Interview with Olivier Otten, Managing Director of Hello Zuidas
“HELLO ZUIDAS HAS GROWN INTO SOMETHING I COULD ONLY DREAM OF”
This year marks exactly ten years since Hello Zuidas was established as an area organization. Plenty of reason to celebrate! Originally founded by WTC Amsterdam, VU Amsterdam, ABN Amro, RAI and the City of Amsterdam, today the Hello Zuidas foundation is home to more than 240 corporate and institutional members and has become an integral feature of the district. Our editorial team reminisced with the foundation’s director, Olivier Otten, who has been able to watch that transformation unfold better than anyone.
How did you first learn about Hello Zuidas?
“It was in 2011 that I first heard about the plans for Hello Zuidas. At the time, the initiative was little more than an idea that was part of a PowerPoint presentation. But it grabbed my interest straightaway. I could see this was an opportunity to not only be involved in bringing people together, but also to really tackle challenges the district was facing. I offered my services in terms of thinking about how to shape the foundation and, to be honest, that basically constituted an application for the job I’ve been doing for ten years now.”
Did you ever imagine when the Hello Zuidas organization was established that it would be so successful?
“Well, I very much hoped it would. But I also knew that wouldn’t happen on its own. I realized Hello Zuidas could only become a success if the greatest possible number of local players would embraced it. That it would one day grow into an organization with a steady team and strong name recognition is something I could only dream of all those years ago. What we have been doing from the beginning is building liaisons within the area and greater Amsterdam. In short, Hello Zuidas is really connecting the city.”
Did the aims remain constant over the years, or have there been significant changes?
“Zuidas has become a different place, no question. The purpose we formulated for our organization at its inception still applies, but the pillars it is based on have changed over the years. Whereas our overarching mission is to contribute to enhancing the local quality of life, over time this has been reflected in the various themes that we worked on, in all kinds of ways. Of course, the focus on issues such as Safety, Sustainability and Accessibility is as vital as ever. However, because the district and therefore our target group have diversified and grown, it feels different from how it was before and that also creates new challenges. To give an example, we’ve expanded our programme to include ‘Housing’, which would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Apart from a Burger King halfway down the passage, the station didn’t even have a single shop! Today, that’s hard to imagine.''
Hello Zuidas has been around for ten years, and you’ve accomplished a great deal during that time. What are you most proud of?
“Our work in the community has helped make us a connecting force. This belief, that we are co-creating the district, is broadly shared, from the security manager at the RAI to the hotelier at Crowne Plaza or a housing developer who wants to build here. Everything we do is fuelled by our passion for Zuidas. I’m delighted with our partnership with Zuidas Publishers, which distributes Hello Zuidas magazine across the district every other month and maintains our online channels. It’s a very efficient way to update our readers on all the latest local developments and has contributed to one hundred per cent name recognition. By pursuing our mission, we have carved out a brand that resonates not only in the minds of our business target group, but also in the hearts of the people who live and spend time here.''
There are all kinds of plans for developing the district over the coming years. Does that ever keep you awake at night?
“Sometimes. But not in a negative sense; it’s not anxiety that keeps me awake. It’s more that every time the rules of the game change, the game itself changes as well. When one player leaves, it opens up all kinds of opportunities for others. A vacant office presents opportunities for a new owner: the sale usually signals the start of a transformation, as a property embarks on a new phase in its life cycle, complete with sustainability measures and new residents or tenants. In fact, you could see the district as a living organism that’s constantly shape-shifting.“
How do you envisage your own future at Hello Zuidas?
“From the outset, my mission was to organize the foundation in such a way that Hello Zuidas could continue independently of me. My background as a public relations strategist may have played a role in that. At times, it still feels like my own company, a personal ambition that I’ve poured my heart and soul into, but ultimately I am just another employee and it’s crucial that the organization can also operate without me. I’m not at all worried about how Hello Zuidas will fare if I would leave, but I’m still enjoying it way too much to let go.”
WHAT IS HELLO ZUIDAS?
Hello Zuidas is the management organization for the Zuidas district. The mission of Hello Zuidas is to ensure that Zuidas looks and operates at its best for all people and organizations active in the district. Hello Zuidas works with members, partners and representatives of local public and private entities to achieve and uphold high quality standards.