Looking back on the General Counsel Autumn Conference 2019

When you peel a banana, do you start from the top, like a normal person, or do you peel it from the bottom, like a maniac? A strange question, but more relevant than you might think to the theme of Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion of this year’s General Counsel NL Fall Conference; and if there is one thing you learn from this event, it is that the Dutch are far less normal than we think.

Embracing real diversity, the conference was held in a former centre for asylum seekers, that has now been converted into a sustainable and hip meeting centre, a nice change. Upon arrival, a buffet of small snacks was served and soon the room was filled with conversation. After an introduction by GCN’s founders Petra van Hilst and Michiel van Straaten, about GCN’s EQUAL in LEGAL D&I initiative, among other things, an extensive insight into cultural diversity was given by Wanne Wiersinga, an expert in the field of cross-cultural management. Wanne addressed the key aspects of how to build and lead a more cohesive and successful culturally diverse legal team. The best way to get a taste of what this keynote was about is to present you with some of her surprising insights.

Cultural diversity and the Dutch

Firstly, contrary to what you may think, a Dutchman working in France does not adapt to become more French, but in fact becomes more Dutch. In intercultural contacts, cultural differences are emphasised and often intensified, creating a larger cultural gap. Of course, if you are Dutch, the solution is not to wear garlic around your neck and bring baguettes to work, but instead to be aware of the differences and the misunderstandings they can lead to. We could talk all day about how unusual the rest of the world is, but it is much more meaningful and much more fun to focus on what makes the Dutch peculiar.

A strange aspect of life in the Netherlands is that we want our superiors to be down-to-earth, approachable and funny, just like us. Yet most of the rest of the world thinks otherwise and functions according to strict and formal hierarchies. Our liberal ways are reflected in the way we negotiate, through the arduous process of ‘poldering’. Combine this with a tendency to be very direct and you get a very powerful culture.
For the Dutch it is an established fact, for outsiders it may be insulting, frustrating and pointless. The fact that Belgium and the Netherlands are the most culturally diverse neighbours in the world is proof of our peculiarity. It is no secret that the Dutch like to make fun of our southern neighbours, and our neighbours of us; so, the next time you meet a Belgian, tell him you understand and then get on with our healthy rivalry.

General Counsel Award 2019-2020

After this enlightening keynote, the three 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 an 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 of Corporate Governance at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and Lead Instructor in the General Counsel Executive Program. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Finalist Margreet Hoekstra, General Counsel of T-Mobile Netherlands, was not able to attend the conference, but joined us by means of a live connection from Athens and a recorded video presentation, with in particular the approval by the European Commission of T-Mobile’s takeover of Tele2 under her watchful legal eye.
This was followed by a thought-provoking pitch from Stedin Group’s General Counsel, Suzanne van Nieuwenhuijzen; should a General Counsel put the success of his or her company above all else or focus on what is right? Suzanne showed us that it can be both.

But in the end it was Yu Lian de Bakker, the General Counsel of PVH Europe, who took home the prize. She inspired us all with her refreshing approach to revitalise the spirit of her legal department and maximise its potential. The “work hard – play hard” work atmosphere, her versatile legal team of 25 FTEs and their willingness to take initiative, as demonstrated by the lawsuit against Facebook for not taking responsibility in the spreading of fake ads, have rightly earned the legal department the title of ‘the double-stitching of PVH’.

Congratulations to Yu Lian! We look forward to what the future holds for you and your legal team.

GCN Network Drinks and Red Beetroot Snacks

The day ended with a healthy portion of ‘red beetroot snacks’ and good conversations. All in all, another successful conference and as Wanne Wiersinga pointed out: the next time you pick up a banana, ‘just act normal’ and try to peel it off the bottom.

GCN Round Tables on Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion

Together with 24 expert moderators, 12 GCN Round Tables were organised and best practices were shared on topics such as leadership, Me Too, gender equality in the legal world, D&I Board trends and Cultural Diversity (see overview below).

Many thanks to all the moderators who prepared and moderated the GCN Roundtables! Below the photos of the moderators of the GCN Round Tables.