Interview of the Issue: Jeroen Ketting

Interview conducted by Elsa Court

Following the seminar he led on negotiating in intercultural relationships (organised by the BASIS Eurasian Committee), I sat down with Jeroen to collect some of the wisdom he has gathered over 20 years of working as a Dutch entrepreneur in Russia.

Where is home for you?
Home is wherever I feel comfortable – it’s definitely not in Holland nor in Russia. If I feel well and balanced, then I feel home – it’s something inside myself.

Do you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl?
I think I’m average, I prefer to go to sleep before 12 and wake up before 8

What is more important in life – talent or ambition?
Attitude. You can be talented, but without ambition nothing will happen. Likewise, ambition combined with the wrong attitude will mean nothing will happen either. Attitude – being able and willing to give 110% – that is the most important thing.

Is there a book you have read that you believe all university students should read?
I would recommend the old, classic philosophers – only a year ago I read Seneca. When you read something written 2000 years ago and realise it is still applicable today, it opens up new understanding, but also the knowledge that many things are eternal and don’t change.

Favourite restaurant in the world?
The most interesting restaurant I have been to in the past year has been on Mt Elbrus, which is 5642, high. The restaurant at 3900 meters, the highest placed restaurant in Europe.

If you could travel in time, what would you like to say to your 21-year-old self?
Make more effort to read and learn, stop taking things for granted, and start questioning more.

What do you think will be the greatest challenge that the students of today will face in their future? What can they can do to prepare themselves for it?
In the future the pace of change will be the only constant and it will be happening exponentially. You guys are in-between – I am a dinosaur, and the kids born now will be totally used to exponential change, but your generation are in-between and so you’re at risk of being lost. The future is happening quicker than ever. For those born today it will be a natural thing and for those born in my generation we will still have ‘retro skills’ we can still use. So you need to be having the mindset of leading this exponential change, rather than following it.

You have spoken about continuing your business ventures in spite of the crises that have hit Russia since 1991 – do you have a personal mantra when dealing with uncertainty, whether with your business or in everyday life?
The thing is, everything that happens – the good things, but even more importantly the bad things – there are always positive lessons to be found. Everything is an opportunity, even a crappy thing is an opportunity to learn and to grow. I know this is easy to say but hard to do, so the most important thing is to be aware of what you find important in your life – your values, your skills and characteristics, and your vision on your future. So, even if everything is horrible around you, you know what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Then you’ll never be lost.

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