Fulfilling a growing need

Fred Pattje Each Wednesday evening, El Punt Avui TV airs the series of interviews, Catalan Connections. Marcela Topor talked to the General Operations Manager for Amazon Spain, Dutchman Fred Pattje.
Fred, you are here to talk about a major project: you are opening a new fulfillment centre in Cornellà de Llobregat, near Barcelona.
Yes, we are really pleased to have the opportunity to really move into Catalonia. We've done it maybe for three reasons. The first one is that we have a lot of clients here, a lot of customers, and we wanted to be close to them. The second one is that this is a great portal to southern Europe and Europe in general. In Barcelona we will use the fulfillment centre, which is a distribution centre, for another reason as well: we want to fulfill a lot of orders outside Catalonia, outside Spain, and we're going to do that from Barcelona. And the third reason is very important, it is the pool of talent we have here and to be found in Catalonia. We talked to a university, the Politècnica of Barcelona, and to some very good and strong business schools, such as ESADE.
This project is one of the most important, if not the most important, that has been developed in Catalonia in the past five years in terms of investment, but also in terms of jobs.
Yes, it is the main project of the past five years in terms of job creation, and in the top six or seven in terms of investment. We are expecting to hire over 5,000 people and the total investment will be over 200 million euros, which is quite impressive.
Before talking about this project more deeply I would like to ask you about your background. You are Dutch. You've been living, in many places around the world. Tell me what brought you here and, before that, your background in terms of studies and your professional career.
I was born in the Netherlands, so my origin is Dutch. I studied economics in Amsterdam and then I moved to the UK to study more about marketing and sales, and also to improve my English, which is the language of business.
English is obviously very important, and I was going to ask you where you learnt your English.
Well, you know, English is pretty common in the Netherlands, its the second language, and as a kid of eight you learn it; it's a part of the education programme.
Secondly, you learn really fast watching television, which is all subtitled in Dutch, so most of the programmes are in English and then subtitled in Dutch, meaning that you have to learn English, there's no other way around it. That's why you see such a high level of English among Dutch people.
So you learned it in Holland and you improved it in the UK, right?
Yes, there's one thing, of course, about learning English, which everyone does, which is starting to understand business English, which is a type of English. If you really want to get yourself out of your comfort zone, you have to do it. And that's why I wanted to learn not just in general but specifically business English. I spent two years there. Then I heard that Apple computers was expanding to Spain, and I had a family member who worked at Apple who told me: “Why don't you call in and, you know, go to Spain?” Which I did. So I found them in Paris, they invited me, and soon after, I was working and setting up Apple in Spain and Barcelona as well.
And you started working for Apple. You worked there for quite a long time.
Yes, I worked for Apple close to 20 years, setting up in Spain. Then I took on more responsibility for European distribution, and I became the distribution manager for Ebay, where I worked for close to 20 years. After that I started my own business, for a couple of years, and it didn't work out, as you have to be very transparent and very honest with yourself to make sure you don't continue something that doesn't work and that didn't work for me. I'm more of a guy who wants to work for multinationals, and drive projects forward.
Then, luckily, I got a phone call from an ex-employee who said to me: ”Hey Fred, you know, I am working for Amazon right now, would you like to join?” and I said: “Why not?” So the week after I met them in Luxembourg, I had a couple of interviews there and a couple months after I was hired, knowing that we would set up Amazon here in Spain, but it was still too early. So, I first went to Germany for close to eight months, at the fulfillment centre there. Then we started looking for a place to start Amazon fulfillment in Spain. Which of course is in Madrid. We started there in a warehouse, as a fulfillment centre, which after one year became too small.
Right now we are extending that one from 28,000 square metres to 35,000. But that's not enough. Amazon Spain has managed to become the family website portal to buy all sorts of things online. The demand never stops increasing, and so that's why we now need another centre.
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