Mister Frits

December 12, 2005

DUTCH TELEVISION NEWS PLAYED OLD BLACK-AND-WHITE NEWSREEL FOOTAGE FROM THE 1930’S LAST WEEK, ANNOUNCING THE DEATH OF INDUSTRIALIST FRITS PHILIPS AT THE AGE OF 100 YEARS. Standing with evangelist Frank Buchman, founder of the Moral Re-Armament Movement. “Mister Frits” was seen urging a large open air crowd that listening to God, and living in honesty, purity, selflessness and love, could transform every family, every factory and every nation.

Frits (Frederik Jacques) Philips was nephew of Gerard Philips, founder of the great Philips electronics multinational, and worked for the company for forty years, the last decade as its president. The company, which began in 1891 making incandescent lighting, has remained on the forefront of electronic innovation. Philips produced the world’s first electric shaver, the first colour television broadcast camera, the cassette tape and recorder, and the compact disc (the central hole of which was the exact size of the old Dutch 10 cent coin).

While to Mister Frits figures were important, people were more important. And his long work career with Philips was characterised by this philosophy reflecting his even longer relationship with MRA, lasting over seven decades.

Buchman’s first meeting with Philips in 1934 strengthened the Dutchman’s resolve to fight the poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression. When the Nazi’s occupied the Netherlands in 1940, Frits had every opportunity to flee the country with other wealthy citizens. But, hearkening to the ‘still, small voice within’, he understood his duty was to stay and to protect the 19,000 employees as best he could, and to thwart German plans to use the Philips plant for war production. When the occupiers announced plans to send 300,000 former Dutch soldiers to Germany as conscripted labour, strikes erupted across the country. Almost the whole Philips workforce walked out in protest, along with other labourers across the land.

Frits spent five months in the Vught concentration camp as a result, where he was forced to set up camp workshop with Jewish labour. His insistence that every Jew was irreplacable saved 382 of the 469 Jews in the camp. Ten years ago, he was awarded the Yad Vashem medal by the State of Israel in appreciation for his role in saving Jewish lives.

The reconstruction years after the war meant for Frits the expansion of the company and its globalisation. Philips continued to lead in innovation, but rising competition from Asia forced substantial cuts in the workforce.

The threat of trade conflicts prompted Frits to initiate the Caux Round Table in 1985, named after magnificent location of Mountain House, the MRA Centre for Reconciliation of the Nations in the Swiss mountains above Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva. Influential industrialists from Europe, Japan and the United States still meet biannually to apply Buchman’s teachings on the MRA values to global entrepreneurship, and to listen to the voice of God. Philips family members still regularly frequent gatherings at Caux, as I have personally witnessed on occasion there.

Despite the drastic cutbacks of the seventies, Mister Frits remained a popular figure in his hometown of Eindhoven, known as Light City (De Lichtstad) which has grown up around his family’s company. He was the most faithful fan of the company’s football team, world-famous PSV (Philips Sport Vereniging). At the start of last week’s Champion’s League match against a Turkish side, Frits’ seat remained empty as players and fans observed a minute of silence in honour of a man whose long life demonstrated the timeless values of honesty, purity, selflessness and love.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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