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PUM expert Richard Fenger – 80 missions in 20 years

Entrepreneurship

More than eighty advice missions over a twenty year period. A simple calculation – assignments for PUM last two weeks – reveals that former hotel manager Richard Fenger (74) has spent the equivalent of more than three years of fulltime employment advising entrepreneurs in developing countries and emerging markets. “You need to know whether what you are talking about is in fact possible in the country and culture.”

 
Having worked hard for many years as a hotel manager and subsequently as a lecturer at hotel schools, Richard was asked by a fellow expert to register with PUM. The sharing of knowledge had always been a personal passion. “Helping others by teaching them about the hospitality system seemed to me to be a fantastic opportunity,” explained Richard in his home in Amsterdam. “At the start I thought to myself, ‘I’ll just go out there and teach’. It turns out that you first need to know a great deal about the country and the culture. Cultural differences often lead to a whole raft of communication problems. You need to make sure that what you tell them is in fact possible. If employees arrive fifteen minutes too late, but six days a week have to travel two hours to work and two hours back home again, on foot, you can hardly tell them to make sure they are on time from now on. As an expert, you gradually become better and better. You gain greater knowledge and understanding of other cultures. For example, in an industry like mine, it is important to consider such aspects as what items of clothing you should or should not wear.”  

“If staff have to travel two hours to work and two hours back home again, on foot, every day, you can hardly tell them to make sure they are on time from now on.” 

Memorable 

For Richard, the most memorable advice mission took place twelve years ago in Lima, Peru. “The hotel business was loss-making,” explained the former expert. “I improved profitability by teaching the staff a new approach to bookkeeping, and by sharing out the salaries more fairly. It was their saving grace. The hotel still exists today. The owners have paid off the bank and – when I subsequently paid them a visit in 2016 – are doing well. According to Richard, for hotels in developing countries and emerging markets, the administrative aspects are often a huge challenge. “Once you have worked out a reasonable organisation structure you can see how communication works within an organisation. And that should serve as a basis for the administration. At the businesses I visited, the organisation structure was either poor or non-existent, with a huge span of control; for example, a hotel manager and below him everyone else. I always had the business owners first draw up their own organisation structure, before we set to work, creating an improved version.” 

Always 

The former expert was happy to share his knowledge, and as a consequence agreed to almost every request to go on an advice mission. “I only said no to a mission on one occasion,” said Richard. “I had already booked a ticket to visit my daughter in London. Otherwise I never said no, which meant I was often away from home on St. Nicholas’ Day or at Christmas. But it didn’t really bother me. For me, PUM missions were like heaven on earth. It is a fantastic privilege that I have been able to do this work for 20 years.” 

During every advisory mission Richard bought a souvenir that symbolised the place he had visited.  

Text and photography: Elise Mooijman