‘How stupid can you be!?’, I mumbled several times this spring during two very blatant crises. I’m talking, of course, about the storm of protest about the salary of ING's CEO Hamers and about Prime Minister Rutte's justification of the abolition of dividend tax, which resulted in a vote of no confidence. Both issues are a case of bad timing.

The Supervisory Board of ING, led by Jeroen van der Veer, a man who I hold in high esteem, thought that the General Meeting of Shareholders of ING would be the perfect moment to raise the salary of Hamers with 50% to €3 million. And even though the Supervisory Board was under the impression that their arguments were valid, the Board completely miscalculated the reaction of the Dutch society. A Board member should know if and where there are any raw nerves, not only within the organisation, but also outside. The credit and debt crisis and the subsequent bailout of the banks are still far too fresh in everyone's memories. The Supervisory Board had the obligation to notify the shareholders about the increase in salary 6 weeks before the General Meeting, but apparently no one realised that this announcement, two weeks before the municipal elections, would backfire so heavily. In short, a disastrous timing.

The issue of Rutte and the dividend tax is also all about timing and the credibility of actions and promises. I know Rutte to be a skilful orator who is always conscious of political and social reactions. But last November, during the first debate about the abolition of dividend tax, he not only underestimated the issue about memos or other documents on the divided tax being available or not, he also did not offer credible promises to go through his files again with a fine-tooth comb. If he had said, at the time, that his party was in the possession of a document, not being an official formation document, the debate in March would have gone entirely different.

In short, you must never lose sight of sharp timing, proper actions, and credible promises, not before and also not during a crisis; it is always and all about integrity. Any decision, substantiation, and justification should be weighed up and deliberated at least three times.

Maria Henneman
May 2018