In honor of our flagship store opening in Rotterdam, we met up with entrepreneur, Ferenc van der Vlies, to get to know our new shared home through a local.

The self-taught success’s journey as a creative entrepreneur began when his graduation thesis led to the reinvention of the once-defunct Dutch brand, Quick. Today he is a prominent member of the community involved in sportswear to social projects. The South Rotterdam neighborhood of his office is only a few kilometers from our Atelier Munro House on the vibrant Meent but worlds apart.

There we spoke with the self-described late bloomer about the importance of people in everything he does as an entrepreneur and human being, universal lessons learned from the late great footballer Johan Cruyff, and how he believes that the best is yet to come.

Your story as an entrepreneur started back in 2001. You were 28 at the time and just graduating.

I come from a fairly conservative environment just South of Rotterdam, a town named Oud-Beijerland, where it was common to have a steady job at 22 and stick to that path. At that time, I was still very much searching for my path. The set pattern was not for me, but because of that it took me a little longer to figure out where I wanted to go and what I was good at.

That’s totally fine, too, in my opinion. One person will peak early and while another will peak later. One is not better than the other and need about the same elements to reach maturity. A footballer like Andrea Pirlo exemplifies that you can be written off and still win everything later in your career.

What did you see in the perceived “dusty” brand Quick that others did not?

I particularly appreciated their rich history, with iconic names like Ajax’s Sjaak Swart a Piet Keizer, who played in their shoes during their careers. Where others were a bit giggly about it in the late 1990s, I very much appreciated it. The brand had stood still for a very long time. Which might have even played some role in the attraction I felt to it. I was eager to contribute something to restore Quick’s rich history, despite them being a complete ‘underdog’ in the 1990s.

I had met with the family behind the brand for research in my graduate studies. And everything I saw in their archive inspired me tremendously and kind of sparked a fire in me. Also, the fact that we didn’t have many Dutch sports brands at all back then gave me another drive to reshape that.

After your ideas to reinvent the brand were adopted, Quick was reintroduced to the market again and swiftly became a major international success. How did you become a partner in your other Dutch sportswear brand: Cruyff?

At one point I used a photograph of Johan Cruyff on Quick’s website and soon after I received an email with a copyright claim from his manager. If I had to pay that claim, my story would have been very different! Fortunately, he was amenable to reason, and I started a conversation with what turned out to be a cousin of Johan. It was partly about the photo, but it turned out that Johan was also fascinated by how a young man had revived Quick from his attic. Eventually the claim disappeared from the table, and we kept in touch. I was asked to come and talk about Quick at the Cruyff Academy, where I met Johan and instantly the seed was planted to get involved with Cruyff.

Around then, your time at Quick also came to an end.

No one could have really predicted that success, me included. I evolved from someone who had seen very little of the world into someone who was constantly traveling. Then disagreements arose and it was time for me to move on to something new. I left Quick rather suddenly and started my partnership in the Cruyff brand. More or less from my attic, again.

There is an important rule that Johan taught me that I continue to use to this day when it comes to business management: 6’s gather 5’s around them, while a 7 often gathers 8’s around them. This is necessary to make an organization stronger. I will always be a “creative” entrepreneur so that part is important to me. There was still plenty of development left for Quick as a brand when I left, but I also always want to win when I do something. So, I rapidly understood that it was time to put my energy into something new and look for a completely new composition of elements for a brand like Cruyff.

You established your office in Rotterdam when you became a partner in the brand Cruyff — making the shoes for the “Amsterdam icon” in the city deemed its biggest rival.

When I once asked Johan about his personal brand being based in Rotterdam, he said that he actually liked that concept. In my opinion, he had ‘already seen everything in Amsterdam’. Our business relationship, like so many of Johan’s relationships, was just very much based on the human aspect. And that was the case right from the start: full of warmth, trust and also humor.

That trust paid off in results.

Things went well, indeed. But for me personally, the relationship I was able to build with Johan was worth at least as much. That is actually priceless.

I also recognize Johan’s way, as you just described, in how you approach things as an entrepreneur: centered around the human.

I learned this very concretely from Johan: it is important to look to others. Crucial even. I have subsequently experienced this many times myself. That’s where you get the most fulfillment and inspiration. And not just from the sideline, but by actively involving yourself.

That is also what started our social project Up Social Club for people with disabilities in a school in Oud-Beijerland where we do various things from painting, to English classes and baking pizzas. I literally took the approach from Johan: he taught me how valuable it is to give something back when you are in the position to do so.

You took on the world from Rotterdam. Have you seen the city change?

I think at this point the world knows Rotterdam more and more. Both in the composition of the culture, which has been greatly enriched over the decades, as well as the architecture and the fact that Rotterdam is not completely “fixed” in terms of possibilities, which also applies to entrepreneurship in the city. When I was young and studied in Rotterdam it was all a lot grayer. The literal and figurative color that Rotterdam has to offer has become a strength of the city – in my opinion.

Both privately and professionally, you have never left the region and it doesn’t look like that is going to change.

If you are away from home a lot, then the Hoeksche Waard is the ideal place to come home to. My father always said: ‘you must not deny your origins.’ The company being here in South Rotterdam too. By now we just belong here. That’s why I also wanted to take pictures in the neighborhood. That pure, honest soul of South Rotterdam just suits everything I aspire to in my career.

And how do you see your personal future?

I try to strive for purity in everything I do, that is becoming more and more important to me. I’ve learned to stay close to who I am. And speaking of “late-blooming”; I’m 51 now, but I firmly believe that the best is yet to come. I am only now experiencing certain things that allow me to do what I love to do as an entrepreneur better. I’ve never had a coach to point that out to me before. And if there were people who did, I didn’t hear it because I just went full throttle. Now I can see all that myself based on my experience and can only look to the future with great pleasure.

The Atelier Munro House Rotterdam is now open. Book an appointment to visit us at Meent 32-34.