Hardship also prompted Dekker's early start on lifelong learning. "There was no heat in my bedroom, so I spent all my spare time in the library or the art museum." He read and started keeping a journal. "So ever since I was a little kid, my companions have been books and writing."
Formal schooling was another story, though Dekker excelled in his classes; schoolmates shunned him, and teachers, he says, systematically sexually abused him "till I was old enough to stand up to it, about 16." Consequently, lack of family and/or life partner is the one notable hole in Dekker's otherwise richly fulfilled life. "I tried a couple of times," he says of two long-term relationships, "but it made me uncomfortable. I didn't have the right basis for that. And I felt, if you don't have the tools to do one thing, try something else you are able to do."
After a 10-year state-sanctioned detour into dentistry, that ability exploded into an MBA, a simultaneous master's in economics, and a subsequent spectacular business career. Catalyst for the change was, once again, hardship: a five-year bout with near-terminal thyroid cancer. He moved to La Jolla, California, for treatment at the renowned Scripps Clinic, and while there, Dekker took a lot of walks around town. He noticed "a little shop that was doing a tryout of this new technology of one-hour photo development." Dekker contacted his longtime business partner and friend John Padget, "and he got a machine and we started a shop in Amsterdam. Then three shops, and a hundred shops - like that." At 160 shops throughout BeNeLux, Dekker sold the chain to Kodak.