‘Durf te dromen en toon meer respect’, Het Parool, The Netherlands,

11 December 2007


Mike Van Damme

LAST WEEK he was still in India on a trade mission in the company of, among others, five Dutch Deputy Mayors, including Lodewijk Asscher of Amsterdam. Then Rutger Koopmans, the ING head of medium-sized business and chairman of the Dutch – India Chamber of Commerce, received a telephone call from Brussels. “I was invited to a congress to give a speech on ethics, but they also asked if I would be able to attend a dinner, in order to receive an award.”

What does the Ethics in Business award mean to you?

It means recognition. Ethics in business is something I have been involved with for a long time. The award ceremony itself was a special experience. I received the award from the hands of the Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He is a very special man, with a large following.”

You must have been doing something innovative to be recognised with an international award.

As the chairman of the Dutch – India Chamber of Commerce, I have been to India many times, and in that capacity I am doing my best to bring the two industries and cultures closer together. I think that is what in essence prompted this award. It is not just coincidental that the European business world is focusing more and more on human values, now that the Indian economy is recording such robust growth.”

Is the business world in India much more humane than in the Netherlands?

In Indian community life, I see an unbelievable fundamental democratic feeling, tolerance and a feeling of collectivity. Why are Indian airports always so busy? People are seeing each other off and picking each other up. There is much less emphasis on individual achievement. People embrace diversity, with the idea that ‘it is good that you are different from me, then together we are strong’. There is a much lesser sense of this in the Netherlands.”

How does this translate in the Indian business world?

Based on my experience, I have noticed that in business dealings there is an enormous need for a personal relationship. It’s not that they negotiate a good price and then forget about the rest… Business dealings need not be a purely hard-as-nails affair,” said ING director Rutger Koopmans (49), who received the Ethics in Business award at the European Parliament in Brussels last week. “In India, first you talk about your family, then you go on to business.”

It is a gesture of respect if, for example, you first ask where a person is from, how their family is doing… In the Netherlands people are inclined to say too quickly, “Let’s deal with business matters first and leave the personal stories for later.”

You ask about their parents?

No, of course you need to take into account what fits in with your own culture.”

What is that, when we are speaking about Europe?

Empathy, I think. You must have consideration for and be committed to the people who work for you or whom you are working with. That is just as important as the salary. Giving someone the opportunity to develop their talents is definitely just as important as providing them with a company car. We must not only think in terms of material values.”

What are you doing at ING to implement human values?

We have ‘business principles’, rules whereby we make it clear what we stand for and thus what we do not stand for. As a company we encourage our employees to actually use the space they are given. They can serve on the boards of cultural institutions or provide administrative or managerial services for schools. These are essential roles in the community. It is my responsibility as a manager to create the space for these things, as well.”

Is it easy then for your employees to get a day off?

First of all, you need to take into account that people who do volunteer work or are a member of a board sometimes do not have time for the company in the evenings or need to leave an hour early. As the employer, you simply need to be accommodating about it.”

On your website, you write that you must always go for ’10’ if you are going for something. Doesn’t that pushiness actually conflict with the ethical values you are trying to bring forward?

Not really, it just depends on how you define ’10’. I believe that you should make the most of your talents – do not be one-sided. Some people have one unmistakeable great talent, but most of the rest feel at home in a variety of markets. All these talents need to be developed, without making compromises.”

Ruthlessness is not encouraged, then?

The message is – dare to dream, even in business life. I often see people who dream about starting a business or taking over their parents’ company. The dream coming true means much more than could ever be expressed in terms of money. For me, too, there is no sum of money that could express the value of winning this award. Money is absolutely not everything.”

Caption: Rutger Koopmans with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar