Top 100 Non-Executive Directors 2024: By No Means A Seismic Shift
While a seismic shift has occurred in politics, with Netherlands Inc getting a new CEO, the ‘Prime Minister’ and ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ of the Top 100 Non-Executive Directors have simply been reappointed. Similar to last year Dick Boer leads the list. The former CEO of supermarket group Ahold Delhaize is Non-Executive Chair of meal delivery service Just Eat Takeaway, Non-Executive at Swiss food giant Nestlé and Vice-Chairman of family conglomerate SHV and of Shell. ‘Dare to (vice) chair’, as not everyone is interested yet in a supervisory position at the oil and gas company, following the court ruling on Shell’s misstatement of their climate targets. Fear reigns among some Supervisory Board members: will the association with the former Royal not mean the end of the rest of the supervisory portfolio? Boer, incidentally, is accompanied on Shell’s international board by another Dutchman: Bram Schot (No 14). The former Volkswagen executive and Audi CEO is a member of the Safety, Environment and Sustainability Committee there, and is therefore close to the action.
Wanted: high frustration tolerance
The runner-up of the list also remains unchanged: Pauline van der Meer Mohr, Supervisory Director of chip machine manufacturer ASM International (Chair), insurer NN (Vice Chair) and Ahold Delhaize. Until the end of 2022, Van der Meer Mohr also chaired the Corporate Governance Code Monitoring Committee. In that role, she had to keep all parties on board during the update of the corporate governance code, incorporating the concept of sustainable long-term value creation. A tough job, considering the growing fear of legalization and liability among stakeholders. After this tour de force, there was even a question of whether there would be another monitoring committee. Minister Adriaansens of Economic Affairs and Climate first commissioned a study on the future and legal embedding of the code. While awaiting the results, a recruitment advertisement suddenly appeared for a successor to Van der Meer Mohr. The profile: natural authority, connecting, open and approachable, persuasive and decisive. The new Chair must also possess a high frustration tolerance and the willingness to take a significant reputational risk (although, obviously, those two criteria were not stated). Finding the fifth Mr. or Mrs. Governance might therefore proof even more challenging than finding supervisors for Shell.
In the third position, we find Lodewijk Hijmans van den Bergh. The former Ahold director climbed six positions within the top 10 due to a new Supervisory Board position at beer manufacturer Heineken, which appointed him because of his legal, sustainability and retail experience. Additionally, Hijmans Van den Bergh oversees ING Group and investment company HAL. His career somewhat resembles a well-stacked sandwich: first, about two decades at the renowned law firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek (where Van der Meer Mohr also began her career), then four years at Ahold, followed by another four years at De Brauw, and now the professional supervisory directorship. Incidentally, this spring, Hijmans van den Bergh also retired from a Supervisory Board position after just one term: at BE Semiconductor Industries (BESI), where he served as Chairman.
‘Full steam ahead’ from the word go
This year’s top 10 shows no less than three gatecrashers, incidentally, all men. Jack de Kreij is one of the biggest climbers on the list (from no. 49 to no. 5): the former Vopak CFO added a Supervisory Board position at ASML to his already impressive portfolio, which includes supervisory positions at publishing company Wolters Kluwer, dredging company Boskalis and navigation company TomTom. ‘ASML is like a high-speed train, so it was ‘full steam ahead’ straight away,’ De Kreij shared with Management Scope about his onboarding and first 100 days as Supervisory Board member of the chip machine manufacturer. During his time at Vopak, he dealt with US sanctions against Iran. That experience is now proving useful at ASML, which faces US export restrictions in its power struggle with China. Enter the geopolitical Supervisory Director as a new discipline in Dutch boardrooms, now that the international community is torn apart by tensions and conflict?
De Kreij is also chairman of the VEUO (Vereniging Effecten Uitgevende Ondernemingen) and thus a kind of Supervisory Chairman of the listed corporate world. According to some, this advocacy organization may have been an anchor in the ambition to upgrade the corporate governance code to a moral compass, with a societal duty of care as the true north. Not a supporting party, but a party which engages strongly.
Another rapid riser on the list is Ben Noteboom (from no. 22 to no. 8). The former CEO of Randstad, now in his mid-fifties, did not opt for a new executive role after stepping down from the staffing firm in 2014 (involuntarily, as later revealed), but became a professional Supervisory Director. After his first two ‘terms’ (with supervisory positions at major retailer Ahold (Delhaize), insurer Aegon and Wolters Kluwer), he embarked on a new shift last year: Noteboom became Chairman of the Supervisory Board at paint manufacturer AkzoNobel and Vice Chairman of the Supervisory Board of telecom company KPN. He is also still Supervisory Chairman at storage company Vopak, where his second term ends in 2024, potentially freeing up some capacity. Noteboom once told NRC that, as the head of Randstad, he never worked weekends or read papers on Sundays, unlike some other executives: ‘I think it is extremely impressive. But they are probably in a different sector than I am, because I would not know what to read, to be honest.’ We are curious to see if Noteboom, as a dual Chairman, still maintains a read-free Sunday.
The top 10 welcomes an additional new chair: former Van Lanschot Kempen CEO Karl Guha (no. 10, see ‘Financial veteran puts world problems on agenda’ down below) became Supervisory Board Chairman at ING, ranking him the highest newcomer on the list. He was appointed this spring at a tumultuous shareholders’ meeting, where Milieudefensie and Extinction Rebellion chanted the lyrics ‘Fossil really cannot carry on’ to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. It was the farewell AGM of former AkzoNobel CEO and former Economic Affairs minister Hans Wijers (no longer on the list), who led the Supervisory Board of the bank with the orange lion since 2017. Guha thus immediately got a taste of what awaited him as Chair. Originally, he was supposed to join the ING Supervisory Board immediately after the meeting to be inducted by Wijers and take over from him on 1 July. However, due to a mistake by the bank to his disadvantage, Guha’s seat had to remain vacant for about two months. With ten men versus three women – including the concurrently appointed Austrian Alexandra Reich (no. 35) - the Supervisory Board would temporarily have fallen short of the legally required minimum 33 per cent women. Last year, the Top 100 also witnessed a quota-erratum, although it was solved through creative accounting. Meal delivery service Just Eat Takeaway first presented the shareholders with Trustpilot-CCO Mieke De Schepper (no. 45) as a new Supervisory Board member, which numerically paved the way for the appointment of Boer as Supervisory Board member (Chair). The gender balance in the top 10 is, incidentally, fifty-fifty—something not commonly found in supervisory boards!
The highest-ranking newcomer: Karl Guha (no. 10)
Financial veteran puts world problems on agenda
With over 30 years of experience in the financial sector, a cosmopolitan background, and societal commitment, Karl Guha (1964) possesses a distinctive profile. Born in the Indian city of Darjeeling (although holding Dutch nationality). ‘My parents are classical liberal intellectuals,’ he told Forum. ‘They immersed me in history, philosophy and musical traditions. Looking at my family history, many have served in the public service and military.’
Spartan boarding school
Young Guha attended a boarding school in Great Britain. According to his own account, this Spartan upbringing shaped his character and laid the foundation for his societal engagement. Subsequently, he studied economics at Boston University in the United States. After completing his studies, Guha began his career in 1989 as a management trainee at ABN AMRO. This marked the beginning of an international career at the bank, where he held various positions. From 2005 until the crisis year of 2008, he served as the Group Treasurer. Following a move to the Italian bank Unicredit as the Chief Risk Officer, he was persuaded a few years later by Director Jos Streppel and CEO Floris Deckers to succeed the latter as the CEO of Van Lanschot (Kempen), a position he held from 2013 to 2021.
Guha transformed the financial institution from a general bank to a wealth manager for affluent private clients and institutions. Non-investing clients were no longer welcome, and staff reductions were necessary. Reflecting on this in Het Financieele Dagblad, he stated: ‘I remember a meeting at our office in Rotterdam, where I explained why we were saying goodbye to a large number of employees. Someone told me that Van Lanschot lost its warmth because of me. I then told him that a burning house does not provide the warmth you want. We recorded a loss of €150 million that year. That is the precise moment when you must stick to your vision and push through the process.’
Concerns about global society
After eight years, Guha, at the age of 57, departs from Van Lanschot Kempen. In the FD, he explained this move as follows: ‘My father instilled in me the idea of leaving before you start believing your own bullshit.’ He no longer aspired to become a CEO again, stating: ‘I want to spend about a third of my time on education and art, a third using my knowledge to help organizations, and a third for travel and reading. That seems like an ideal mix to me.’ With supervisory roles at ING (as Chairman) and in the family business SHV, along with serving as a Senior Advisor to Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, his professional plate is more than full. Additionally, Guha enjoys contemplating societal issues such as the influence of social media, sustainability, the undermining of democracy, geopolitics, and artificial intelligence: ‘We are at a crossroads: do we use digital technology to dehumanize the individual, as we read in George Orwell’s book 1984, or to make the world more livable? The choice is ours.’ With all his concerns about global society, Guha undoubtedly finds himself short of time in his ‘third phase of life.’
Back in action
In total, we count 20 new Supervisory Directors (compared to 18 last year), so the list has been refreshed by a fifth. Among the newcomers, six were promoted from the Next50, the list of upcoming top non-executives which Management Scope publishes annually. Among them is former AFM Director Femke de Vries (no. 73), who became a Supervisory Director at ABN AMRO. Six others had previously appeared in the Top 100 and are now making a comeback. Who stands out among the new additions? First, at no. 22, we encounter the highest-ranking woman among the list of newcomers: former Heineken CFO Laurence Debroux (see ‘Family commissioner with a philosophical touch’ down below). The Frenchwoman added a supervisory position at Randstad to her role at Exor Nederland. In the Supervisory Board of the staffing firm, she meets Jeroen Drost (no. 29), who was appointed simultaneously. The SHV CEO also oversees, among others, small-cap Ebusco, and with that, makes a comeback on the list. One position below, at no. 30, we find Herman Dijkhuizen. Both men have a history with NIBC. After working at ABN AMRO for over 20 years, Drost became CEO of the former National Investment Bank (from the crisis year 2008 to 2014), while Dijkhuizen was the CFO (from 2013 to 2023). The latter now makes his return to the list with a new supervisory position at KPN (also a former state-owned company), he has been Supervisory Chairman at Nederlandse Spoorwegen. A kind of hybrid Supervisory Director.
The highest-ranking new woman: Laurence Debroux (no. 22)
‘Family Supervisory Director’ with philosophical touch
She believes in the strength and continuity of family business. Therefore, it is not surprising that the French Laurence Debroux chose two – or actually three – Dutch companies with a rich family history. She was the CFO of the beer manufacturer Heineken (with Freddy’s daughter Charlene de Carvalho as a major shareholder) and serves as a Supervisory Director at the staffing agency Randstad (the life’s work of Frits Goldschmeding) and Exor (the investment company of the Fiat family Agnelli based in the Netherlands).
Passion for Spinoza
Debroux (1969) graduated from the prestigious École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC) in Paris. She started her career at the American investment bank Merrill Lynch, where she was involved in the privatization of the French oil company Elf Aquitaine. Subsequently, she served as CFO of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, outdoor advertising operator (and family business) JCDecaux, and Heineken (from 2015), where she succeeded René Hooft Graafland. In 2021, she left the beer manufacturer prematurely after the new CEO, Dolf van den Brink, formed his own team. Since then, Debroux has focused on her supervisory roles: besides Randstad and Exor, she sits on the board of the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, the British ESG advisory firm Kite Insights, and her alma mater HEC Paris. Additionally, she enjoys delving into the life and work of the Dutch philosopher Spinoza and the intellectual exchange in 17th-century Europe.
Walking a tightrope between male and female leadership
In addition to family businesses, Debroux has always been an advocate for more women in top positions. She once said, ‘You have to acknowledge that Boards of Directors remain male strongholds if you do not give women a helping hand.’ She paved her own way, balancing ‘like a tightrope walker’ between male and female leadership criteria. She occasionally heard that her smiling demeanor raised doubts, as she shared on Vernimmen.net. Some wondered if she was demanding and direct enough with teams. She said, ‘Recently, a young man seeking advice asked me to be ‘mercilessly honest’ with him... I began by promising him that he would get all my honesty with all my goodwill. Mercilessness to me is not a sign of intelligence, nor a guarantee of effectiveness...’
Cherish your inner child
Her own role models include Marie Curie, Simone Veil, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Carolyn Carlson, Jacqueline de Romilly, and Françoise Dolto: ‘Determined women who excel in their fields.’ Debroux herself serves as a role model for the upcoming generation of top women, as evident from an interview for the British IR Society with Sonya Ghobrial, Head of Investor Relations at the pharmaceutical company Haleon, a role she previously held at Heineken when Debroux was the CFO: ‘She was a great inspiration, someone to learn from, who believed in IR, provided strength, and brilliantly exemplified what female leadership could achieve.’ In conclusion, the advice that Debroux imparts to all leaders, both men and women: ‘Garde toujours dans ta main la main de l’enfant que tu as été.’ (‘Always walk hand in hand with the child you once were.’)
Chairman calls helpline
Incidentally, Dijkhuizen began his career at the accountancy and consultancy firm KPMG, where he worked for more than 30 years, the last four as CEO. From KPMG to NS: a number of people also make the reverse move. Like Roger van Boxtel, who, after stepping down as NS CEO, became the Chairman of the Supervisory Board at KPMG, but resigned after two years due to exam fraud at the firm. Ministerial responsibility for exchanging answers during mandatory tests in operations? No, the former D66 official turned out to have used a helpline himself during a test, due to a ‘time squeeze.’ Perhaps he had a train to catch? NS itself gained a heavyweight in the Supervisory Board last year: Ron Teerlink, the biggest climber on the list, from no. 94 to no. 34. Teerlink combines a quarter of a century’s experience at ABN AMRO with two terms as Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Rabobank. He is also a Supervisory Director at Just Eat Takeaway. We cannot help but see an interesting cross-pollination: ordering a pizza or kebab on the train, which is then delivered in the next compartment or at the next station.
Only 14 Supervisory Directors in ‘double duty’
Among the newcomers, approximately one-third (7 out of 20) also hold supervisory directorships in addition to their principal executive position. This is half of the total number of ‘active’ Supervisory Directors on the list; is there a cautious trend emerging? Let us hope so, as there is a strong case for Supervisory Directors who are hands-on, who deal with their own Supervisory Board and stay on top of all developments that affect the boardroom, such as ESG and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only 14 out of the 100 combine supervisory directorships with a C-suite role (including six CEOs and four CFOs), with the remaining 86 being professional Supervisory Directors. The highest-ranking ‘double duty’ Supervisory Director is PostNL CEO Herna Verhagen (no. 6), at Philips and ING. Verhagen is an exception in the upper echelons of the Top 100, as the first half of the list is dominated by Supervisory Directors who have made supervision their profession. This is quite logical, as board members are only allowed to hold two supervisory positions and not a Supervisory Board Chairmanship. Otherwise, they could find themselves in a ‘time-squeeze’ (there it is again) on both fronts, especially if a crisis erupts in the (supervisory) organization. Only if those two supervisory positions are substantial enough can directors ‘compete’ with the well-stocked portfolios of the pros.
New chapter as Supervisory Director at the top?
A great example of a CFO-Supervisory Director is Jolanda Poots-Bijl (no. 55). She moved from family-owned dredging company Van Oord to Ahold Delhaize this spring, but continues to oversee AkzoNobel, and Volkswagen importer and Gazelle manufacturer Pon Holdings. Among the ‘active’ ones are also two Supervisory Directors at De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB): Roger Dassen (no. 71) became CFO of ASML in 2018 while also serving as a supervisor at DNB. Ahold Delhaize CEO Frans Muller (no. 78) added such a prestigious supervisory role to his resume last year: he succeeded Feike Sijbesma (no. 64) on the board. Sijbesma recently stepped down as a Non-Executive at Unilever, in addition to leaving his position at DNB after the regular nine years in that role. He held both positions when he was still CEO of DSM. He is now ‘only’ the Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Philips, which is not the easiest supervisory task due to the sleep apnea scandal. But with the vacant spots in the portfolio, there is room for more. The 64-year-old Sijbesma could be at the beginning of a new chapter as Supervisory Director at the top. A future number 1 in the Top 100?
New Executive? Appoint a Supervisory Director!
Now that Sijbesma is not a member of the board anymore, Hein Schumacher, as the new CEO of Unilever, can no longer rely on a Dutch Non-Executive and a Rhinelandic bulwark against the activism of investor Nelson Peltz, who has secured a place on the board of the food and personal care giant. Schumacher himself is not any longer in the top. Last year, he was still the CEO of dairy giant FrieslandCampina and entered the list at no. 76 with his new supervisory role at Unilever. In that role, he helped search for a successor to CEO Alan Jope, who stumbled over the failed acquisition attempt of GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer division. Which proved unnecessary in hindsight, because Schumacher himself was appointed as the new Unilever CEO. Well, sometimes, the company’s own board can be the best fishing pond. Moreover, next spring, Schumacher will also have a new Chair: Nils Andersen (no. 13, the highest-ranking foreign commissioner) will then pass the baton to current Non-Executive Ian Meakins.
Former Executive Committee member Hanneke Faber - who headed Unilever’s food division, not on the list - has also now left the marketing establishment. She too was reportedly in the running for the top job at the now British concern. Instead, she is now the new CEO of Swiss-American computer supplier Logitech. Faber also oversees US fashion group Tapestry (the parent organization of brands such as Coach, Kate Spade New York and Stuart Weitzman). Perhaps, in future, a supervisory position at a Dutch company will suit her to maintain ties with her homeland? We would happily welcome her to the Top 100 Supervisory Directors. Incidentally, Chantal Vergouw also did a ‘Schumacher’. Last year, the former Interpolis top woman entered at no. 88 with a new supervisory directorship at KPN. She subsequently took a step down (or up, depending on how you look at it) to the telecom company’s board of directors, as Chief Business Market. Pieter Duisenberg (last year at no. 61) also made the transition from Supervisory Director (at Gasunie and Stadion Feijenoord) to Board member: he became President of the Court of Auditors.
Established generation makes way
In the past, management and supervision were often separate worlds: first, a career in management, then followed a second career as Supervisory Director (sometimes advanced, as an ‘escape’ after an unplanned exit due to disputes or mergers). The modern corporate career seems less linear: managerial and supervisory roles overlap. It creates space and increases the flow for aspiring Supervisory Directors. This also applies to the periodic step-aside by the established generation. For example, several well-known names are not on the list this year. We mentioned Hans Wijers (who is now Supervisory Director only at HAL), and other examples include former Philips CEO Gerard Kleisterlee (stepped down as Chairman of ASML), Margot Scheltema, former CFO of Shell Netherlands (retired as Supervisory Director of DNB), and former Aegon CFO Jos Streppel (no longer Chairman of the Supervisory Board of LeasePlan).
Women’s quota worn out?
What does this generational change mean for the diversity of the list? The number of women in the Top 100 did not increase, but in fact decreased slightly: from 43 percent to 41 percent. While seven women were added, nine dropped out: -2. For men, it is the opposite: 13 new men joined (almost twice as many as women), and 11 dropped out: +2. One would expect otherwise, now that the women’s quota has almost two years on the counter. Or has the effect worn out? Now that the mandatory 33 percent of women in the Supervisory Boards of most listed companies has been achieved (the average is 39 percent, according to the data in Management Scope's database), efforts seem to be relaxing. And that while 33 percent is, of course, not 50 percent. Moreover, the number of female Executives stagnates at 15 percent, according to that same database. D66 and GroenLinks-PvdA want to expand the women’s quota to the Boards of Directors of listed companies, but given the election results, we are not holding our breath.
Thick layer of 60-year-olds
About rejuvenation, or should we rather speak of aging? At first glance, not much seems to have changed. The average age of the Supervisory Directors on the list is 61 years: 59 for women and 63 for men. Thus, the gender age gap is four years. All the same as last year, but by tenths of a percent, the ages increased slightly. This is reflected in the extremities of the list. Last year, the youngest Supervisory Director was 46, this year 48: the Trustpilot CCO Mieke De Schepper (mentioned above), Supervisory Director at Just Eat Takeaway and hotel website Trivago. She is almost 30 years younger than the oldest Supervisory Director on the list: Tom de Swaan (no. 60, 77 years old), Chairman of ABN AMRO. If De Swaan completes his full second term as Chair of the bank (in 2026), he will be 80 years old. The upcoming generation of Supervisory Boards is therefore dealing with a thick layer of 60-year-olds and even some 70-year-olds.
White and from the western world
Furthermore, supervision seems to continue to become more international. The list includes 12 foreign Supervisory Directors: four more than last year, or in other words, a third. Apparently, the COVID-19 dip for supervisors from outside the Netherlands is over. Among them, for example, is the Spanish Delfin Rueda Arroyo (no. 57), CFO of investor Mundi Ventures and Non-Executive of high-frequency trader Flow Traders and payment company Adyen. The number of supervisory migrants is evenly divided between men and women, but the list does not reflect the globalization that the Dutch business world is so proud of. Except for Nitin Paranjpe (no. 96), Chief People & Transformation Officer of Unilever and member of the Supervisory Board of Heineken, all foreign supervisors on the list are white and of Western origin. Also, in the total list, Supervisory Directors of color are strongly underrepresented. Only former politician Laetitia Griffith (no. 11, Supervisory Director of, among others, ABN AMRO, Gassan Diamonds, the Cadastre, and TenneT), former Leaseplan Executive Tjahny Bercx (no. 32, Supervisory Director of Achmea and ProRail), and ING Chair Karl Guha have a multicultural background. Four out of 100: +1 since last year, so almost nothing has changed. BIJ1 had a quota based on ethnicity in its election program, but that party will not return to the House of Representatives. And now that the liberal leader Dilan Yeşilgöz will not become Prime Minister (woman, Kurdish-Turkish origin, and relatively young at 46), the chance of a national role model is also lost. Companies will, therefore, need to appoint more women, rejuvenate, and diversify on their own. That would be a real seismic shift.
The Top 100 Non-Executive Directors was compiled by Timen Kraak. Article written by Marike van Zanten. Published in Management Scope 01 2024.