Fifteen years ago, Lukas and Lei Willems visited their first polo tournament in the Amsterdam forest. They were captivated by the spectacular equestrian sport. In addition, as hospitality gurus pûr sang, they immediately saw the possibilities to combine this event with a unique business aspect. They brought Polo, also called “the king of sports”, to their hometown Eindhoven. Now, ten years later, Polo Brabant is considered a substantial concept in the global polo world. Lei Willems is not surprised: “Polo fits Brainport like a pub fits next to a church.”
Brabant has something with horses. The province not only has a relatively large number of recreational riders, but is also home to a large number of top athletes in dressage and jumping. Moreover, it has a strong horse economy; you will find the global crème de la crème of horse breeders. They serve a global market, from Dubai to China, from Russia to America. Nevertheless, according to Willems, this is not the reason for the success of Polo Brabant.
“Quick, fascinating, rugged and elegant at the same time. Polo is spectacular; a teamsport. But it stems from a completely different horse culture, polo is connected to the past of England and Argentina, not to the past of the Netherlands. Of course that strong connection between people from Brabant and horses helps, for example, in attracting an audience and sponsors. The fact that Polo Brabant has grown into a European top 5 tournament over the past ten years, I think, has a deeper cause. And that lies in the DNA of our region and our people.”
In the last two years, Brainport became part of one of the three Mainports in the Netherlands. The driving forces of national prosperity that Eindhoven and the surrounding areas deliver are recognized by the government. The economic strength of the region is formed by the high-quality manufacturing industry, large companies such as ASML, Philips and NXP Semiconductors, but also by hundreds of their suppliers. Together they make Brainport a striking global innovation hotspot, particularly in high-tech machine construction.
The urge to innovate
“It is often difficult for outsiders to understand the basics of our success; what drives us and how do we achieve results,” says Willems. “It is therefore a sum of all sorts of things. We cherish our tradition of craftsmanship. We build on this with an enormous zest for work and a drive for innovation. We look beyond borders and view the world as our domain.”
“At the same time people here realize that it can only be done together. The lines are short. Do you need help or do you want to talk to someone, just pick up the phone and consider it arranged. The tradition, ambition, struggle, speed and cooperation, all those success factors together are reflected in polo. In short, there is a perfect fit between polo and Brainport. And that provides a wonderful foundation for business hospitality that makes Polo Brabant a suitable meeting place for many entrepreneurs.”
Faith and commitment
Willems is the first to admit that he and his brother are also exponents of Brainport. Polo Brabant was not what it is today without their faith, inventiveness, commitment and perseverance. “But of course that also applies to all our partners, players, sponsors and visitors who have helped to make the event to what it is today. Like I said; “In Brainport we do it together. I am therefore looking forward to receiving all our guests again in June at Landgoed Eeckenrhoode in Waalre. Then we celebrate ten years of polo in Brainport, something we can all be very proud of.”
Text in Dutch: Marco de Jonge Baas