CEOx1DAY The Netherlands, an evaluation

This year’s CEOx1DAY event, a first for the Netherlands, saw five full-time masters students being matched with some of the nation’s finest CEOs from both private and public sectors, to become CEO for a day. Marco Nijenmanting, Partner Financial Services and project lead for CEOx1DAY in the Netherlands, spoke to the students about their experiences.

What did you learn from the CEO's leadership style?

Jacomijn Belle (JB): Frans (Muller – CEO, Ahold Delhaize) is a very natural leader. He involves people very much in decisions, asking for their opinion. But it’s also clear that he has to make a decision at the end of the meeting. Because he is so deep into the content of the business and knows so much about everything, he is able to switch focus very quickly.

Anne van den Heuvel (AvdH): What immediately struck me was that Daphne (de Kluis - CEO Commercial Banking, ABN AMRO Bank N.V.) is very authentic and accessible. She’s very much 'herself' and treats everyone with great respect regardless of where they stand in the organization. She thinks what employees actually think of matters is very important. I think that says something about what kind of leader she is.

Marc Gijsbers (MG): Ernst (Kuipers – CEO, Erasmus MC University Medical Center) is a down-to-earth, intelligent man. He comes accross as someone with a real heart for the hospital. He is both people- and results-oriented, and can clearly draw the line if necessary.

Florian Blom (FB): Onno (van de Stolpe – CEO, Galapagos N.V.) is an entrepreneur, noticeable in everything he does. Everything he says or contributes serves a purpose. I saw someone that empowers his employees and colleagues to excel, certainly not a micro-manager. He is very relaxed, also with his c-level colleagues, allowing his colleagues freedom to achieve results.

What about the CEO’s management style?

(JB): Pretty direct. He’ll summarize a meeting briefly and then ascribe roles.

(AvdH): She’d take 5-10 minutes to briefly outline the context and let everyone feel at ease. Some conversations were very light-hearted, some more substantive and some more intensive. You could say she portrays the Dutch working culture stereotype; straight to business and direct.

(MG): He knows how to set the boundaries very well, but will also do a lot for people.

(FB): He was never trained to be a manager, but as a molecular biologist. I believe he does everything based on his experience and sense of what is right, and maybe less by the book.

What challenges does the CEO have to lead and prepare the organization for the future?

(JB): Ahold Delhaize is implementing AI and new technologies, involving universities and PhD students to change the face of retail. They need to act now because otherwise the competition will.

(AvdH): For ABN AMRO, it is to step away from the formal, traditional image that many banks have, and truly digitize. Also, to think carefully about what kind of services they can offer customers in addition to opening a bank account. They are digitizing their systems, thereby speeding up processes. In the past it may have taken ten days to get a response when wanting to open a bank account, which had to be analyzed by three people. They can do that faster now and, with the time they save, they can offer additional products or expertise.

(MG): There have been major restructuring projects recently and he has been working on how to implement more innovation for the benefit of patients.

(FB): They will soon be marketing their first product. Formerly a biotech company involved in research, now they will become a commercial company. That requires leadership to make that transition. His challenge is to take his company with him in that transition, while keeping shareholders happy.

What dynamics in the boardroom did you see?

(MG): In a board meeting it’s really teamwork. It is looking at how to solve these larger dilemmas together when it comes to digitization and introducing new projects. It’s also the basics like presenting an agenda and guiding people through the meeting, ultimately to make good decisions.

(FB): Very atypical. They are a research company where a lot of money is spent and where profits do not necessarily indicate how the company is sailing. It was less important to them in a way. The dynamic was very easy and you notice that they are very much in line with one another.

How does the CEO give direction to the strategic challenges of the organization?

(JB): He sits with strategy people, deciding together whether a particular action fits within the vision or strategy that has been set out.

(AvdH): Her focus is on adaptability, the adjustment quotient. With HR, they are working with AI, collecting data to reach people whom they want to attract to the bank. They are also adjusting their financial products with AI to fulfill customers’ needs.

(MG): He does not make it more difficult than it already is. He positively inspires people and gives them confidence.

(FB): He believes that Galapagos should lead the discussion on drug prices in the Netherlands, and wants and likes to be the person taking on that role.

CEOx1Day – an event exclusive to Odgers Berndtson – matches students with top CEOs in the Netherlands, providing them with the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a CEO for a full day. Visit our website here.