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Week at the top

Willem van Eeghen is managing director of Van Eeghen International, a 14th-generation privately held business based in Amsterdam and with activity in 60 countries. Since 1662 the company has been active in commodities, shipping, private banking, insurance and food ingredients. Today the firm's core business lies in functional and dehydrated food ingredients. Willem is married to Petra and they have three sons – Feike, Max and Boudewijn and a daughter, Erica

This week starts with the impending climax of a US steel tariff trade war with the EU, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and other steel producing countries. In a US-inspired court appeal the World Trade Organisation has ruled that the US government-imposed steel tariffs are illegal. Subsequent EU retaliations will come into effect in a month's time. Van Eeghen is a major importer of dehydrated onion and garlic originating from California. Because these products appear on the EU retaliatory list, we could be hurt by the trade measures.

Before the WTO ruling we prepared to cover our needs for nine months in order to honour our contracts with clients in Europe. We had to mobilise some 70 containers from Los Angeles in about 10 days to escape EU import duties. A detailed plan is in action, including proper warehousing in the Netherlands. Our logistics teams in the US and here can prove their worth. Yet we know the exercise would be to no avail if the Bush administration decides to abide by the WTO ruling before December 10. But no risks can be taken. In the afternoon I meet key staff from our Dehydrates division to discuss this and implications for transfer pricing in connection with our office in Canada.

At 7 am I catch a high-speed train to Frankfurt's international Food Ingredients Exhibition for a two-day visit and meeting with Balchem, a US company that produces minerals and encapsulations for the food industry. Large exhibitions are tiring but good for gathering market information. We usually have an exhibition stand but this year there wasn't enough time. Five colleagues are joining me. We split in groups to use our time effectively. At the end of the day I attend a dinner party with one of our foreign business partners. Then, we all meet up in one of Frankfurt's pubs to review the day and prepare for tomorrow. At 1 am I am glad to slip into my hotel bed.

Early on, I check up with the Amsterdam office for news on the mobilisation of the US containers. Things are moving but we need full confirmation on whether all the material required will be available by deadline. I check up on other news and leave the hotel for the conclusion of the exhibition. In the afternoon some of us meet customers keen to discuss the introduction of internet auctioning, a way of inviting and evaluating bids from suppliers. Although increasingly common for multinationals, we're uncertain whether it's sustainable. At 5.30pm I join a colleague and we begin our five-hour drive home. I am happy to arrive in good time and enjoy a cup of tea with Petra and my daughter Erica, who is in the midst of her final year examinations at school.

I leave for the office at about 8am, squeezing my way through the usual traffic jams. The thought cannot escape me of all the energy inefficiencies we can create by carrying our snail-houses with us. How will we be judged by future generations? I catch up on my email and other news. Renovations are being carried out to our office and I discuss the progress with the construction manager. In the afternoon I have my usual meeting with my non-executive board. It proceeds well. Projected financial results for 2003 are above expectations. I get home in time for supper and, in the evening, ring our office in Montreal to catch up on ongoing matters there.

I call the Ministry of Economic Affairs in The Hague. We have had good support from them in connection with international trade dispute. I'm curious to discover any news they might have regarding US decisions to abide by or ignore the WTO ruling. No news. It seems Bush has some understandable difficulties dealing with his election promises made to the US steel sector in 2000. Later I meet our staff to deal with the extension of our international quality certifications. Lunch is spent on the panoramic top floor of ABN Amro headquarters in Amsterdam. We discuss the introduction of the bank's automated Trade Documents Processing department. It had teething problems but that has now been resolved. Later I meet my younger brother, Henri, who has returned from our new office in Montreal and has executed a quick scan on plant efficiency and organisation. He's a non-executive board member with vast knowledge of plant organisation. My day ends with an evening of cabaret together with Petra and friends.

In the morning Petra and I are invited to a meeting in Amsterdam's Vondel Park, which is named after one of Holland's famous poets. Much to our surprise, a hitherto unknown initiative has been taken by a committee to rebuild a former fountain, which would be named after my ancestors. The drawings are presented by one of the aldermen of the city of Amsterdam – an unexpected finale to an interesting week.

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