'All of our lives are INTERRELATED - WE MUST ACT ACCORDINGLY...' 16 talking heads What'S NliwS Issue 11 November 1996 Herman Wijffels is boss to over 35,000 people, the majority at the Netherlands, but a growing number is spread all over the world and probably knows little about him. Reason enough to put him on the Talking Head hot seat. To many international Rabo- bankers he is the man who opened their office, was rushed from top level meeting to meeting, made a speech, then disappeared back into a plane. That side of Wijffels is, of course, part and parcel of being the chairman of the Rabobank Group. Yet when the tall, well, though conservatively dressed chairman enters the room, he brings a presence which is almost tangible. His strength appears to lie in a quiet confidence and energy, rather than in the kind of aggressive power normally associated with high-flying, successful business people. Talking to him, he is unassuming almost to the point of circumspection, thinks before he speaks, and when he answers, what he says is what he means. He sees himself primarily as a colleague, 'as responsibie for creating an environment which facilitates the work field for our people.' 'On a people level, one of the main problems for a person in my position in an organization of this size is that very size,' he says. 'I meet a lot of our people, not least through the various meetings I have to attend. But most people tend to know my face from the newspapers. 'In that sense,' he continues, 'I had an extraordinary experience last summer. I'm very fond of cycling and was allowed to follow the Tour de France in our own sweep car - it's one of the privileges of being in my job, you get to do things like that,' he laughs with obvious pleasure. 'One of the cyclists in our team, Johan Bruyneel, went into a gorge while descending a mountain stage of the race. I was right there on the spot and helped get him out. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. But our reaction was a natural reaction - someone's in trouble, so you help. And suddenly, I was just a normal man who is fond of cycling and not the senior banker of this organization. That pleased me. Another thing I really enjoy is going to our international offices, to see how we have evolved over a century from an essentially domestic bank into an international organization. When I'm there, there's not much opportunity to speak to our own people. But when there is an opportunity, I try to make the most of it. You mentioned cycling with Betty Mills and one of her major clients in Altanta. I was very curious, how she managed to combine all her other activities with a very time-consuming sports career. We had a chance to chat - not for long, but I really enjoyed it.' Flnjoyment for Wijffels comes in a multitude of guises. As he sits chatting in his spacious, uncluttered office it is hard to image him wielding a chain saw. 'We have a small patch of woodland and every autumn I take some holiday to do the preparation work for the winter.' He also enjoys the theatre - 'the last performance I saw was Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. I loved it. Shakespeare really understood people. Our three children, a twin boy and girl of 21 and a 19-year old son, have all left home now. They are at different universities in the Netherlands. Whenever my work takes me anywhere near them, I try to arrange something so that we can spend time together.' A Vivaldi concert on the CD player is also a prefered form of relaxation. His wife keeps him up to date on modern literature. 'She teaches Dutch literature and occasionally she'11 say: You really should read this.' What was the last book she recommended? Grinning ruefully, he quips: 'She recommends a lot more than I can read.' Wijffels in his garden or listening to Vivaldi seems a far cry from the corridors of power Herman Wijffels: 'I'm primarily a colleague'. that he walks every day - he is frequently tipped as a future government minister. Recognized as a high-flyer very early in his career, he was director of a department at the Ministry of Agriculture at 29 having already completed a stint at the European Commission in Brussels. 'Perhaps my family situation was one reason I got into accelerated career development,' he says, pausing briefly before adding, 'Fm a farmer's son and the eldest of eight children. We lost both our parents when I was in my early 20s, which is a maturing experience. At the time, I was a student, looking forward to an interesting job, a family and a good life. The loss of our parents meant I was suddenly confronted with real responsibility.' Now, accepting responsibility has almost become his trade mark and for him responsibility doesn't stop with our organization. In the late 1980s, he began to be aware of just how serious the problem of environmental pollution had become. Today, he is a recognized and highly respected advocate of sustainable development. I am a passionate pragmatist. We don't live in a perfect world. You have to take the existing situation into account, then carefully design steps to help you move in the direction you want to go. That's how I try to work, combining the idealistic with the pragmatic. We are all responsibie for the world we live in. If I look at society, then I see increasingly more groups of people are being excluded, people who may not perhaps have the talents and options to be successful in this society. That usually means they cannot command big salaries. In my view, there are clearly privileges attached to being in a senior position, but also responsibilities. We must always be aware that all of our lives are interrelated and act accordingly. If you ask what I feel passionate about, then that's your answer.'

Rabobank Bronnenarchief

blad 'What's news' (EN) | 1996 | | pagina 16