Next 50 2024: A Good Deal Of Emerging Top Supervisory Directors, But Where Is Gen Z?

Next 50 2024: A Good Deal Of Emerging Top Supervisory Directors, But Where Is Gen Z?
The Next50 2024: the number one on our list of emerging top supervisory directors is once again a man, but this time not white or belonging to the old guard. Also noteworthy: half of the pipeline to top supervision is now female, although men still dominate the top 10. When it comes to age diversity, there is still much to be desired. Where is Gen Z?

The 50 supervisory directors on this list are ready to take on the role of top Supervisory Directors in the coming years. They do not yet qualify for the Management Scope Top-100 Supervisory Directors, but they possess an interesting portfolio of supervisory positions. This positions them for the center of power in Dutch business, while they are currently on the periphery. Who are these men and women who together share some 180 supervisory directorships at Dutch listed companies?

> Have you seen the full list yet? View the Next50 Supervisory Directors 2024 here

Now add some heavy-weight supervisory directorships and a position on the Top 100 Commissioners seems within reach: that is what we wrote last year on Kuldip Singh's (then at No. 31) entrance into the Next50. He managed to make a significant leap this year.
He added a supervisory board position at the grid operator TenneT to his already well-filled portfolio (with supervisory roles at accountancy and consultancy firm KPMG, weather forecaster Whiffle, IT company Kyndryl Nederland (chairman at both), development company ROM InWest, InnoSportLab and the Children's Telephone). This makes Singh the new No. 1 on the Next50. As the leader of the list, he seems to represent a new type of supervisory director: extensive experience with digital transformation, relatively young (50), and a multicultural background (he grew up in Amsterdam, but was born in India, where he also lived and worked for three years starting in 2011).

Came at the right moment
Incidentally, this is not the first time the Next50 has featured a multicultural figurehead. In 2020, Surinamese-born Laetitia Griffith held the first position, the prelude to her current position in the first quarter of the Top-100 (No. 20), with supervisory boards at ABN AMRO and .... Tennet, among others.
She would, this being so, meet Singh at this last organization. Perhaps they occasionally talk about KPMG before or after a meeting: Singh started his career there and has been supervising since 2022, two years after Griffith resigned as a supervisory director. He immediately got lucky: the exam fraud, which last year led to the resignation of Roger van Boxtel as chairman of the supervisory board, because, like 500 KPMG employees, he had the answers whispered to him during a test. Along with the rest of the supervisory board, Singh must now oversee the necessary culture change at the auditor.

Platinum skirt
At No. 2 we find Essimari Kairisto, also a Supervisory Board member of TenneT and, since last year, of soil research company Fugro. The German-Finnish has a background in the energy and infrastructure sector, most recently as CFO of German company Hochtief Solutions. Kairisto is the highest-ranking woman and foreigner on the list. The No. 3 is also a woman, but one who is native to the Netherlands: Kim Smit. The former Shell woman last year added a supervisory board position at wholesaler and tax-free operator B&S Group to her already overflowing basket (totaling nine) of supervisory positions. The modest-sounding diminutive ‘basket’, with which some commissioners affectionately refer to their portfolio, is really not applicable here. A golden skirt? Just say platinum.

Due diligence unnecessary
The top 3 of the list consists entirely of professional supervisory directors. Not until the fourth position do we encounter the first supervisory director who is also active in management: Lard Friese (No. 4), CEO of insurer Aegon since 2020. Friese joined the Supervisory Board of sector associate a.s.r. Nederland last year. That company took over the Dutch operations from Aegon for nearly 5 billion euros, which in turn took a stake of nearly 30 percent in a.s.r.  The supervisory board of Friese is a result of that deal, as is the supervisory position of Daniëlle Jansen Heijtmajer (No. 14), former chief executive officer of Aegon Netherlands (and in daily life global director of finance, shared services and enterprise risk at dairy giant FrieslandCampina). Double representation on the supervisory board was a condition imposed by Aegon to protect its substantial shareholding in a.s.r. Most supervisory directors in the Next50 are approached by the supervisory organization; here it was the other way around. A due diligence by the brand-new supervisory directors was probably no longer necessary after all the negotiations.

Embedded advisor
ANWB, the largest association in the Netherlands with more than five million members, is another major provider of insurance. CEO Marga de Jager (No. 5) had her hands full last year restoring profits ‘at home’, but apparently still found time for a supervisory directorship at telecom company KPN. Incidentally, De Jager's fellow director at the mobility organization, CFO Theo Brink (No. 7), has also been looking beyond the borders of his own organization since last year as supervisor of health insurer VGZ. As a former director at Nationale-Nederlanden/NN Group, Brink is already well versed in the insurance sector, which is helpful. At No. 9, Peter de Wit makes his debut on the list. The McKinsey veteran became a commissioner at engineering firm Arcadis last year. Always handy, such an embedded advisor on the supervisory board. De Wit also has one of the best supervisory jobs in the Netherlands: he is president supervisory director of Theater Carré, which he had a view of from McKinsey's Amsterdam headquarters for years now. For the supervisory board meeting, he only needs to cross the Amstel River, via the Hogesluis or Magere Brug.

Female block
With Kairisto, Smit and De Jager, the top-10 includes three women, as in the two previous years. Three out of ten: falling just short of the quota of at least 33 percent women that applies to the supervisory boards of listed companies. On the contrary, one would expect to see a more balanced male/female ratio at the top of the list two years after the quota was introduced. After all, the aim is fifty-fifty. Although the women are gaining ground, with the runner-up and the No. 3 being the female block. Now all that remains is the leadership of the list. Looking at the overall list, there is a gender balance: the Next50 has 25 men versus 25 women, similar to last year.

Gender gap and status quo
The proportion of women among newcomers remains lower than that of men. This year, 60 percent of the list was refreshed: 30 new prospective top supervisory directors entered. Among them are 16 men and 14 women. Last year, the 27 newcomers included 16 men versus 11 women. The ‘gender gap’ has narrowed slightly. Yet men are still in the majority among the new arrivals. Again: because of the quota, you would expect this to be the other way around. Or do companies simply stop attracting female supervisory board members once they reach that 33 percent? Is that status quo in reality a ‘status stop now’?

In between supervisory jobs
Who stands out among the newbies? First, William Bontes (No. 11), especially because of the size of his portfolio: the CFO of Louwman Group combines his board position at one of Europe's largest automotive companies with as many as five supervisory positions (see the box 'The down-to-earth supervisory director' down below). At No. 16 we find a familiar name in corporate land: Cees 't Hart, until last September CEO of the Danish beer manufacturer Carlsberg and before that of the very Dutch FrieslandCampina. Well, even top executives and supervisory directors sometimes find themselves in the Next50, in between supervisory jobs. 't Hart is about to be replaced as supervisory chair of airline KLM and as a member of the board of Air France-KLM by former Rabobank CEO Wiebe Draijer (whom we may welcome to the list next year) as of April 24th. After stepping down from Carlsberg, 't Hart has his hands free for a second career as a supervisory board member. For instance, in five months he was appointed to three supervisory positions: at staffing company Randstad, American cookie manufacturer Mondelēz International (known in the Netherlands for Tucjes, Prince cookies and Liga, among others) and SOS Children's Villages (chairman). And after KLM, there is room for more. It seems only a matter of time before 't Hart makes it to the Top 100.

William Bontes (No. 11): the down-to-earth supervisory director

No nonsense, just supervise
A born and bred Rotterdammer, with a ‘great passion’ for being a supervisory director. 'I really enjoy supervising and advising companies,' William Bontes said earlier in a podcast. He practices that hobby at no fewer than five companies. His portfolio spans several sectors: the events industry (Jaarbeurs), advertising sales (Ster), healthcare (Bergman Clinics) and building materials (Van Nieuwpoort Group). Last year, he also became a supervisory board member of retail real estate investor Wereldhave, his first listed supervisory organization. Bontes also previously served on the supervisory board of Feyenoord, a role he resigned after becoming CFO of the infrastructure division of VolkerWessels in 2017, which at the time was involved in plans to build a new Kuip.

Candy store with warm culture
His career has been equally diverse. Bontes (1969) operates just as easily in a (semi)public as in a private environment. He moved from telecom (KPN) to finance and technology at General Electric (GE Capital and GE Corporate), the Rotterdam public transport company (RET) and the construction sector: first at family company Hurks where he exchanged the CFO role for that of external CEO and left two years later due to a difference of opinion. He then became CFO of VolkerWessels Infra. Since 2019, he has been CFO of dealer holding company Louwman Group (with brands such as Toyota, Lexus and Suzuki), again a family business. ‘I have the most wonderful CFO role in the Netherlands, in a diverse and large company, a fantastic candy store with a warm culture,’ he said earlier in an interview. His mission is to help transform the company - which has its own museum - from automotive as a core business to a broad mobility provider that also operates in logistics solutions and care aids such as mobility scooters and rollators.

Supervisory director must ‘get it’ within fifteen minutes
His RET colleagues characterized Bontes as someone unpretentious - without self-importance, so to speak. He characterizes himself as a 'red' personality in the aforementioned podcast: impatient, results-oriented and to the point, preferring one sheet to 20. He also has a clear vision of boardroom communication, which can perhaps best be described as keep it smart simple. Many finance professionals communicate poorly at the boardroom level, according to Bontes: too many details instead of the core message. 'I literally tell my people: the front page of your report should be like the front page of the FD, with a headline, a sub headline and a short summary. In a language that everyone understands, even the supervisory director who is not in the business every day. (...) Make sure they get it in 15 minutes.' We wish the finance column of the organizations where Bontes supervises much strength.

From The Hague to the boardroom
There are also two ‘politician-commissioners’ among the newcomers to the list (and who knows, maybe there will be more in the near future, when there is a new cabinet and the outgoing ministers are ‘released’). We encounter the first at No. 20: former State Secretary Frank Heemskerk (PvdA) positioned himself with a new executive position at chip manufacturer ASML and a supervisory directorship at KPN, on the recommendation of the works council (see the box 'The politician-supervisory director' down below). We find the second former member of government at No. 23: Medy van der Laan, State Secretary of Culture and Media (D66) in the Balkenende II Cabinet (2003 - 2006). Her departure from politics was followed by supervisory roles and board positions with industry associations. Last year, Van der Laan was appointed commissioner of Schiphol Airport at the same time as KPN CFO Chris Figee (risen from No. 37 to No. 10). These are exciting times for the airport, on the eve of an almost inevitable contraction scenario, a sustainability drive and a change of management, with Pieter van Oord set to take office as the new CEO on June 1. But a decent commissioner likes a little turbulence. Now that the waiting times and suitcase chaos seem to have been resolved, there is finally room again for the most important item on the supervisory board agenda: the future of the national airport.

Frank Heemskerk (No. 20): the politician-supervisory director

Liaison officer in (geo)political power play 
The four roles of the supervisory director: supervisor, advisor, employer and networker. This last role especially seems to apply to Frank Heemskerk. With his hybrid career, experience and international contacts, the former minister can play a bridging role between business and politics.

Red banker
Heemskerk (1969) was born in Haarlem and studied Economics at the University of Amsterdam. He began his career at ABN AMRO, where he dealt with institutional investors and held the position of assistant to board member Dolf van den Brink - the now deceased father of the current Heineken CEO - with whom he also co-wrote a book: De vergrijzing leeft (2006). At the same time, he was active in the political renewal movement Niet Nix. It earned him a nickname: the ‘red banker.’ In 2003 he moved to The Hague, as a member of the Lower House for the PvdA. He subsequently served as State Secretary for Economic Affairs in the Balkenende IV government. After a brief return to the business world (as an executive board member of engineering company RoyalHaskoning), he opted for a public role again: administrator at the World Bank. In 2019 he became secretary general of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), a lobbying organization of about 60 CEOs and chairs of the largest European companies.

Well-filled address book
Since February of this year, Heemskerk has had a new main position: executive vice president global public affairs & countries of chip machine manufacturer ASML. It only just fits on the business card, even though one word would have been adequate: lobbyist. Well, with all the geopolitical tensions, ASML could use someone with international political experience (Heemskerk was allowed to call himself ‘Minister of Foreign Trade’ across the border) and his well-stocked address book with contacts in The Hague, Brussels and Washington.

Last year, Heemskerk was also appointed as supervisory director of KPN. The telecom company too benefits from a supervisory director who is familiar with the politics in The Hague. Incidentally, the don’t-call-me register was introduced during Heemskerk's term of office. A telecom company probably rather prefers that call centers make as many calls as possible. KPN has another supervisory director from ‘The Hague': former GroenLinks party leader Jolande Sap. She managed to secure a position in the Top 100 with her supervisory portfolio. Heemskerk should first add another heavy-weight supervisory directorship: #bel-me-wel.

Double pressure
Figee is one of the 27 supervisory directors on the list who combine management and supervision (he is also a commissioner of game company Azerion and a supervisor of Unicef Netherlands). Just more than half of the ‘Nexts’ are therefore still ‘active.’  Last year, only 20 supervisory directors were. The list then consisted of professional supervisors mainly. It appears as though the active supervisory director is on the rise. We also see this in the new arrivals: there the ratio is 17 active versus 13 professional. The c-suite apparently enjoys peeking into someone else's boardroom. This is especially true of the CEOs on the list: 10 bosses slide across the table a few times a year, in the role of supervisor. For example, Annette Mosman (No. 40) is not only CEO of pension administrator APG, but also supervisory director of Ajax: with all the vicissitudes surrounding the soccer club, not the easiest supervisory position. The ’double duty’ supervisory board members also include a total of six CFOs, who traditionally often populate audit committees.

Dutch party
Unlike the Top-100, which includes 12 foreign supervisory directors, the Next50 is primarily a Dutch party. The waiting room of top supervision is less internationalized than the cosmopolitan boardrooms of the blue chips. Consequently, the number of ‘supervisory migrants’  can be counted on one hand: two, both women. Coincidence? Or do some companies still prefer to shop abroad for a female supervisory board member? Besides the already mentioned German-Finnish Kairisto, we come across the Belgian Lieve Declercq (No. 42), CEO of technical service provider Spie Nederland and supervisory director of industrial technology group Aalberts. However, Declercq has been working in the Netherlands for so many years that she is actually just part of the Dutch fishing pond for supervisory talent.

From fifties to seventies
Apart from the foreign commissioners (and they are both Western and white), there is still little cultural diversity in the Next50, except for figurehead Singh. Last year, he was the only one on the list with a multicultural background. This year he is joined by Artie Debidien, who comes from a Hindu family. CIO B2C of KPN Debidien came in at No. 30 with a prestigious new commissionership: at De Nederlandsche Bank. She already supervised brokerage cooperative NVM. Debidien’s ‘year of construction’  is 1972. That is not very young, but as an early fifty-something she is relatively young for the positions she holds. At DNB, for example, she is the only one on the board born in the 1970s. Commissioners from the seventies are also in the minority on our list: 14, versus 29 from the sixties and, still, 5 from the fifties.

Isabelle Damen (No. 25): the industrial international

Trusting intuition in the boardroom
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, it is said. But Isabelle Damen, on the contrary, seems more like a Martian woman. She is CFO of chemical company Teijin Aramid, which helped Mars Perseverance Rover land on the red planet by developing the synthetic fiber used for the parachute. Down here on earth, the fibers are used in such things as car tires and safety clothing for firefighters. Teijin is the name of its Japanese parent organization, which took over the production and sale of aramid from investment company CVC Capital, which previously bought AkzoNobel's entire fiber business. As it turns out, a bit of Dutch glory.

The career of the multilingual Damen (1974) is a combination of the finance discipline, capital-intensive industrial companies and an international environment. She worked for nearly a decade in Spain and, after returning to the Netherlands, for a French and American company (defense and aerospace supplier Thales and automotive player Sensata Technologies) and now for a Japanese company. Since this year, she has also been a supervisory director of railroad manager ProRail. Finally, a Dutch organization in her portfolio.

'Stay true to yourself'
'I am proud that I managed to realize my dream; CFO of an industrial multinational and a family,' Damen told me in an interview last year. The most important thing I want to give other young professionals is: ‘stay true to yourself. Make choices, do what is important to yourself.' Specifically for women, she added some advice during an interview for Deloitte's Leading Women on Board program: find a good (female) mentor, trust your intuition and your gut feeling and dare to bring them to the table to discuss and test them. But of course, men can benefit from this advice as well.

Seven Fortysomethings
Some supervisory directors in the Next50 have now passed the big six O, such as Cees 't Hart and, for example, Jacques van den Broek (No. 32). The former Randstad CEO began a second supervisory career after stepping down from the staffing company, as three-time chairman: at do-it-yourself group Intergamma, communications service provider and Leiden University Medical Center. Matured experience in supervisory boards is indispensable, but there is also an urgent need for a new generation that can provide the desired age diversity. The list includes seven supervisory directors who are younger than 50. One of them is Isabelle Damen (1974, No. 25), CFO of fiber manufacturer Teijin Aramid and since last year commissioner of railroad network manager ProRail (see the box 'The industrial international' above). Another is Roelien Ritsema van Eck (1975, No. 37), a member of the board of housing corporation de Alliantie and a supervisory director at insurance company Univé, among others (see the box 'From banking to semipublic sector' down below). Last year we counted six people in their forties and even a supervisory director who was 29 years old. Unfortunately, we do not notice people in their thirties this year, but we do notice two supervisory directors who were born in the eighties. The youngest on the list is Marijke Folkers-In 't Hout (1983, No. 47), active in the agribusiness: as an entrepreneur, supervisory director at animal feed company ForFarmers and chairman of the supervisory board of potato cooperative Avebe. Then again, that is a good thing: a chairman of the supervisory board who is 40. But across the board, the age diversity in the Next50 has not grown. Where is Gen Z?

Roelien Ritsema van Eck (No. 37): from banking to semipublic sector

World improver enjoys a challenge
Complex social issues: Roelien Ritsema van Eck does not avoid them but is on the contrary attracted to them. 'I love hassle,' she said five years ago on 'I love bringing overview to difficult dossiers and bringing them to a successful conclusion. I also want to do work that really matters. It sounds very cliché, I know, but I want to contribute to a better world.'

After studying business administration in Groningen, Ritsema van Eck's (1975) career started at ABN AMRO, where she worked for nearly two decades: from office manager of the banking branch at Osdorpplein, through financial restructuring (the problem customers in special management) to the responsibility for successively the bank's loan portfolio, payment strategy and property management. In 2018, she transferred to Erasmus University Rotterdam, where she became responsible for operations within the Executive Board. Less than two years later, she became director of housing corporation de Alliantie, with the Finance & Operations portfolio: CFO and COO in one, in other words.

Angry stakeholders and political wrangling
Hassles enough as a director of a housing corporation, such as an acute housing shortage, the task of sustainability and social dilemmas. For example, at the end of 2022 residents demonstrated against the announced sale of 140 social housing units on Amsterdam's Entrepotdok by the Alliance. The sale plans were subsequently shelved. A secondary function of Ritsema is also causing hassle: as director of the Stichting Administratiekantoor Aandelen Triodos Bank, she is confronted with angry depositary receipt holders. They feel that the SAAT board has not adequately represented their interests since the trading of the bank's shares was halted. In addition, Ritsema van Eck is a member of the National Growth Fund Committee, where she contributes ideas on how to spend 20 billion euros, amid ongoing political wrangling over the subsidy pot of gold.

Intelligent charm
Diversity is a high priority for Ritsema van Eck. At ABN AMRO she served as a role model for, among others, former colleague Merel Perquin, who described her on as follows: ‘She can connect like no other with kindness and humanity but is always sharp on the content. She trusts the process, gives a push when necessary and creates a climate in which you can grow. And with her intelligent charm she gets a lot done. Always with integrity. And subservient to the greater good. In addition, she also has three children at home, in which she very clearly combined her roles. Very inspiring.’

Start small
Last year, Ritsema van Eck became a supervisory director of insurer Univé (she was already a supervisor of the IJsselland Hospital). Her tips for aspiring supervisory directors (shared at a meeting of Talent naar de Top): invest time in your LinkedIn profile and CV, tell everyone you aspire to a supervisory role, gain experience at a small organization first, and only do something that you truly enjoy. The Next50 will soon be crowded!

Who did we see in the Top 100?
Six supervisory directors who appeared in the Next50 last year managed to elevate their portfolio to the next level: the Top 100 Supervisory directors. Although they enter relatively low on the list, mainly in the second half. For example, former list leader Baptiest Coopmans, vice chairman of the supervisory board of FrieslandCampina, is now at No. 97. In the Top 100, the ‘Nexts’ sometimes have to start at the bottom again. Reaching the center of power (a position in the top 25 or even 10 of the list) is often a long journey, paved with a few heavy supervisory roles. The highest ‘promotee’ (at No. 45) is a woman: Belgian ‘platform supervisory director’ Mieke De Schepper, CCO of Trustpilot and supervisory director of meal delivery service Just Eat Takeaway and hotel website Trivago. Experience with digitization can nowadays be an accelerated route to the top.

In the category of former executives, Allard Castelein (No. 63) made the leap to a higher level. After stepping down last year as CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Castelein rapidly expanded his portfolio. He added a supervisory board position at offshore company SBM to existing positions at waste processor Renewi and builder Heijmans and became particularly socially active. He accepted five supervisory roles in various sectors including culture, healthcare, and science, three times as chairman. Castelein's resume now boasts a total of eight positions. Does this leave enough room for the retiree to live up to his name and spend some time in the café now and then?

Two Supervisory directors who made their entrance into the Top 100 have a connection with De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB). Femke de Vries (No. 73) worked at the central bank for 12 years before moving to fellow supervisor AFM (Autoriteit Financiële Markten) and then to consultant &Samhoud, where she stepped down last year. This sector supervisory director now has more time for her supervisory roles at ABN AMRO and BNG Bank, and who knows, there may be more to follow. Frans Muller (No. 78), CEO of supermarket chain Ahold Delhaize, was appointed as a commissioner of DNB last year (and is chairman of the supervisory board of Vlerick Business School). Finally, Marion Koopman (No. 100): the chief operations commercial officer (COCO) of hospitality chain The Social Hub (formerly The Student Hotel) is a supervisory director of health insurer VGZ and a supervisor at Natuurmonumenten.

This article was published in Management Scope 03 2024.