to do?”
“We have a cash offer from the Koreans and the Chinese have heard about it and are putting in their bid. An American multinational wants to buy us out and dismantle our operation for whatever reason and gave a low offer. When they learned the Koreans and Chinese were interested they upped their bid quickly and are desperately trying to find out how much we are being offered. This is the time to get out before we are forced out.”
“What will we do with the money and will we be staying here in Utrecht?”
Berend nodded. “I lean toward selling to the Koreans. They’d pay us cash but on the understanding we stay on to manage their interests in a transition period. It means we’d be cash rich but having to follow their strategic directions for a while under their management. It would give us time to investigate other business opportunities to preserve our wealth into the future. Personally, I’d like to get out of this stressful work and into teaching Sis. The University of Utrecht already has me as guest lecturer in the Faculty of Law Economics and Governance they’d be very happy if I made that a career. I’ll give that serious consideration. How about you Sis, you have your degree what appeals to you?”
Manja smiled. “Well if the family business doesn’t need me anymore then motherhood appeals to me very much.”
Dirk roared with laughter. “You sound like you Mother Manja!”
Dirk put up his hand. “We need to get to the office but should take a vote so Berend knows how to proceed. Put up your hand if you agree with Berend’s suggestion so I can see we’re all agreed.” Three hands went up.
“Good Berend you can go ahead. One final point. What about the research on Dutch populations in other countries, what did you find?”
“More than 4.5 million claim Dutch ancestry in the US, 40 thousand in the UK, 88 thousand in Canada and 79 thousand in Australia roughly Dad.”
Dirk considered that for a few minutes.” OK Let’s go to the office and begin to set events in motion for the sale of our assets internationally. We need to keep things going smoothly as we negotiate.”
On the way to the office Manja’s phone buzzed. She looked and saw there was a massage and opened the messaging app. “I miss you Manja, hope you had an uneventful trip this time,”
Manja smiled and paused to tap in a response. “All is well, miss you too Johann and thanks for rescuing me from my depression.” She closed her phone and held it next to her heart confident he’d pass the family test.
To be continued.
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