Renze Visser
Living the dream in the Middle East

What to do when you always want to be right? For alumnus Renze Visser (41), the answer to this question was an easy one. After graduating from high school, he took to Maastricht to start his studies at the Faculty of Law. Yet he did not become a lawyer, nor a judge. “During my internship at a law firm, I discovered that I am interested in people and their motives rather than legal issues alone”, he says. This interest has recently led him to Dubai, where he is responsible for the Human Resources setup of Shell’s new businesses in Iraq.

“It may sound cliché”, says Renze, “but I really believe that leaving the comfort zone of one’s native country expands one’s worldview. Getting to know other cultures has been one of my main motives for pursuing an international career”. Indeed, for those seeking to meet people from different cultural backgrounds, Dubai is the perfect place to be. “It is like New York at the beginning of the last century”, Renze explains. “It seems as if people from all over the world live here.”
 
Instead of calling Dubai a melting pot, Renze prefers to describe the emirates as a cultural salad bowl. “People live and work together, but they simultaneously stick to their own customs and traditions. The sheik of Dubai upholds the Arabic norms and values, whereas many expats maintain a wholly Western lifestyle. It is possible to just lie on the beach and shop till you drop”. That, however, is not how Renze spends his spare time. Twice a week he takes Arabic lessons to learn more about the local culture. ”Living here has greatly influenced my view on the current anti-Islamic developments in the Netherlands”, he states. “I find Islam a fascinating religion. It is impressive to see how people actively and consciously engage in their religion”.
 
Iraq
When compared to Iraq, Dubai is a fairy-tale like place. The country that to most of us might primarily evoke pictures of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration, war and devastation remains a dangerous place, as Renze can tell from experience. "When I first came here a year and a half ago, I had to live on the American military base. At the time, commuting from there to the Shell site and back was only possible under strict security measures”, he says. “At the moment, the situation remains vulnerable”.
 
Nevertheless, Renze has come to appreciate Iraq’s many different faces, as in his opinion, it is more than a country in ruins. Renze: “We are working here at the outset of a budding democracy. There is a strong will to make progress and to rebuild. I feel blessed for being able to take part in this process since the oil and gas industry will act as a catalyst for prosperity and development in this area. The challenge will be to do this in a sustainable way and Shell is well equipped to pick this up.”
 
Maastricht
Renze started dreaming about an international career after finishing his studies at Maastricht University. “While studying Dutch law, I was oriented towards the Netherlands “, he says. “When I started working as a trainee at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, I realised not only that I was well-suited to work in the Human Resources field, but also that I would like to work abroad”.
 
In 2001, Renze, his wife and their firstborn daughter set out for Miami. As KLM’s Human Resources Manager for Central and South America, he discovered that many of the skills he had acquired during his time in Maastricht came in useful while operating on an international level. Renze: “The system of Problem-Based Learning encourages independence and discipline. As a student, you are expected to solve theoretical problems by diving into the subject matter, thereby experiencing that there are different ways of finding a solution. Furthermore, working in tutorial groups provides a good preparation for business life, where cooperation in teams is a key factor of success”. 
 
Being a student, however, is more than just following courses. According to Renze, in Maastricht there are plenty of opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities – opportunities he seized with both hands. “The experience of, for example, being the treasurer or chairman of a student association is very valuable", he says. "Through it, one learns a lot about management and leadership, which enables personal growth. I believe this to be at least as important as the activity of studying itself”.
 
Right now, perhaps the biggest challenge for Renze is finding the right balance between a demanding job and his family life, with four daughters. Renze: “my international career has only been possible with the support of my wife Anne Maartje Metz, (also a UM alumna) and the adaptability of the children. We do this together.” They are a successful UM combination trying to make a Dutch dream come true in the land of the 1001 nights.

 

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