Interviewed by Charles Hermans, 7 September 2010
“We represented a broken generation. In sociological terms, we were a hiccup in the curve. But for many of us, the University and the association formed a solid foundation for a successful life.”
“Of course, we were a bit naughty, weren’t we…” Wolter Brinks is a prominent alumnus of Societas Studiosorum Reformatorum Roterodamensis (SSR). Born in Haarlem in 1946, Wolter grew up in Bennekom, where he went through at least three secondary schools and ran into ‘enormous’ trouble – not in the last place with his parents.
An Economics degree seemed to offer good prospects. But to be honest, he couldn’t really say. While Wolter didn’t have any examples in his own family, a number of his friends decided to enrol in that programme. They were all going to Amsterdam, but Wolter’s parents wouldn’t allow for that. In their eyes, the Dutch capital was a den of sin; Rotterdam was a more serious place altogether. And since Father was paying for it, he got to decide – meaning that in 1965, Wolter left for Rotterdam. He had only visited the city once before, for the opening of the Euromast during the E55 exhibition. The typical Rotterdam atmosphere felt in the air on that occasion has drawn Wolter ever since.
He comes from a business background. His father worked as a sales representative in building materials. As was so often the case with people of his generation, there was a generation gap between Wolter and his parents. In the post-war years, the Netherlands busied itself with rebuilding, which involved a great amount of physical labour. And it was precisely around 1965 that most of this work had been rounded off. Countless members of the younger generation chose a different path than their parents: they saw new horizons and went off to study. In many families, parents and children ultimately lived in two different spheres, worlds in which they did not understand each other. In Wolter’s experience, he too could never talk about matters that interested him when he visited his parents back home. The world of construction materials and economics proved to have little in common. While this frustrated him, he did find support among his fellow students, and these years led to some very close friendships.
It took many years until he started sharing affinities with the older generation. But ultimately, Wolter himself also ended up in the world of real estate, the port and transport, as well as developing a love for old cars. Incidentally, as he remembers it, Wolter was the only driver besides Professor Slagter on Pieter de Hoochweg. Professor Wiek Slagter had a green Spitfire, and Wolter had a green 2CV delivery van. He had bought the vehicle for 150 guilders.
We are talking in a restaurant directly on the Nieuwe Waterweg in Vlaardingen, which had been built at the time with money from the Marshall Plan. We look out on massive ships gliding in and out of the port; the area thrives with activity. Wolter is clearly in his element.
He remembers the Business Economics programme as being strict, with demanding subjects. You weren’t allowed to make many decisions for yourself, but nevertheless, what he learned in Rotterdam came in very handy later on when he started working. According to Wolter, Rotterdam was different to Amsterdam and Tilburg, in that you acquired a lot of knowledge. In his mind, there was a strict divide between academia and student life: the University was over there; we, the students, were here. They rarely visited the professors at home. But he does remember the sitting rooms of Professors Slagter, Kuhlmeijer and Diepenhorst.
The four Sons of Odin on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Rotterdamsch Dispuut Wodan in 1975: economists Luit de Haas, Pieter de Nooy, Wolter Brinks and Rolf de Folter. Wolter: "This is exactly how we’d do it today – because we haven’t changed in that respect.”
They also regularly attended lectures on Saturday morning: as an exception, they were allowed to wear a sweater instead of a sports jacket.
After graduating in 1972, he was actually expected to do something “respectable” with his life, but since he “had time enough” and had earned the necessary exemptions for Law, he decided to read Law in addition to doing consultancy work, which trickled in from time to time. Fellow students in his year went off to “fancy” jobs at big companies like DAF, regularly travelling abroad on business, but Wolter never actually became a company man. When after a few years, he organised a joint event for his clients, this was tremendously appreciated. The button factory, car dealer, jewellery factory all turned out to run up against the same issues. They enjoyed meeting one another. And thus was born Wolter’s idea to set up a convention bureau. After Wolter sold this flourishing enterprise in 1990, it didn’t take long before he started a new company – not far from his old firm – with a slightly different focus.
However, he never forgot his time as a student. Even after 45 years. And this is mainly thanks to SSR, which he joined right at the start of his studies, together with around 100 other first-year students. He served as the president of his year, and became a member of the Rotterdam debating society Wodan. While they intended to go to Paris in 1968, they never made it due to a few too many drams. He doesn’t regret it. After graduating, he remained an active member of SSR’s alumnus association Maurits. He recently stepped down as board member of the Club van 100, who provide SSR with financial support. He does still sit on the board of the new Geurts Rietberg Fund, however, which matches the funds raised by the Club van 100 for SSR’s anniversary celebrations in 2018. But first, the association has to focus on its 95th anniversary in 2013, which coincides with the centenary of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), by the way. And in the meantime, he remains in close touch with his friends in the investment club ‘t Stockpaert. This club, which was co-founded by Jan Knol, currently has 55 active Maurits members. For 40 years already, they have been meeting four times a year for excursions, meetings and social events with their partners. But ultimately, the groundwork for the high returns enjoyed by this group of friends was laid at SSR and EUR.
He enjoys sailing on the Zeeland waters with his partner Helma and their daughter Iris. One of the sails of their yacht proudly displays Captain Haddock, one of the protagonists of The Adventures of Tintin. His years as an Economics student in Rotterdam have played a key role in his life, and given a chance, he would choose exactly the same programme. He still regularly meets members of the current generation of students. Asked which advice he would give them, Wolter says: “Don’t hesitate to become an entrepreneur if you have the opportunity!”