Dennis Bras is commercial director of Acta Marine, a maritime support provider based in the Netherlands. A client of MS Amlin, he juggles a busy career and home life.
The alarm bell rings around 7am. Breakfast is an important family meal in our house. We have three boys between the ages of 12 and 18, so they need a decent feed to get them through the morning. It’s a time I enjoy, and it helps set the tone for the rest of the day.
We live up in the very north of Holland, just a half-hour drive from our offices in Den Helder, which makes for a gentle commute along the coast in the mornings.
I travel a fair amount, so often I might have a longer drive down to the airport at Schiphol, or to Rotterdam, near where I grew up. When you live next to the world’s biggest commercial port, a career in the maritime industry is a natural pathway.
Our offices in Den Helder look out over the marina, placing us right in the action. The city has a great mix of heritage and contemporary living, with excellent cafés and restaurants. Taking a stroll around the old naval dockyards is a good way to refresh during the day.
Founded in 1970, Acta Marine built its reputation on shallow-water projects, although we have since diversified into a wide range of client interests. Coastal infrastructure is a big part of our work: dredging, coastal defence, port and marine construction, and aquaculture. Then there’s offshore energy, which includes oil, gas, and wind, as well as emerging renewable energy markets. With the recent downturn in oil prices, the market has inevitably become more challenging. So our decision to focus on wider parts of the energy sector, such as renewables, has proved shrewd.
Acta Marine is still a family-owned business. We take a next-generation view, building long-lasting relationships with our clients and maintaining the long-term continuity of our services. This includes continual investment in the welfare and training of our personnel as well as in upgrading and maintaining our 40-strong fleet.
Outside of work, it’s easy to enjoy outdoor family life in one of the most scenic spots in Holland. We have the coast on our doorstep. There’s lot of forest, blue skies and clean air. My boys all play football on the weekends. This summer, Holland didn’t make it to the World Cup Finals, a situation we found strangely relaxing. As a family, we all really enjoyed watching top-level football together without the pressure. You’ve got to see the positives in life, right? We supported our neighbours, Belgium, instead.
I play tennis frequently with friends and occasionally in competitions. I’ve always seen sport as a great way to relax and make friends. When I did my MSc in maritime studies at Cardiff University, in the 1990s, along with some fellow Dutch students I helped to set up Wales’s first korfball club. This is a Dutch sport similar to netball. I went back to Cardiff for the first time in two decades last year. The whole bay area has been developed in that time – I barely recognised it.
In the evenings, after work, we might eat out, and there are good restaurants nearby. It’s mostly French cuisine. You have to go to Amsterdam if you want more international food, such as Indonesian, which is a great favourite in Holland due to our heritage as a trading nation.
Travel is something I’ve always done. I still love dealing with the different cultures and challenges all across the world. In this line of work, we have lots of colleagues and clients who work internationally, so there’s no such thing as a nine-to-five day. You keep going until you’ve got it done. All throughout my career, I’ve moved about with a phone and laptop at the ready. They’ve always been an extension of my working self. I’d feel lost without them.
I’ll be interested to see what fields my sons eventually choose to work in. If they want to go into the international maritime industry, then that’s great, but I firmly believe each individual should have their own vision. As long as they find a path that gives them energy and makes them happy, then I’ll be happy too.