Bert Heemskerk

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Chairman, Rabobank

Nationality: Dutch.

Born: April 13, 1943, in Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands.

Education: Wolfgang Goethe Universität, bachelor's degree, 1965; Université Catholique de Paris, master's degree, 1966; Karls Eberhard Universität, PhD, 1969; Nederlands Economische Hogeschool, bachelor's degree, 1972.

Family: Married (wife's name unknown); children: eight.

Career: AMRO Bank, 1969–1972, merger mediation/international acquisitions; 1972–1974, head account manager; 1974–1975, area manager for Germany, Scandinavia, and the Far East; 1975–1976, bank representative in Tokyo; 1976–1978, head area manager in Europe; 1978–1979, director of AMRO Bank Dubai; 1979–1980, regional manager in Europe; 1980–1983, regional manager and director of AMRO Bank London; 1983–1987, director and head of international commercial banking; 1988, director of general affairs, head of merger secretariat AMROGenerale; 1988–1991, director general in Netherlands; F. van Lanschot Bankiers, 1991–2002, chairman; Rabobank, 2002–, chairman.

Address: Rabobank, Croeselaan #18, 3521 CB Utrecht, The Netherlands;

■ Hubertus (Bert) Heemskerk was the chairman of the executive board of Rabobank, one of the three major banks in The Netherlands, having been brought in as a 30-year veteran of Dutch banking to turn the company's fortunes around. His previous position at F. van Lanschot Bankiers had been historic, as he was the first non-family member to hold the position of chairman. Prior to his term at F. van Lanschot, Heemskerk had been a 20-year veteran of AMRO Bank, serving in various directorship roles in Tokyo, Dubai, and London. He was notorious for being a night owl, shunning the early wake-up call but working late into the night. He was urbane, deeply religious, and a follower of Pascal. Socially conscious, he was a strong proponent of sustainable development in business; he spoke frequently on the subject and published a report with two other executives entitled Striking the Balance .


Heemskerk took an unorthodox route to becoming an executive at three large Dutch banks. He studied philosophy and theology with the intent of becoming a Jesuit priest but eventually realized that such was not the type of life he wanted to lead; he joined the largest bank in the Netherlands, AMRO Bank, in 1969. Heemskerk would have a successful 20-plus-year career there while at first also continuing his education in business and economics. He served in various roles at AMRO, gaining considerable knowledge of the industry by acting as the bank's representative in each of Tokyo, Dubai, and London. His experience led him to be tapped as the first non-family member to hold the position of chairman of F. van Lanschot.

F. van Lanschot was The Netherlands' oldest independent bank and took pride in its private, clubby atmosphere. Heemskerk took up an active role in maintaining that culture and, as noted in the Financial Times , "spoke personally to gatherings of clients and potential clients at least twice a week" (November 12, 1999). The bank was elite, requiring a minimum salary or investment of EUR 45,500. Eventually at F. van Lanschot many of the bank's executives wanted to access new customers through the Internet. Heemskerk took a skeptical view of this tactic and while allowing a Web site to be developed, he did not allow bank products to be distributed via the site; the approach was similar to his efforts in the early 1990s to prevent the creation of call centers to sell bank products. Heemskerk preferred a one-on-one approach in dealing with customers and clients. His conservative, hands-on demeanor made him attractive to the suffering Rabobank in 2002.


In 2002 Rabobank was suffering under the strain of its involvement with Enron. In 2001 Rabobank had agreed to purchase a $517 million loan from the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) for an Enron-owned business, Heracles. After Enron's subsequent failure Rabobank sued the RBC in 2002, stating that the bank had known that Enron was failing but had failed to disclose that information. After an ugly 18-month court battle, in February 2004 an examiner agreed that the RBC had not disclosed sufficient information and as such would be hit with a C$74 million after-tax charge. The experience with Enron left a bad taste in Rabobank's mouth. Afterward the firm sought to return to its roots as a cautious and prudent lender; it saw in Heemskerk the qualities needed to bring Rabobank back to those roots. Heemskerk's first assignment as chairman was to fully settle the Enron affair.

Rabobank had been founded as a group of cooperatives that lent money mostly to farmers. With that background, while Rabobank was only the third-largest Dutch bank, after AMRO and ING, it was the leader in the Dutch retail market, with $320 billion in assets and 40 percent of domestic deposits as of 2003. While Heemskerk steered Rabobank back onto a conservative route, he nevertheless sought to make the bank a player on the world stage. In November 2003 Rabobank acquired Ag Services of America, the agribusiness financial company, serving to expand Rabobank's capabilities in the United States. In February 2004 Rabobank diversified into the field of health insurance, signing a cooperative agreement with the Dutch health-insurance company Eureko.

Heemskerk transformed Rabobank dramatically in the first 18 months of his tenure. He reclaimed Rabobank's triple-A bond rating, which had been lost during the Enron crisis. Profits for fiscal 2003 were up 12 percent; further growth was expected for fiscal 2004. Still Rabobank announced 1,200 layoffs in June 2004 as part of Heemskerk's Vision 2005 plan, which would institute efficiencies throughout the company. The internal document, to be unveiled in late 2004, called for local banks to be consolidated and overhead staff to be cut as necessary. By all appearances Heemskerk had succeeded in "saving" Rabobank.

sources for further information

"Bert Heemskerk: Personal Details," Rabobank Web site, , (2003).

"Good Performance Rabobank Group in an Economically Difficult Year," Comtex News Network, March 8, 2004.

Haijetma, Dominique, and Jan-Hein Strop, "MT Interview: Bert Heemskerk," Management Team , June 18, 2004.

Harris, Clay, "Survey—Private Banking: Club Atomosphere in a Dutch Way; Profile F. van Lanschot Bankiers," Financial Times , November 12, 1999, p. 7.

"Heemskerk the New Senior Executive of the Rabobank Group," Global News Wire , October 17, 2002.

"Netherlands' Eureko Enters Health Insurance Venture," BestWire , February 13, 2004.

"The Netherlands—New Chief to Steer Rabobank into Safety," The Banker , November 1, 2002.

"Pragmatic Guide to Reporting," green@work , March/April 2003, .

"Rabobank CEO Says FY Net Up at Least 10 Pct," AFX European Focus , January 6, 2004.

"Rabobank to Acquire Ag Services of America, Inc.: Rabobank Continues Its Expansion of U.S. Agribusiness Finances," Business Wire , November 3, 2003.

"Rabobank to Cut 1,200 Full-Time Positions, Sees 200 Million Euro/Year Saving," AFX European Focus , June 21, 2004.

"Royal Takes $74M Loss," Calgary Sun , February 17, 2004.

—Jill Meister

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