by Nick Bridwell
Rene Boerop is Saddleback Leather’s own International Man of Mystery. He is a Dutch man, living in León, Mexico, running a factory that makes bags for a company out of Fort Worth, Texas. Today, we get to know Rene a little as we chat about his life and his work as the General Manager at Old Mexico Manufacturing, where Saddleback Leather bags, etc. are born.
NB: You grew up in Holland, right? In Amsterdam? What was it like over there?
RB: Yes I was born and raised in Amsterdam Holland. Amsterdam is my city. I studied, worked, and lived there until my 28th year and I loved it. It is there that I studied hotel and tourism. I also worked in one of the finest hotels and restaurants.
NB: What’s something about Amsterdam most people might not know?
RB: Something that makes Amsterdam so special is that the citizens are from all around world. Did you know that 60% of the people living in Amsterdam are foreigners? This is what makes the ambiance so different and special. It is a city that never sleeps.
NB: Any cool stories from your life abroad?
RB: One day I said to myself that I wanted to see Europe and I thought driving an 18-wheeler would be a cool way to do that. With that said, I quit my job at the hotel, and started working at a moving company. I got all of the licenses and I started on a moving truck, then a small food truck. Eventually, I began driving through all of Europe with a trailer carrying “dangerous goods”. This was a great job and I saw all Europe from England to Bosnia, and from Gibraltar to Norway. I was able to see so much and learn so much about other cultures.
One trip I’ll never forget was driving liquid led (the stuff for gasoline) to Bosnia Herzegovina. This was right after the war. The US soldiers were still there. They stopped me at the border and when they finally let me pass, they had to carefully guide me around active land-mines!
Then I had to go with a 40-ton trailer over a temporary wooden bridge, because the cement one was blown away. Seeing the village blown away and talking with people who survived was something I will never forget. I thank God every day we are all healthy and safe.
NB: What do you miss the most about Holland?
RB: HMMmm not sure, some food dishes and typical candy. I do miss shawarma, which is lamb’s meat in a pita bread with some salad and garlic sauce. Ooh so good. Last time when we were in Holland, my wife and I woke up at 2am and went for one.
Other than that, I always liked going to the football matches of my home team Ajax.
I guess I don’t miss so much, because I am happy with the life I have here. Since I arrived in Mexico, I have always accepted and respected Mexico the way it is, and I guess that helps me not miss so much.
NB: I know eventually you ended up in Mexico. What events lead you from Europe to Mexico?
RB: I came to Mexico because of my ex-wife. I met her in Holland and moved with her to Mexico fifteen years ago. Our marriage didn’t work out, but I stayed in Mexico because I love the country. The weather is WOW and the people are great. Another very good reason to stay is my kids! All 3 of them were born in Mexico. Today, I am happily married with my wife Gabriela. We got married last year on the beach of Vallarta.
NB: How did you meet Dave and Suzette in Mexico?
RB: I met them in one of the restaurants I was working for at that time. They came in for breakfast and we got to talking. I think one of the things that had a big impact was that I made French Toast for Dave. It was not on the menu, but we did it anyway and he loved it.
NB: I wish I would have put French Toast on my resume!
RB: After that they came over every time they were in town. We became friends. After about a year knowing them, they asked me if I would like to help them build their manufacturing company. I said yes for sure and that was in August 2008.
A nice fact is that thanks to OMM I met my wife, Gabriela. She was working for the accountant firm OMM hired to review our taxes.
NB: You’ve played a huge part in building up the OMM factory from 9 people to over 200 employees. What principles guide your management? What do you believe is the most important quality to have as a manager?
RB: I have seen and lived in earlier work experience how NOT to manage your people. That helped me create my own very simple way of treating people, which is “We are all equal. Treat all people with respect and train and value them.” That has always been my philosophy of how I want to manage our people. And not just our people; also our vendors and clients. You need to treat them all with respect.
Today I still think that, but working with Dave, Suzette, and the people around them showed me there is more. I have learned tons of new amazing stuff over the past few years, and every day I keep on learning.
Getting back to your question, the most important quality to have is that you Love and Respect your people. That is the golden rule of ongoing success.
NB: What’s life like down in León? What do you do for fun?
RB: Life is great over here. I am a big fan of the weather. We have about one climate all year. It’s very nice (when I am writing this it rains haha) except about 3 /4 months a year from June to mid-September.
People are also great here and always outside, because of the warm climate. Life is lived outside.
We go to the zoo, watch the local football team in the stadium. We also like go to a small town called Guanajuato. It is about 40 minutes away. We have a great dinner there and then go dancing after and stay over in one of their small hotels. I can recommend one to you if you’d like. It’s fun.
I have met some Dutch people over the past years and made some fantastic friends, too. Once in awhile we get together. We talk, drink some beer, play cards. I love to play klaverjassen, a Dutch game you play two against two. It´s fun and for me it is the best card game I know.
NB: I ask this question a lot. What is your favorite Saddleback Leather bag?
RB: I have a black large Classic Briefcase. I love it. I take it on all of my trips with me. I have to admit that I am looking at the new backpacks and I like them a lot. They look really cool, so it could be that I will change from the briefcase to a backpack.
Also I have always liked the Waterbag. Why? Because it is such a unique design. Think of it. It is just one piece of leather folded and sewn together. Not sure if there are others like it, but for sure it is very special. And trust me, I know what we need to do to make them. It’s not easy, but when you see the result it sure is worth it.
NB: So how many languages do you speak now? How do you say “I need more leather, please” in Dutch?
RB: I speak four languages, Dutch, German, Spanish and English. In Holland you get English class at school from 6 years on. Working in hotels and restaurants also made it easier to practice. It was kind of the same with German. We always say we don’t like the Germans, because they are our worst enemy if it comes to sports and in particular football. We have quite some history there.
In Dutch you say: “Ik heb meer leer nodig alstublieft” if you want more leather.
This interview was conducted in August of 2016. Nick Bridwell is the resident Blog Writer at Saddleback Leather and the author of the 2014 novel, The Ties That Bind.