When pealing a banana, do you start from its top, like a sane person, or peal it from its bottom, like a maniac? A strange question you might wonder, but more relevant than you would suspect to the theme of Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion of this year’s General Counsel Fall Conference; and if there is one thing to take home from this event, it is that Dutch people are much less normal than we think.

Embracing true diversity, the Conference was held in a former asylum center now refurbished into a sustainable and hip meeting hub, a nice change of pace. As people arrived a buffet of small bites was served and quickly the facility was filled with conversation. An introduction by GCN’s founders Petra van Hilst and Michiel van Straaten, on a.o. GCN’s EQUAL in LEGAL D&I initiative was followed by a detailed insight into cultural diversity by Wanne Wiersinga, an expert on cross-cultural management. Wanne addressed the most important aspects of how to build and lead a more cohesive and successful culturally diverse legal team. The best method to get a taste of what this keynote was about is to present you with some of its surprising insights.


Cultural Diversity and the Dutch

First, contrary to what you may think, a Dutch person working abroad in France does not adapt to become more French, but in fact becomes more Dutch. In cross cultural engagements cultural differences are accentuated and often reinforced creating a greater cultural gap. If you are Dutch, the solution is obviously not to wear garlic around your neck and start bringing baguettes to work, but instead, be mindful of these differences and the misunderstandings they may lead to. We could talk all day about how unusual the rest of the world is, but it makes much more sense and it is a lot more fun to focus on what makes the Dutch odd.

Wanne Wiersinga, Expert in Cross Cultural Management

One strange aspect of life in the Netherlands is that we like our superiors to be down to earth, approachable and funny, just like us. Yet, most of the rest of the world thinks differently, functioning on strict and formal hierarchies. Our liberal ways are reflected in the way we negotiate, through the painstakingly slow process of ‘polderen’, combine this with the tendency to be very direct and you end up with a very potent culture. To the Dutch, it is a fact of life, to outsiders it might be offensive, frustrating and pointless. The fact that Belgium and the Netherlands are the world’s most culturally different bordering countries serves as proof of our strangeness. It is no secret that the Dutch like to poke fun at our southernly neighbors, and our neighbors at us; so, the next time you meet a Belgian, tell him you understand, and then continue with our healthy little rivalry.

Presentation of Wanne Wiersinga

General Counsel Award 2019-2020

Finalists General Counsel Award 2019-2020

Jury General Counsel Award 2019-2020

After this insightful keynote, the 3 finalists of the General Counsel Award 2019-2020 presented their 10-minute pitches. The finalists were selected earlier this year from a group of GC nominees by the independent jury, chaired by Mildred Roethof, director and television producer, Simone Davina, General Counsel and Board Member of Siemens UK and D&I Ambassador and Hans van Oosterhout, Professor Corporate Governance at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and lead instructor at the General Counsel Executive Program.


Finalist General Counsel Award 2019-2020 | Margreet Hoekstra T-Mobile NL

Finalist General Counsel Award 2019-2020 | Suzanne van Nieuwenhuijzen – Stedin Groep

Margreet Hoekstra, General Counsel of T-Mobile Nederland, was not able to attend the conference but joined us through a live connection from Athens and a recorded video presentation; most notably, under her watchful legal eye the European Commission approved the acquisition of Tele2 by T-Mobile. This was then followed by the thought-provoking pitch made by the General Counsel of Stedin Group, Suzanne van Nieuwenhuijzen; is a general counsel supposed to prioritize the success of their company above everything else or focus on what is right? Suzanne showed us that we can have both.

But in the end, it was Yu Lian de Bakker, the General Counsel of PVH Europe, who walked home with the award. She inspired us all with her refreshing approach to rekindling the spirit of her legal department and maximizing its potential. The “work hard play hard” working atmosphere, her diverse legal team of 25 FTEs, and its willingness to take initiative as showcased in its lawsuit against Facebook for failing to take responsibility in the proliferation of fake advertisements have rightly deserved the legal department the title of ‘the double-stitching of PHV.’

Congratulations to Yu Lian! We look forward to seeing what’s in store for you and your legal team in the future.

Winner of the General Counsel Award 2019-2020 | Yu Lian de Bakker

General Counsel Award 2019-2020 ceremony with Yu Lian de Bakker and Mildred Roethof (chairman of the Jury)

Winner of the General Counsel Award 2019-2020 | Yu Lian de Bakker – PVH Europe

Winner of the General Counsel Award 2019-2020 | Yu Lian de Bakker PVH Europe

GCN Roundtables on Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion

Together with 24 expert moderators, 12 GCN roundtables were organized and best practices were shared on topics like among others Leadership, Me Too, gender equality in the legal profession, D&I Board trends and Cultural Diversity (see the overview below).

A huge thanks to all the moderators that prepared and moderated the GCN Roundtables! Click here for the pictures of the moderators of the GCN RoundTables

Moderators GCN Roundtables October 2019

GCN Network Drinks and Bietenballen

The day came to an end with a healthy portion of ‘bietenballen’ and good conversation. All in all, another successful conference, and as Wanne Wiersinga illustrated, the next time you reach for a banana, ‘doe is gewoon normaal’ and try to peal it from its bottom.


More pictures of the General Counsel Fall Conference: Click here