In 1970 Marsha Cohen sought adventure. She took a freighter from Brooklyn to the Netherlands. There were only 12 passengers on board.
I was impressed. How did she select the country? Did she already know Dutch? Marsha laughed.
“No,” she said. “In fact, I may not have realized they even spoke a different language there.
“I followed a cousin of mine who’d gone to the Netherlands to escape being drafted and going to Vietnam. It was after all 1970. Through the cousin I met my husband, Dom.”
Dominique Boer was working a Dutch publishing company, Elsevier. Of course Marsha wanted to stay in the Netherlands. She even learned Dutch.
She was in love. “To stay, I needed a job,” says Marsha. “Dom told me that Elsevier had a scientific division where they published journals in English, things like Brain Research. I applied there and started working as a freelancer That was perfect for my non-existent immigration status.
“About a year and a half later we came to the states and married. After 6 months in New York, we returned to The Netherlands. We settled in Haarlem, we had children and I continued doing free-lance work. Dom had a new job as editor in chief of a popular science magazine at Holland’s largest magazine publisher VNU.
“VNU wanted to break into the U.S. market with a scientific magazine for young people. There wasn’t anything like that at the time. ”
“So back we came to the States to develop the magazine. We called it Science Illustrated and pitched it at 9-14 year olds. They gave him a retainer to set up an office and find employees. Dom hired good people who knew both publishing and science. “People like me. I did picture researching at NASA and places like that and I loved it,” says Marsha.
Unfortunately financial difficulties forced the publisher to terminate the Science Illustrated project just as it was ready to launch. ”It was awful.” In 1980 they gave Dom The Golden Handshake. That’s Dutch for The Golden Parachute.
Dom could have gone back to Holland and continued working at VNU but instead he and Marsha stayed in the US and started their own company: The Tappan Group. What did the Tappan Group do, I wondered.
“Anything,” said Marsha. “Anything someone would pay us to do. We got our first work from the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in the U.S.A. We were to promote Dutch companies in America.
“We started a magazine called HollandUSA. Holland is loaded with international companies and we profiled them in the magazine to promote them in this country. Companies like KLM, Phillips, Shell, the financial company Nationale Nederlanden , ABNAmro bank. Once we wrote about a little Dutch company that manufactured high-end, well-made, beautifully designed clothing for children. Bloomingdale’s noticed Oilily. They placed an order, and the company took off.”
The focus of Holland USA. broadened to include promoting America to the Dutch. Dom interviewed state governors. Each promoted his state as an ideal place for Dutch companies to invest and prosper. Tennessee, for instance, sent a delegation to Holland to lure KLM to TN. They succeeded and Memphis became a KLM gateway city. It still is.
“We also did work for the Dutch government, starting with the Dutch IRS. That was key because it eventually took us back to Holland. We moved to the Hague because although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, the Hague is the seat of the government. All the government offices are there.” The Tappan Group worked for a bunch of the Dutch Ministries – it still does -- and via via Marsha landed up working for a group specialized in dredging. Dredging?.
Yep. Dredging. Because of The Netherlands’ location and history, the country has developed extensive maritime expertise. Many Dutch companies specialize in water management issues like dredging, land reclamation, dyke construction, urban water management. Just ask the folks in New Orleans who they turn to for advice.
When Marsha was asked to do an international English language dredging magazine, she of course said Yes. Magazine publishing was not a problem. But content was another thing.
Marsha started studying these water related issues. Her knowledge of US/Netherlands business ties, her background in science and her ability to communicate clearly in English and in Dutch combined to bring her to the unexpectedly fascinating world of water management. Now her specialty is dredging. Most of her writing, editing, and research, and publishing now have to do with dredging.
Who would have guessed? Marsha herself wouldn’t have.