But once in a while you find one that is worth reading.
I recently came across one about a man who died more than a century ago and has perhaps long been forgotten. Even within the company he founded, he is unknown to many except for his name.
What intrigued me about his life was that he had achieved much more than (just) starting a multi-billion euro company. This entrepreneur actually made a difference to people’s lives.
Almost two centuries ago, Amsterdam was a horrible place to stay. The canals were stinking sewers, life expectancy was less than 50 years and due to all sorts of diseases, anybody with a sane mind would not go anywhere near the capital city of the Netherlands.
People who had made their fortunes during the Dutch Golden Age built houses in the countryside and invested their money abroad. The Amsterdam of then is a far cry from the Amsterdam of today. Now it is lively and a cultural hot-spot. Then it was a “ville morte au Suydersee”, a dying city near the sea.
During this time a boy was born into a family who had made a small fortune in business. After his father died he inherited enough money to live the life of the rich (and famous?).
In fact he didn’t need to ever work a day in his life. He was 21 years old, so who would blame him? He wouldn’t be the first to live the easy life and he certainly not the last… Yet this young man chose differently.
He saw an opportunity to buy a small beer brewery in Amsterdam when nobody was interested in drinking beer and by focusing on quality, he built a brand that is today known all over the world.
However, more interesting for me than his business achievements are the efforts he took to change the city he lived in. Together with several like-minded people, he devoted time, influence and money to change Amsterdam. Instead of being stinking rich for himself, he helped to get rid of the stink.
The canals were cleaned, better housing was realized, hospitals were built. Cultural activities were sponsored and even the Rijksmuseum – nowadays you can go and see Rembrandt’s famous painting the ”Night Watch” there – was initiated by his friends and him.
Although he had enough money to leave Amsterdam and live wherever he wanted, he stayed where he was needed most and facilitated the necessary change.
It’s a pity the book about this man who helped transform a city from ‘rags to riches’ is only available in Dutch.
The book starts with a description of a city that no one would like to live in and the birth of a child who eventually makes a difference.
It ends with the death of the man (at 52) who gave the brand a name and the city new hope and élan.
He was no saint and lived in wealth, yet he gave of himself and his money to make a better life for all. Was he superhuman? You will have to be the judge of that!
His name? Gerard Heineken. The great-grandfather of the current owner of the controlling interest in the third largest brewery, Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken.
The book? “Gerard Heineken” by Annejet van der Zijl.