Analysis Top-100 Corporate Women: The Grande Dame of Dutch Supervision is Back Again

Analysis Top-100 Corporate Women: The Grande Dame of Dutch Supervision is Back Again
Petri Hofsté is, for the seventh time, after an interlude, once again the most influential woman in Dutch business. What is more: a concentration of golden skirts prevents rejuvenation and diversification of the female contingent in Dutch boardrooms. In this year’s top 10, there is only one gatecrasher who is shaking things up, she is, also, at the bottom of the leader board.

Petri Hofste is back from a (very brief) absence to once again fill the position as leader of the Top-100 Corporate Women, having held this position six times before. She temporarily made space last year for PostNL’s top executive Herna Verhagen (runner-up this year), to fill the first position. However, Hofsté is making a comeback on the list this year with a new supervisory board position at FrieslandCampina, where she succeeded Angelien Kemna (who dropped from No. 5 to No. 15). The supervisory position at the dairy giant replaces the position in Hofste’s portfolio of Fugro, the soil research company, where she stepped down last year at the end of her term. Hofsté is also member of the supervisory boards of mobility company Pon Holdings, Rabobank and insurer Achmea.

Injury time
Incidentally, Hofsté is playing in ‘injury time’ at Achmea where she is in the first two years of her third term. At Rabo, too, her second and thus regular term ends this year, but two two-year extensions are possible. The bank prefers for supervisors to remain for several terms: Supervisory Board Chairman Marjan Trompetter (no. 26) - and Supervisory Board member Arian Kamp - are also currently serving their third (extended) term. Continuity in tenure is important, with (re)appointments in 2024 and 2025 for six of the eight supervisory directors, although succession is being addressed. Moreover, new Belgian Rabo CEO Stefaan Decraene has initiated a major reorganization. Back to Hofsté: if the grande dame of Dutch supervision at both financials completes the full 12 years, she will have all the time she needs to quietly build on refreshing her portfolio. At 63, this supervisory veteran is at an age when many male directors are just starting their first supervisory directorships.

At her post
At No. 2 we find Herna Verhagen, the leader of last year’s list. With this, for the first time in history, the Top-100 had an executive as figurehead, rather than a professional supervisor. Verhagen has been CEO of PostNL for 12 years and is currently serving her fourth term. The company is struggling with the diminishing postal market and plans to deliver our letters and cards less frequently. Verhagen needs to deal with critical investors and a major shareholder - on her own supervisory board supervisory board member Martin Plavic represents the 30% stake of Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. Even so Verhagen manages to find time for her supervisory positions at Philips (don’t mention the Apnea!), ING and Het Concertgebouw.

Thermostat lowered
Other than the interchange between Nos. 1 and 2, there was little change to the top 10 list. Unfortunately, not many gatecrashers arrived to shake things up this year. The first gatecrasher is at the bottom of the leader board at No. 10 and a non-Dutch woman: Essimari Kairisto, former CFO of the German construction company Hochtief. Kairisto is of German-Finnish background and was already a supervisory board member of grid operator TenneT, among others. She last year added soil researcher Fugro to her portfolio. This makes her the highest new entrant. Kairisto is a transformation supervisory director in heart and soul: all six companies in her international portfolio are in a transformation phase, and she consciously chooses her supervisory positions accordingly. She sees her role on a supervisory board as that of sparring partner, she said in an interview earlier in this magazine. ‘As CFO, I often experienced that when a supervisory director came into the room it was as if the thermostat was turned down a few degrees, because he or she did not come to spar but to check on you.’ Companies, according to Kairisto, increasingly need supervisory directors with whom they can exchange ideas freely, rather than ‘the old-fashioned non-executive who acts primarily as fierce supervisor.’ Fortunately, she says, supervisory directors increasingly see their role as such. This may be due to the rising number of female supervisory directors. Well, our list does indeed count a hundred such sparring partners.

From external to internal
The greatest jump in the Top-100 is at No. 12: former AFM (and &Samhoud) director Femke de Vries. She added a supervisory directorship at ABN AMRO to her supervisory position at BNG Bank. We wrote about it in the Next50, Management Scope’s list of upcoming top supervisory directors, in an interview with De Vries earlier this year: the former external supervisor is now an internal supervisor. She is also an associate professor of supervision at the University of Groningen. The banks in her portfolio are in good hands re good governance, and in De Vries they have a supervisory director who does not shy away from uncomfortable conversations.

Back home again
Marga de Jager (No. 15) also had a significant rise. De Jager combines her role as CEO of mobility platform ANWB (the country’s largest association) with, among other things, a supervisory directorship at KPN (Netherland’s largest telecom company). De Jager clearly relishes these challenges. Although, being a hands-on CEO, she might sometimes be stretched to remain seated in her role as supervisory director. Another fast riser on the list is an old acquaintance: Pamela Boumeester (No. 66). She became a supervisory director of the Dutch Railways last year (a role she previously held at WPG Uitgevers and logistics provider H&S, - both as chairman - and at Jaarbeurs Utrecht, among others). Boumeester is a former executive director of NS Reizigers, NS Stations and NS Poort. She left the company in 2009, after more than 20 years. Her departure marked the start of a successful second career as a professional non-executive. Now, in that role, she returned to her old and only employer. Surely it must feel bittersweet to step back into the old, familiar headquarters of the railroad company. At the time, a position on the NS executive board was apparently out of the question for Boumeester; now she oversees the board.

C-suite and supervisory directorships
The number of professional supervisory directors on the list is roughly equal to the number of supervisory directors who are still active in executive roles: 44 women are professional supervisors; 41 women combine their primary position with one or more supervisory directorships. Among them are six professors, signifying that the cross-pollination between academia and supervisory board appears to be a fruitful one. Furthermore, among the 35 women who combine the C-suite with a supervisory position, we count 16 CEOs (about half, where do they find the time?), 9 CFOs, 7 CHROs, 6 CCO/CMOs and 3 CROs. The HR discipline is playing an ever-increasing role and seems to become a route to the top supervisory positions. Perhaps this people orientation in the board profiles might have something to do with the current focus on the ‘S’ of ESG and thereby mitigate the risk of transgressive behavior in boardrooms? Previously, the digital/data discipline provided a fast track to the boardroom. This year, however, we count only 2 CIOs. A coincidence or has the magic of the digital non-executive worn off and is man now winning over machine on board agendas?

Hidden supervisory potential
A total of 15 women in the Top-100 are ‘standalone’: they hold only a (heavy) executive position, without the combination with an (external) supervisory board position (in the Netherlands). Do they not want to have a peep in someone else’s kitchen, or do they simply not have the time? In 9 of these cases the female directors are from outside the Netherlands. Could it be that as ‘expats’  they perhaps are not sufficiently integrated in local networks to be considered for supervisory positions? There seems to be hidden supervisory potential for other Dutch companies looking for (female) supervisory directors with international management experience and a feel for our Rhineland governance mores.
The expat women might also set down root more successfully in the Netherlands through Dutch supervisory boards. Is, for instance, Italian/Swiss Cristina Monteiro (new in at No. 85), CHRO of chip machine manufacturer ASML (and before that of fine chemicals company DSM and the all-American brands Philip Morris and Cargill) familiar with the sentiments, for example, around the political sensitivities surrounding labor migration? After all, the all-male (!) board of the chip machine manufacturer is already international, except for CFO Roger Dassen. Of course, Monteiro can spar with Annet Aris, vice-chairman and the only Dutch woman on ASML’s Supervisory Board.
It is lonely at the top, for women in general, but certainly for non-Dutch women. Fortunately, they sometimes have support from each other. The executive committee of insurer Aegon, for example, has no fewer than three women from across the border: Deborah (Debbie) Waters (no. 60, American), CRO Astrid Jakel (no. 71, German) and CHRO Elisabetta Caldera (no. 72, Italian). And at ING, Croatian CRO Ljiljana Čortan is bound to spar with Turkish Pinar Abay (new in at No. 74), who is a member of the Exco, as they are the only two women in ING’s top ranks. Abay, it seems, has the most impressive (and longest) job title of the entire Top-100 on her business card: Head of Retail, Market Leaders and Challengers & Growth Markets.

One in five an expat
Together, the 19 ‘board migrants’ represent almost one-fifth of the Top 100. Compared to last year's list, two foreign women dropped out: the Swiss Geraldine Matchett stepped down as co-CEO of DSM due to the merger with Firmenich and the American Natalie Knight, CFO of supermarket group Ahold Delhaize, opted to return to her home country. But five were added to the list, such as Ireland’s Aileen O’Toole, CPO of Amsterdam-listed tech investor Prosus. If we look at the difference between newcomers and dropouts, the foreign ladies thus make a net gain of three. While the Dutch women end up with three less: 15 new, but 18 dropped out. The indication is that internationalization seems to slowly gain ground, especially in the C-suite: about two-thirds of the international women entered the Top-100 with a management position in a Dutch company, while we of course also have many talented women here in the Netherlands.

The number of women stagnates
Fact is that the through-flow remains low. Whereas the quota for at least 33 percent women on the supervisory boards of listed companies has accelerated supervisory diversity, the number of women on boards is stagnating. Het Financieele Dagblad polled the number of new board members appointed in the current annual meeting season at the 75 indexed listed companies: of the 16 new executives, six are women. And in only four cases does a new female board member replace a retiring man (at medical technology company Philips, meal delivery company Just Eat Takeaway, animal feed company ForFarmers and real estate fund NSI).

Is it time for quotas for executive boards?
The percentage of female executives at listed companies in 2022 and 2023 was only 15 percent (versus 39 percent for supervisory boards) and 61 companies have no women on the executive board, according to the Female Board Index 2023. Is it time to introduce a women’s quota for the supervisory boards of listed companies too, the FD asked. Annette Mosman (CEO of pension administrator APG) supports quotas. In the interview on page 8, she says: ‘Quotas act as targets, forcing you to devise a plan and think systematically about how to achieve the formulated goals.’ Petri Hofste, our ranking leader, doubts the effectiveness of a quota for better gender balance on boards and hopes that the greater diversity in supervisory boards and the required transparency will eventually trickle down to executive boards and the rest of the organization. In turn, we hope to then see that reflected in the Top 100. Perhaps in time we can even compile a Top-200 of influential corporate women.

Glass cliff in supervisory land
Mosman had the biggest drop on the list (from No. 25 to No. 79), due to her departure as supervisory director of Ajax, following on the management perils at the listed soccer club. Another drop in ranking was made by GVB director Claudia Zuiderwijk (from No. 65 to No. 94): she stepped down as supervisory director of APG (where she oversaw Mosman) after two terms. But she added another new supervisory directorship to her achievements this year: at Tata Steel Netherlands. There she is the successor to former Kempen & Co. CEO Leni Boeren: who is in fact a big riser on the list (from No. 49 to No. 19) due to the addition of a new supervisory directorship at payment company Mollie to her existing supervisory positions at airline company Air France-KLM and bank NIBC, among others. This takes courage: becoming a supervisory director at Tata Steel. Zuiderwijk is not only the only woman on the four-member board (something she is used to as a gender pioneer), but the steel manufacturer, as one of the largest polluting companies in the Netherlands, is constantly under fire. A glass cliff in supervisory land, but fortunately la Zuiderwijk likes a challenge in a politically complex environment and can now fall back on almost 15 years of supervisory experience.

New shift as non-executive?
Among the women who dropped off the list are two other veterans. Marike van Lier Lels (last year at No. 14) retired last year from construction company Dura Vermeer, NS and publishing group RELX and is now supervisory director solely at PostNL. Will the 64-year-old Van Lier Lels - often appointed on the recommendation of works councils - start a new shift in her supervisory career, which now spans more than two decades? It is possible, just look at Annemarie Jorritsma, at 74 the oldest director on the list, but also the third-greatest riser (from No. 52 to No. 17). This spring, the former minister became chairman of the supervisory board of bicycle manufacturer Accell, which is weighed down by the slumping market for e-bikes and an expensive recall of Babboe cargo bikes. It takes courage to become chairman of a club in crisis, but according to Jorritsma it was not a difficult choice to commit to a Frisian company with an archetypal Dutch and sustainable product. Jorritsma is also Chairman of the Dutch Association of Venture Capital Companies (NVP). Associated NVP member Teslin (which in 2022 took Accell, together with American investment company KKR, off the stock market) has already had to write off tens of millions.

Advocates from the very beginning
Margot Scheltema (last year at No. 86) also no longer appears in the list. The former Finance Director of Shell Netherlands was a fixture in the Top-100 for years, with important supervisory directorships at Triodos Bank, insurer a.s.r., Schiphol Airport, parcel delivery company TNT and De Nederlandsche Bank, among others. Now her portfolio consists of only the technology company Nedap and a number of supervisory positions in the cultural-social sector. There seems to be a generational shift, with the pre-quota advocates of the early days for more diversity in Dutch boardrooms gradually making way for a younger generation.
But who is waiting in the wings? Because some younger women also did not return to the list this year. For example, two members of Rabobank’s group executive board saw their jobs eliminated after a change in the top structure by new CEO Decraene. Marielle Lichtenberg (last year at No. 43), Director of Private Clients, left after a 29-year career at the bank. Kirsten Konst (last year at No. 56), Director of Operations, lived through the financial crisis at ABN AMRO and worked at Rabobank for 14 years. At 56 and 49, respectively, they are still relatively young for the professional board. This is hopefully not a case of the executive drain, where young women (and sometimes men) opt mid-life for an existence as a professional supervisor. They are in too high demand as executives (plus one or two supervisory directorships). Mariëlle and Kirsten: let’s agree that we will see you back in the Top-100 next year.

Seven year itch
The same goes for Conny Braams (last year at No. 91). She retired in 2023, after 34 years at Unilever, following the Alan Jope/Hein Schumacher CEO change, where she most recently held the role of Chief Digital and Commercial Officer. The food and personal care giant usually serves as a supplier to the Dutch supervisory boards, but does it work that way for female former executives too? For now, her expected comeback as top supervisory director in the list remains yet to be seen. Two others that dropped from the list opted, for now, for a destination other than the boardroom. ABN AMRO CRO Tanja Cuppen (55, ranked No. 37 last year) did not apply for a third term. She recently left the bank’s executive board after seven years for a very different challenge: participating in Stelvio for Life, cycling up a mountain to raise money for individualized cancer research. And Maurine Alma (56, ranked No. 53 last year) took a sabbatical as CMO of Just Eat Takeaway, also after seven years. The seven-year itch might be trending. Alma, on her LinkedIn account: ‘Happy to share that I have started a new role as CMO on sabbatical on the Blue Coral!’

Hello Houston... er Amsterdam
Fortunately, there are also women waiting in the wings. 20 Newcomers juxtapose those that dropped off the list: four more than last year. Like Kim Smit (No. 18), the former CFO of Leiden University Medical Center who before that had a (finance) career of 22 years at Shell. She has been a professional supervisory board member since 2022. Last year she joined the supervisory board of listed wholesaler B&S Group, which seems to have entered calmer waters since the appointment of former PWC boss Peter van Mierlo. She also holds a variety of supervisory positions in the public sector. This variation in her portfolio is a conscious choice, she said earlier in this magazine: ‘The last thing I want is to supervise on autopilot by doing the same thing everywhere. That is like a pop artist who, with a shot at authenticity, shout,  ‘Hello Houston’ at a performance in Amsterdam.’

Nienke Meijer: Beyond the boundaries of the boardroom

Newspaper editor becomes multi non-executive and Minister of Solutions
An unquenchable curiosity, a great sense of responsibility and an urge to go off the beaten path: they are the main motivations for Nienke Meijer, former president of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. She combines a strong social welfare interest with a hands-on mentality and solution-oriented approach. ‘In all honesty, I sometimes find it incomprehensible when others do not feel that responsibility,’ she said in The Optimist last year. ‘You can offer help at all levels. It can be on a board, or it can be when you see someone in the street who needs something. Just look around you.’ Reach out, is her motto, and with that she includes also the boardroom.

Internship at Artis
Perhaps Meijer (Eindhoven, 1965) inherited that strong sense of responsibility from home. The handicap of her youngest sister had a great impact on her family, in which she was the eldest daughter. After studying psychology & marketing at Utrecht University (and an unorthodox internship at the Artis Zoo), she went to work for Intermediair Uitgeefgroep, part of VNU.

Youngest and first female director
She ended up in the newspaper business: first as Commercial Director of De Limburger, after which she became she became the youngest and first female editor of a newspaper at Eindhovens Dagblad (VNU has since sold the newspaper group to Wegener). After two decades in the publishing world, Meijer made a switch to education. She became a member and eventually chairman of the board of Fontys Universities of Applied Sciences, a position she held from 2013 to 2019. In 2014, she was elected Top Woman of the Year.

Transforming the labor market
Meijer became a supervisory board member at insurer Achmea last year and already supervised PostNL. Until this year, she also served on the supervisory board of accounting and consulting firm Deloitte. She is also chairman of the board of Stichting de Volkskrant. But Meijer’s most typical roles are those that stem from her social engagement. For example, she is co-founder of De Buitenboordmotor, a movement that, together with companies, government and educational institutions aims to create a breakthrough to a new, flexible, cross-sectoral, circular and above all people-oriented labor market system.

From mental problems to climate policy
As ‘Minister of Solutions’ of the KRO-NCRV radio program Spraakmakers, she continues to deal with current issues in society, such as: How can the mental problems of MBO students be solved and prevented? And: What obstacles need to be removed so that asylum seekers can work in our country? On top of that, she has also been appointed independent chair of the National Citizens’ Climate Consultative Committee, through which the government wants the Dutch to participate in discussions and deliberations on climate policy.

Does Meijer have time for a personal life? Yes, she enjoys swimming in an ice-cold dune lake, for example. Her sources of inspiration, according to the website of De Buitenboordmotor: ‘My daughters Floor and Josien because they hold up a mirror to me. And writers like Tolle, Allende, Wilder, Yalom and Coelho because they challenge me to think differently about life.’

This article was published in Management Scope 06 2024.

Decommissioned women
Two other newcomers are former Fontys president Nienke Meijer (No. 54, see frame 'Beyond the boundaries of the boardroom' up here) - who oversaw Smit at LUMC - and former FrieslandCampina CFO Jaska de Bakker (No. 56), who became supervisory director of paint manufacturer AkzoNobel this year (see frame 'Executive navigates to supervisory position below'). The real change, however, happens only in the bottom quarter of the list. For example, at No. 90 we encounter former D66 Minister Medy van der Laan, who became supervisory director of Schiphol Airport last year. How many more women who were former executives will follow as supervisory candidates once the new Schoof administration is in place? Most of the women at the bottom of the list, however, are still active as executives, in combination, or not, with a supervisory directorship,  For example, Heleen Kuijten-Koenen (No. 95), CFO of APG and supervisory director of accounting and consultancy firm BDO and staffing firm Otto Work Force.

Jaska de Bakker: Executive navigates to supervisory position

Former CFO likes to look ahead: will there be a storm tomorrow?
Somewhere in the Netherlands there is a cow named Jaska 1. The animal was named after Jaska de Bakker, who at the time, as CFO of FrieslandCampina, was allowed to feed the newborn calf during a visit to the farm. ‘When I announced I was leaving FrieslandCampina that dairy farmer emailed me: ‘How am I supposed to tell Jaska 1?’ she recalls the ‘fond memory’ elsewhere in this magazine.

Commotion amongst farmers
In the same interview, De Bakker explained why she left as the dairy cooperative’s top financial woman on May 1, 2021: ‘After four years, I began feeling that it was time for something else. The feeling was triggered primarily by the fact that I was approached for interesting supervisory directorships a couple of times. I had to decline, simply because I did not have the time. It continued to gnaw at me.’ But FrieslandCampina was also in turmoil at the time: the company was weighted down by poor financial results, unrest among the cooperative’s members and a walkout at the top. The departure of De Bakker caused considerable commotion among the farmers’ constituency.

Rapid career moves
De Bakker (1970) studied econometrics at the University of Amsterdam and obtained her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago (United States). Her career shows rapid career moves: she started as a consultant for Arthur D. Little and The Boston Consulting Group successively, moved into management positions at food manufacturer CSM and the privatized confectionery division Leaf, became CFO of engineering company RoyalHaskoningDHV and in 2017 started to work as a financial for FrieslandCampina in Asia. A heart’s desire, she told Management Scope a year later, ‘I’ve always wanted to live and work in Asia with my family. Asia is very dynamic, it is where things are happening now. The economic growth there is phenomenal and people are really pushing forward.’ But after just 12 months, she traded Singapore for the headquarters in Amersfoort, because she could take on the role of CFO.

Mix of old and new
Three years after her departure from FrieslandCampina, De Bakker has indeed built up the desired supervisory portfolio: at The Ocean Cleanup, Italian cable manufacturer Prysmian Group (into which the former Draka has merged), online pharmacy Redcare Pharmacy, salt and chemicals group Nobian (a ‘granddaughter’ of AkzoNobel) and, since this year, at the paint manufacturer AkzoNobel itself. An interesting mix of corporate history, a platform pharmaceutical company and an NGO.

Passion for diving and sailing
The Ocean Cleanup probably lies close to her heart, as she loves spending time in and on the water as a diver and sailor. In the 2018 interview mentioned earlier, she said of this, ‘When sailing, I am the one who takes care of the navigation and checks if there will be a storm the next day. My husband is usually at the helm and hoists the sails. I like to do the planning.’ The latter will serve her well as a supervisory board member. Is FrieslandCampina perhaps also on her wish list for future supervisory directorships? By now, that cow must have been renamed Caroline 1.

Only five 40-somethings and four women of color
In the upper echelons of the list, in short, there is stagnation: a thick layer of golden skirts hamper the advance of new arrivals. This is reflected in the average age, which has risen by about a year to 57.5. The list has only five people in their forties. Neither rejuvenation, nor the diversification of the list is getting up to speed sufficiently. The Top-100 has four women from multicultural backgrounds. Laetitia Griffith (No. 49, supervisory director of ABN AMRO, Gassan Diamonds and the Kadaster, among others) has been joined by the Turkish Pinar Abay (No. 74, former McKinseyan and member of the management board of ING), Choy van der Hooft-Cheong (back at No. 93, CCO Wealth Management of ABN AMRO) and Artie Debidien (No. 92, until recently CCO of KPN and supervisory director at DNB and brokerage cooperative NVM). From one to four women of color: it is a start, but agonizingly slow progress. Should that executive quota come about, please introduce a target for multicultural background as well.