Chairman of the managing board, ABN AMRO
Born: August 25, 1949.
Education: University of Utrecht, law degree; Manchester University Business School, DipBA, 1973.
Family: Children: four.
Career: Amro Bank, 1974; 1976–1977, head, product management retail accounts; 1978–1979, head, syndicated loans; 1980–1981, head, international corporate accounts, international division; 1982–1985, director, Dutch special credit department; 1985–1987, senior executive vice president, corporate business; 1988–1990, appointed to managing board; ABN AMRO, 1990–2000, appointed to managing board, responsible for the Netherlands division; 2000–, chairman, managing board.
Awards: Officer in the Order of Oranje-Nassau, presented by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, 2004.
Address: ABN AMRO Holding, PO Box 600, 1000 AP, Amsterdam, Netherlands; http://www.abnamro.com.
■ After a life-long career with Amsterdam-Rotterdam Bank (AMRO), Rijkman W. J. Groenink was appointed to the managing board and placed in charge of the entire Netherlands division of the newly established ABN AMRO following the 1990 merger of AMRO and Algemene Bank Nederland (ABN). Over the ensuing decade, the huge bank listed in a sea of stodgy management traditions and mindsets. Groenink broke with long-held Dutch business traditions to bring an aggressive and clearly defined management philosophy to all levels of the company, with a major emphasis on trimming unnecessary levels of management, implementing restructuring programs, and, especially, creating shareholder value.
ABN AMRO had its beginnings in the 1990 merger of the two largest banks in the Netherlands, Algemene Bank Nederland (ABN) and Amsterdam-Rotterdam Bank (AMRO). ABN purchased the Chicago-based LaSalle National Bank in 1979, and in 1991 LaSalle was quickly acquiring competitors in the U.S. Midwest. The newly formed ABN AMRO continued this overseas expansion, but poor oversight and management of its offshore institutions led to huge losses through fraud and embezzlement. The bank continued expanding, however, purchasing two banks in Brazil in 1998 and in 1999, real-estate interests in Italy, and Bouwfonds Nederlandse Gemeenten, a major real-estate company on its home turf. That acquisition led to the purchase of the Pitney Bowes mortgage servicing portfolio, Atlantic Mortgage and Investment, the same year.
In November 1999 Groenink was slated to take over as chair of the company's managing board as of May 2000, by which time, according to an analyst for Euroweek , ABN AMRO had become "just a cuddly Dutch bank going nowhere in particular" (November 28, 2003). One American Banker reporter commented that Groenink's appointment was a sure indication that the bank—the largest in the Netherlands—had no intention of being left behind in the bank-consolidation initiatives that were sweeping the continent (November 15, 1999). Another analyst commented that, with Groenink's appointment, even the most cynical Dutch critics were beginning to take the bank seriously. According to Euroweek , the bank's particular weakness was "layers of senior management who were intellectually feeble" and who did little but go home early and collect their paychecks. The bank was wandering around in the dark for lack of leadership and communication, and there were layers upon layers of deadwood in middle-management positions—enough deadwood, the analyst commented "to start a Dutch rain forest. Worse still, however, was the fact that the rain forest had spread almost all the way to the very top of the ABN Amro ladder" (November 28, 2003). The bank's shares were no longer viewed as a growth vehicle and were valued only for their dividend yield. The company had earned a reputation of being "stingy," it had difficulty attracting the best and the brightest into its fold, and employee morale was low.
Enter Groenink, who, according to a BusinessWeek online reporter, was an "aggressive and cunning tactician" (February 28, 2000) and whom John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal described as having an "aggressive and no-nonsense style" (August 18, 2000). Groenink had been with AMRO since 1974, and in 1988 he was appointed to its management board. Following the merger with ABN, he was appointed to the new company's management board and placed in charge of its entire Netherlands division. Relatively unknown as a manager, he won the chairman's slot over another board member thought by many analysts to have been the more likely candidate. Groenink had already designed an ambitious restructuring plan, named Focus 2005, under which the bank's entire Netherlands branch network was to be restructured. He accelerated the implementation of a multichannel distribution strategy and took responsibility for a strategic reorientation program that focused on maximizing shareholder value and making the bank leaner and more profitable. Groenink commented: "ABN Amro must change and it will change. We will be single minded in focusing our efforts and resources on businesses which add value and divert resources from those that do not" (Manchester Business School, February 22, 2001).
Groenink took out his ax and chopped off the deadwood, shedding layers of bureaucracy. The appointment of appropriate managers in the investment-banking division eliminated the bickering between Amsterdam and London that had previously hampered those operations, turning the division into a cohesive and profitable enterprise. On its home turf, 150 branch banks were shut in order to focus resources on the retail business, and as a result 10 percent of ABN AMRO's Dutch workforce was cut. ATMs with expanded functions and small retail centers replaced some full-service branches that had been staffed to provide advice and sales but no cash services. In other areas, however, Groenink intended to increase the bank's physical presence through mergers and acquisitions. He committed to investing heavily in an Internet banking strategy and the creation of a Web portal that would provide a wide range of retail banking services and, once successfully implemented, would be expanded throughout Europe and used to enter new markets.
Between the launch of the Internet service in March 2001 and June 2003, the bank had more than 1.5 million Internetbanking customers. When it launched its English-language Internet service on June 8, 2003, to meet the needs of more than 50,000 English-speaking customers, it became the first bank in the Netherlands to do so. The growing range of services included foreign-money transfers, product purchasing, investment-portfolio analysis, and access to 18-month account histories. So popular was the service that a customer survey showed that more than 75 percent of users ranked the service eight or higher on a scale of one to 10. In relation to the bank's overseas markets, Groenink indicated that some smaller operations would be sold but that, in the Far East, he believed one or two markets might become strategic points of value. At the time, the bank's largest presence outside Europe was in Thailand.
Even though the restructuring cost the bank EUR 100 million in the first half of 2000 and a further EUR 800 million in the second half, net profit increased by the end of 2000 by 20.5 percent to EUR 3,097 million (excluding the restructuring charges), net earnings per ordinary share rose 18.6 percent, and consolidated total assets increased from EUR 457.9 billion in 1999 to EUR 543.2 billion. In another break with tradition for his company, Groenink refused to keep silent about what he saw as perhaps unpalatable predictions for 2001. In his statement in the company's 2000 annual report, he warned stakeholders that the second half of 2000 heralded two trends that would negatively affect the bank's performance in 2001: a slowdown in the U.S. economy and a flattening yield curve in the Eurozone (the 12 European Union member states that replaced their domestic currency with the euro). "Given the economic uncertainties," he said, "it is difficult to predict how the remainder of the year will transpire. Should these conditions prevail in the rest of this year, it will be a challenge to equal the record profits of 2000" (press release, May 9, 2001). Regardless, he noted that the bank had achieved considerable success in a short time, even while passing through a major transition, and expressed confidence that it would do even better in the upcoming four years.
Three months after taking over as chairman, Groenink outlined several goals for the company under what he called the "managing for value" program. One of these goals was to see ABN AMRO's share price double by 2004, with a target increase of at least 17 percent every year and a return on equity of 25 percent. He wanted the bank to be among the top five of 20 European and U.S. financial institutions in its peer group, which included Citigroup, HSBC Holdings, and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. Another was that managers would no longer collect paychecks to do little and go home early: Groenink placed emphasis squarely on accountability—compensation for managers would now be tied solely to shareholder value. "Coupled, the two initiatives show how intent he is on promoting an Anglo-American, shareholder-driven brand of corporate governance," wrote Carreyrou, who also noted that with his aggressive program, Groenink seemed to be breaking with the traditional Dutch style of making changes gradually and only after considerable consensus building. He quoted the chairman as commenting: "We're leaving the [Dutch] culture of 'don't stand out; don't be better than anybody else'" (August 18, 2000).
Groenink hired the U.S. management consultants Marakon Associates to focus on maximizing share values. He placed 25 Marakon consultants in what he considered strategic locations throughout the world to implement the new management philosophy. No longer would managers be compensated based upon what their budgets showed; now their pay would be assessed on their contributions to profits in excess of expected returns. "[Groenink] is trying to implement the shareholder value thinking deep down into the bank," commented Pieter Elshout, who noted that ABN AMRO was Marakon's first client in Europe (Marakon Associates, February 24, 2001).
In 2001 ABN AMRO bought the U.S. brokerage and corporate-finance operations of its Dutch rival ING Group, with its 1,300 employees, for $275 million. The company shed European American Bank (EAB)—of which it took control in 1991 after it sustained heavy losses on bad real estate and Third World loans—and purchased Michigan National Corporation from National Australia Bank, merging it with Standard Federal Bancorporation, another of its Michigan holdings. The merger created Standard Federal Bank and one of Michigan's largest banks. While second-quarter profits declined from EUR 851 million the previous quarter to EUR 671 million, profits from its U.S.-based businesses surged 63 percent. Then Groenink announced in August 2001 a shift of focus in which the bank would decrease activity in corporate and investment banking and emphasize traditional retail banking. Analysts began predicting that a merger might be in the forecast and speculated specifically on the Belgian-Dutch giant Fortis. Groenink remained noncommittal on the matter. "We have not drawn up a list of merger partners," he said. "If we were to draw up a short list, then Fortis would fit the criteria" ( New York Times , August 17, 2001). By the end of 2002, ABN AMRO was one of the world's largest banks with a presence in more than 60 countries and total assets of EUR 607.5 billion.
In addition to rewarding the bank's stakeholders, Groenink was also intent on making ABN AMRO an attractive merger candidate, which seemed important given the trend toward consolidation that was sweeping through Europe's financial sector. By late 2003 the bank had a market capitalization of more than $32 billion. Apart from turning things around on the home front, a Euroweek analyst noted that Groenink had been successful in the United States: "He proved to the many non-believers that ABN Amro's growing businesses in North America were not a gamble, but a solid money spinner … and began to pay their best revenue producers the true market price. For ABN Amro, Groenink's new approach has paid off in spades" (November 28, 2003). Another analyst for Euroweek commented that the bank's extremely large and profitable Midwest business "has prospered beyond all expectations and makes a mockery of the belief that foreign banks in the US get skinned alive by the natives. Talk to any well-informed US domestic banker and they will confirm that ABN Amro has carved out a niche which is the envy of local competitors" (February 13, 2004). Groenink had disposed of the bank's less-profitable endeavors and, according to Euroweek , by the end of the first quarter 2004 it was "sitting on a modest cash mountain" (May 7, 2004).
Yet $32 billion in market capitalization was not sufficient, according to Groenink, to acquire or merge with banks he felt were worthy candidates, such as Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, ING, Societé Generale, and UBS. The driving force behind his plan for accelerated growth would come from restructuring the bank into three major segments: wholesale clients, asset management and private clients, and consumer and commercial customers. Groenink estimated that merging the international and corporate and investment-banking divisions into the new wholesale segment alone could save almost EUR 2 billion over four years. He projected that by 2004 the entire restructuring program would save the bank EUR 600 million annually.
In 2000 Groenink initiated a program to rationalize all ABN AMRO's businesses. The huge retail business in the Netherlands would remain the core operation. Following a rebuilding of businesses in the 76 countries in which they operated, which included closing several operations in Asia, the bank decided to leave some areas intact, including markets in South America and the Middle East. By 2003 many private and retail banks, including ABN AMRO, were showing a great deal of interest in developing their businesses in Dubai while retreating from Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt. ABN AMRO sold operations in Bahrain, Morocco, Lebanon, and Egypt. In an interview with C. L. Jose of Gulf News , Groenink explained that he deliberately retained the bank's operations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. "We know that there exists enough potential [there] because of the growing business in these emirates and we will try out best to grow more here…. Moreover, we would be keen to increase our physical presence also in these areas, especially in Dubai," he said, indicating both on- and offshore prospects would be explored with the intent of expanding their branch networks (April 10, 2003).
His strategic plan for the area emanated from a general consensus in the region that the next major recovery in the world economy would come through India and China and that the Gulf states—and the Dubai emirate in particular—were in pivotal positions between Europe and these markets to the east. Groenink visited the emirate in October 2003 and announced plans to centralize its entire regional back-office business in Dubai. When asked by Jose why ABN AMRO was not as aggressive as other foreign banks in the retail segment there, Groenink replied: "If you see the statistics, you'll be convinced how aggressive we are and how fast we are growing in this segment." He indicated that there seemed to be an erroneous perception of the bank's retail position in the area and vowed to "be more communicative in the future." "And for your information," he added, "we are the fastest growing bank in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] in the credit card segment." As for operations in Saudi Arabia, he indicated that ABN AMRO had a 40 percent holding in Saudi Hollandi Bank and a management contract. The bank's local operations were strong, and it had grown into a very profitable retail franchise. "We believe this bank can very well grow into a strong regional player in its own right," he said. He also said that he was open to looking into a possible combination between Saudi Hollandi Bank and Saudi British Bank, but only with specific caveats. "The move has to be seen in the perspective of the shareholder's ambitions on this, and whatever be the outcome, it should serve the national interests and fit the framework of the national policies," he said (April 10, 2003).
In 2003 ABN AMRO floated a mutual fund in India through its 13-branch presence in that country, adding to its other services in India such as investment banking, government securities, and brokering and lease finance. Groenink considered India a fast-growing market for the Asian arm of his company, particularly in light of a hike in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limits to 74 percent, which would allow foreign banks to grow their minority holdings. While Groenink said he did not favor entering into a joint venture in India, he would "explore this opportunity as it will be the fast road to future expansion" ( Chennai , March 8, 2003).
In China, ABN AMRO received approval in September 2003 to acquire a 33 percent holding in the asset-management arm of Xiangcai Securities. The joint venture was named ABN AMRO Xiangcai Fund Management Company and by early 2004 had issued four mutual funds. Its president and CEO, Walter Lin, said the company was also interested in managing China's pension fund. Groenink announced that he would further expand ABN AMRO's presence in China based on the optimistic economic outlook for that country and good performance of its fund-management joint venture. Groenink was quoted in People's Daily online as saying: "With the growth rate shown over the last few years, China will soon become the third-largest economy in the world," and because of that, ABN AMRO was reconsidering its entire strategy in the country (March 31, 2004). Groenink applied for a qualified foreign institutional investor (QFII) investment quota to allow his bank to enter China's A-share and bond market, and Xiangcai Securities would become the local brokerage arm for the venture.
As of mid-2004 Groenink was considering expanding the bank's presence in India and the United States, where it was one of the largest foreign banks. He told members at a conference organized by Goldman Sachs that if no real value-creating prospects could be found, however, he would consider buying back shares in his company. Under Groenink's daring restructuring plan, the bank experienced a net income growth in 2003 of 71.4 percent, with an increase in net profit of 30 percent to EUR 3.16 million. "Groenink said excess capital was a new phenomenon for ABN AMRO as the bank had started out with a relatively low capital base. He said any M&A [merger and acquisition] deal would have to create value and not exceed the bank's limited capital surplus," wrote Alison Tudor ( India News , June 10, 2004).
See also entry on ABN AMRO Holding, N.V. in International Directory of Company Histories .
"ABN Amro Promotes a Top Exec," American Banker , November 15, 1999, p. 30.
"ABN AMRO Reports First Quarter 2001 Results," press release, May 9, 2001, http://www.abnamro.com/pressroom/releases/2001/2001-05-09-en.asp .
"ABN-Amro to Float MF Businessline," Chennai , March 8, 2003, p. 1.
"ABN Puts Dowdy Past Behind," Euroweek , May 7, 2004, p. 20.
"ABN: Return of the Black Tulip," Euroweek , February 13, 2004, p. 1.
Carreyrou, John, "ABN Amro to Cut 10 Percent of Dutch Workers In Preview of Coming Chief's Bold Style," Wall Street Journal , January 19, 2000.
Cowell, Alan, "ABN Amro Shifts Focus Back to Traditional Banking," New York Times , August 17, 2001.
Elshout, Pieter, "Rijkman Groenink Finds His Prophet," Marakon Associates, http://www.marakon.com/pre_me_010224_hfd.html .
"Financial Group Plans Further Biz Expansion," People's Daily online , March 31, 2004, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200403/31/eng20040331_139038.shtml .
"German Banks Get Religion," BusinessWeek online , February 28, 2000, http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_09/b3670218.htm .
Jose, C. L., "Interview: ABN Amro to Make Dubai Its Hub for Middle East," Gulf News online , April 10, 2003, http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=99339 .
"Polder Power," Euroweek , (London), November 28, 2003, p. 1.
"Profile of Rijkman Groenink, Chairman (ABN AMRO Bank), DipBA 73," Manchester Business School, February 22, 2001, http://www.mbs.ac.uk/alumni/prominent_alumni/Rijkman_Groenink.htm .
Tudor, Alison, "ABN Mulls Acquisitions, May Consider Buyback—CEO," India News , June 10, 2004, http://in.news.yahoo.com/040610/137/2dkjj.html .
—Marie L. Thompson