The Netherlands: A Spreading Web

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Wherever a Dutchman turns these days, his gaze is apt to fall on a product of a vigorous giant known as A.K.U. (pronounced Ah-coo). For A.K.U. (short for Algemene Kunstzijde Unie, which means Amalgamated Rayon Union) produces half the nylon stockings sold in The Netherlands, as well as fibers used in half the nation's tires and seven out of ten pairs of men's slacks. Even the dikes that help keep The Netherlands above water are built with A.K.U. nylon sandbags.

For ambitious A.K.U., however, the Dutch market is not big enough. One of the fastest growers in the growth field of man-made textiles, the company masterminds a web of subsidiaries, affiliates and joint ventures that extends all the way from Austria to Mexico, and now has 37 factories built or abuilding in eight countries. Last year its gross of $497 million put it neck and neck with Britain's Courtaulds, Ltd. for the No. 2 ranking in worldwide sales of artificial fibers.*

The Flying Squads. A.K.U. was founded as a rayon company in 1911 by a young Dutch chemist named Jacques Coenraad Hartogs, who had learned the business while working for Courtaulds in England. Hartogs' company, which became publicly owned in 1923, prospered until World War II, which all but destroyed it. At war's end, 40% of A.K.U.'s Dutch plant lay in ruins, five of its factories in Eastern Europe had been taken over by the Communists and two of its U.S. affiliates had been seized because of partial German ownership. (A.K.U. succeeded, however, in hanging onto one rayon-making U.S. subsidiary, American Enka, which last year grossed $114 million.) Soon after the war, to make matters worse, new synthetic fabrics began to threaten traditional markets for rayon.

A.K.U.'s resurgence from this succession of disasters has been sparked largely by Johannes Meynen, 61, a tough, articulate lawyer who was Minister of War in The Netherlands' first postwar Cabinet. Recruited for A.K.U. in 1946 by fellow Cabinet minister (and A.K.U. director) Theodorus van Schaik, Meynen from the start preached what he called "the two-leg theory," insisted that A.K.U. must find another major product in addition to rayon. As he pushed the company pellmell into the manufacture of nylon, cellophane, viscose sponges, cable and insulation, Meynen's two-leg theory evolved into a "many legs" theory. To broaden its technical knowledge, A.K.U. set up joint ventures with Pittsburgh Plate Glass (fiber glass), B. F. Goodrich (synthetic rubber) and Amoco Chemicals (raw material for polyester fibers). Special "flying squads" of technicians were set up to bring to the aid of troubled affiliates the best of the mother company's talent. Meynen himself succeeded Van Schaik as A.K.U.'s president in May.

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