“Dutch people are open minded and direct, sometimes to the point of being blunt,” explained Swede Anders Moberg, who was appointed CEO of the Ahold group in May2003.
“They say what they think and are always willing to engage in open dialogue. Nothing wrong in that. But before any decision is taken, many Dutch executives tend to seek shelter in consultation and consensus.”
Moberg has spent the last 30 years on the road in Europe and America for the Swedish Ikea group and the U.S. company Home Depot, making him more than qualified to speak about the main theme of the symposium, which was held in The Hague to mark the tenth anniversary since the merger between Akzo and Nobel Industries.
To celebrate its emergence as a leading international company, Akzo Nobel invited a number of leading executives—including Anders Moberg, ING Bank’s Belgian CEO Michel Tilmant and Vedior’s British chairman Zach Miles—toThe Hagueto give their views on what it is like to be a “foreigner” at the helm of a major company in the Dutch corporate world.
Among the guests at the symposium were former top executives from Akzo Nobel and leading dignitaries from the Dutch corporate world, as well as the international press.
Moberg agreed with former Akzo Nobel Board member Ove Mattsson—who was part of the symposium’s discussion panel along with the company’s former CFO Fritz Fröhlich—that the Dutch, like the Danes, were traders and that had been the determining factor in their approach to business.
On the other hand, he also felt that the Dutch desire to reach a consensus on everything had to “take a back seat to decision-making”.
The British CEO of Vedior, Zach Miles, pondered on why he had been invited to the symposium in the first place. “I’ve only been CEO for six months (but five years on the Board, he later admitted), I don’t live in the Netherlands, and I don’t ride a bike,” he joked.
Taking up a similar argument used by fellow speakers Michel Tilmant and Anders Moberg, Miles told the audience that despite the peculiarities of the language and the local business culture, doing business anywhere remained the same process.
The symposium had a surprise up its sleeve for former Akzo Nobel CFO Fritz Fröhlich, who retired earlier this year, but was also present in The Hague. To his surprise and great delight, the “German Dutchman” (his own words) was awarded the honor of Officer in the Order of Oranje Nassau for his services.
Speaking after accepting the award, Frohlich said: “I’ve always felt at home in the Netherlands so it remains difficult for me to say exactly what is Dutch and what is Akzo Nobel.”
(Released: November 23, 2004)