GCN’s Annual Conference 2021 on Transformation, Restructuring & ESG  – July 8th, 2021 at RAI Amsterdam

In perhaps one of the most spacious venues in the Netherlands, ‘colourful moderator’ Emmelie Zipson welcomed all attending members at the annual GCN conference 2021 on the 8th of July at RAI Amsterdam. This conference day revolved around transformation, restructuring and environmental, social and governance (ESG). For the first time in a long time, we gathered with a large group of General Counsels and had excellent face-to-face discussions, and although on 1,5 metres, this really felt so good!

COVID as an innovation booster

Keynote speaker Sven Smit, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, kicked the day off and discussed the immense and rapid change the coronavirus has imposed on us. A year and a half ago he was still catching multiple flights and hundreds of conversations a week but when the pandemic hit this all changed. No flights, no ‘downtime’ and numerous zoom meetings – in short, huge changes in a considerably small amount of time. COVID has truly transformed our everyday life.

Contrary to what many might expect, Sven’s story was actually quite positive. In short, Sven explained that the pandemic has dramatically increased the speed and scale of innovation as COVID accelerated major forces shaping the global economy. Things that were considered impossible before the pandemic have now been implemented. Therefore, he believes the pandemic will later be referred to as one of the great ‘innovation boosters’ which will accelerate and restore the economy by Q4 of 2021.

GC as a strategic leader

During the GCN Forum discussion, Sven Smit, Anne Hustinx (GC Royal Schiphol Group), Boudewijn Beusmans (CEO NewBe) and Charlotte van Meer (CLO & member ExCo packaging) discussed their views on transformation and the role of the General Counsel.

They all agreed that just looking at whether something is legal is simply not enough anymore. Nowadays GC’s are also frequently facing issues regarding ethicality and strategy. The General Counsel is experiencing a shift from GC to a strategic advisor, therefore GC’s need a place on the board including a voice. All forum members underlined the importance of personal development in order to become that strategic voice and be able to take the right decisions in your career and for your company.

GCN News

Petra van Hilst and Michiel van Straaten shortly shared some GCN News about the upcoming General Counsel Executive Program 2022, the GCEP Summer Course which took place in June 2021 on Finance for GCs, Change Management and Intercultural Management, the GC to GO walks in April and May, the online GCN peer-to-peer meetings, the jury and the nominations of the upcoming General Counsel Award 2021-2022 and the EQUAL in LEGAL platform. Furthermore they looked ahead at the upcoming General Counsel Fall Conference on October 7th which will be about “Lawyer’s Well-being”.

Change is difficult – the life story of Bright

In the theme of transformation, former refugee Bright O’Richards told how his life changed after fleeing his homeland Liberia and finding refuge in the Netherlands. Bright delivered an atmospheric performance in which he took the GC’s through various adventures and experiences that truly transformed him into the man he is today. If you don’t have a choice and you need to transform it is very difficult. With his energetic charisma, Bright managed to completely engage the GCs in his story, even filling the room with dancing GCs at one point. Bright’s overall inspirational message it to help out – even if the resources are limited and the risks are big – and transform one other person’s life for the best.

GCN Roundtables

After these inspiring keynotes, the 14 different GCN Roundtables offered the opportunity to discuss several topics regarding transformation, restructuring and ESG.

During the Roundtables and the network moments Emily asked the participants about their experiences, insights and how they felt to be at a conference again. An impression of these interviews and the conference can be seen in the video below.