The expat sat at the table with twelve of his closest team members. He looked from left to right and said “today I’ll be betrayed by one of you twelve present at this meal”. His deputy and closest friend Pieter van Strakke Broek, said, “expat, I can’t believe this to be true, none of us at this table would ever betray you”. To which the expat replied, Pieter, tomorrow morning you’ll deny even knowing me”.
I know the following story to be true, as it was told to me by four different people. Matthew van lange tienen, Luke van Liggen, John de Gierig and Mark van Rijke Ouders. In spite of various inconsistencies in the tale told, I’ve decided to go with the version written by Luke van Liggen. This is the story, of a great leader, much beloved by all who knew him, who was brought to his knees by corporate politics and backstabbing. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen if you fail to pay attention to Dutch culture while working in the Netherlands. This story might be somewhat controversial, but the truth must be told.
The things I do for my readers!
In the beginning
In the beginning there was a global consulting giant, called Mcculloch and co. They were the mightiest consultants in the world. For the past seventy years they and their partners had made a fortune by advising CEO’s of large corporations what some might describe as the bloody obvious. The Mcculloch strategy was pretty simple, if they received an assignment from a client that had recently decentralised all of their operations, the Mcculloch team would spend months carrying out a detailed operational efficiency review, whose outcome would be to centralise everything. Likewise if they went into an organisation that was heavily centralised, they would advise the client to decentralise. Whichever option was chosen, Mcculloch always did very well, with hourly fees that were so outrageous that even Mcculloch Senior Partners were never sure how they continued to get away with it for so long.A cynic might of said that apart from coming from a wealthy family, and having graduated from a top tier university, the most important skill required to be successful at Mcculloch was the ability to keep a straight face while dispensing advice to clients. There were so many business school graduates working there, that it was impossible to have a cliche free conversation, even at lunch. “Can you please pass me a glass of liquid resources please?” Which of course meant, can I have some water.
There had been a member of the Mcculloch family at the head of the global organisation for the past seventy years, and it’s current chairman, Rupert Mcculloch, was so powerful and feared that people often simply referred to him as God. One day God decided that his only son, who we shall call ‘the expat’ would go amongst the team based in Amsterdam, and dispense his wisdom and see that God’s will be done. The expat was assigned to the Netherlands and put in charge of day to day operations, something that angered his Amsterdam based peers, but they were too afraid to argue with God, who after all had sent him there in the first place.
Welcome to the Netherlands
The expat arrived in Amsterdam, and being an EU citizen, was the kind of foreigner that was not particularly wanted in the Netherlands (they’d had enough of foreigners disrespecting their tradities) but tolerated. He signed more papers than Elizabeth Taylor’s former divorce lawyer, and settled into his company apartment in the Jordaan, whose rent was so high that he could have fed an entire village for a month with the money being spent. That weekend he was to receive a final package in the post with his local bank card and account details. He was somewhat confused to be told that he would have to remain home from ten till six as PostNL were unable to tell him when they would be delivering. He waited in almost the entire day, but then popped out to his local bakery to buy some bread. He was out of the apartment for all of five minutes, when upon returning there was a card from PostNL telling him that as he wasn’t home he’d have to collect the package from the post office the following business day. He was not annoyed however, and simply muttered, “blessed are PostNL for they know not what they do”.
On his first working day he was assigned a Russian secretary called Mary Haveitoffalot. As she ran the expat through his first weeks schedule she advised him of a major event that would be held later that day, in an auditorium with all of the five thousand local partners and employees. The head of the local firm introduced him, making a joke that great things were expected from the expat, seeing as how he was the son of God. Even though the joke wasn’t in the least bit amusing, the employees gathered laughed and laughed until their vital organs almost spilled out onto the floor, as it was always important to laugh whenever a partner told a joke.
How to feed the five thousand?
The event was held in typical Dutch style, with only water being available to drink, along with some bread so hard that it could have formed its own motorcycle club and some bitterballen. The expat turned to his secretary Mary, and asked her, how on earth did they expect to feed so many people with just such a small amount of food and water? Mary replied, “Expat, have you never attended an all staff meeting in the Netherlands before? Normally they make you bring your own food and water with you, the staff will be grateful that there’s something here to drink”. This was not good enough for the expat who responded, “this meeting is scheduled to last for four hours, we can’t expect the staff to eat and drink so little, I’ll take care of it”.
So the meeting dragged on, with lots of grey suited, brown shoe wearing executives talking about how, the most valuable asset that the organisation had was the employee, and the need for Mcculloch to respond in an agile fashion to the needs of its customers being repeated over and over again. After a while the expat, mentally started awarding himself a thousand euros every time the word ‘strategy’ or ‘cloud’ was used, and after an hour he already had enough money to retire to a villa in the South of France.
How to make powerful enemies
Rob van Achterbaks, the Dutch Chairmen, began a speech on the future of capitalism, (whose future depended on Mcculloch being around to give out premium advice) when suddenly a surprised murmur ran through the crowd. This was getting louder and louder, so Rob, not enjoying being distracted by the sudden change of tone in the crowd enquired what was going on. “I’m sorry Rob, but there has been a miracle, the venue has started serving wine to the staff. They’re also serving fresh soft bread with herring, the staff are getting very excited. Enraged Rob van Achterbaks demanded to know who had authorised this, to which the response was, the expat. To make things worse, as Rob wandered through the crowd, instead of people complimenting him on his ninety minute speech, all they could do was say how grateful they were to the expat for arranging edible food and wine. It was indeed a miracle. Rob however was not pleased and swore that from this day on, he would do everything he could to jeopardise the career of that damn expat.
End of part one.
No backstabbing executives were hurt during the telling of this tale.