Former chairman, ING Group
Born: January 22, 1944, in Wassenaar, Netherlands.
Education: Leiden University, MA, 1967.
Family: Son of a Netherlands Supreme Court justice; married Ammy (a lawyer); children: five.
Career: Nationale-Nederlanden (NN), 1969–1986, management trainee, various general management positions in NN General, NN Life, and NN International; 1986–1989, president of NN-US Corporation; 1989–1991, chairman and general manager for NN Netherlands Group; ING Nederland, 1991–1999, chairman and member of executive board; ING Group, 1999–2000, vice chairman; 2000–2004, chairman.
Awards: Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau, 2004, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
■ Ewald Kist led the ING Group—the company formed by the merger of the Nationale-Nederlanden insurance company and the NMB Postbank Groep finance company—through significant expansion in the 1990s and the early 21st century. During Kist's tenure ING acquired several insurance and financial services companies in Europe and North America, and it established a popular and profitable online consumerbanking operation, ING Direct. While noted for innovative business strategies, Kist also gained a reputation for keeping employees, investors, and customers satisfied and for stressing social responsibility as well as profits. He advised businesspeople to lead balanced lives, with time for recreation, and to avoid micromanaging. He retired as chairman of ING Group's executive board in 2004.
Kist credited his interest in sports with influencing his management style. He was one of five children of a Netherlands Supreme Court justice—"an important job, but the pay
was poor," Kist wrote in an article for the New York Times (July 13, 2003). Despite his family's circumstances, Kist had the opportunity to travel in his youth as a member of the Dutch national field hockey team. The team made trips to India and Pakistan and to Mexico for the 1968 Summer Olympics. "Through sports I learned to be a team player and to go for the gold," Kist wrote in his New York Times article. Besides field hockey, Kist's sports included ice-skating and marathon running; he took up the latter at age 45. He participated twice in the 11-Cities Tour of the Netherlands, in which thousands of skaters go across 200 kilometers of frozen lakes and canals, and he ran in the New York City Marathon, a race that ING sponsored.
After he graduated from Leiden University, he was drafted into the army, another experience that Kist said prepared him for corporate leadership. Serving in the Cold War era, Lieutenant Kist was in charge of troops prepared to repel an invasion by the Soviet Union, which never happened. He had to keep his soldiers motivated nonetheless, and one way he did this was by having them conduct target practice on a large white blanket towed by an unmanned plane. This, he recalled, gave them something "useful and fun" to do.
Following his tour in the army, Kist entered a training program with Nationale-Nederlanden in 1969. From 1977 through 1986, he held management positions in several of the company's subsidiaries, including NN General, NN Life, and NN International. The U.S. market was important to Nationale-Nederlanden, and in 1986 Kist began a three-year stint as president of the company's U.S. operation, NN-US Corporation.
He returned to the Netherlands in 1989 and became chairman of Nationale-Nederlanden in 1991. That was also the year Nationale-Nederlanden and NMB Postbank Groep merged to create Internationale Nederlanden Group, known popularly, and later officially, as ING. With Kist at the helm starting in 1993, the company began a period of rapid expansion.
Much of ING's growth came from its homegrown operations, but the company also made several significant acquisitions: the investment bank and asset management firm Barings in 1995; the American insurer Equitable of Iowa Companies in 1997; the Belgian Bank Brussels Lambert in 1998; the German BHF-Bank in 1999; the American insurers ReliaStar, Aetna Financial Services, and Aetna International in 2000; the Polish Bank Slaski and the Mexican insurer Seguros Comercial America in 2001; and the German direct bank Entrium in 2003. The Aetna and ReliaStar purchases made ING one of the largest U.S. insurers.
In Europe in the 1990s, ING was one of the first companies to offer both insurance and banking services. To expand its banking operations, it took advantage of the Internet. In 1996 it set up the online bank ING Direct, which within six years had attracted 7.5 million customers in eight countries and $85 billion in assets, significantly outpacing other online banks. "Its growth has been remarkable," Sven Janssen, an analyst with the German private bank Bankhaus Metzler, told BusinessWeek (July 7, 2003). ING Direct broke even in the third quarter of 2002 and by 2003 began contributing to the parent company's profits—all much earlier than expected, according to Kist.
ING Direct reached customers by offering a savings account at an interest rate higher than those paid by most competitors and following up with other products. Moreover, unlike some online banks, it offered technical support over the phone. It advertised heavily, with its trademark orange ball becoming widely recognized. In markets where ING had no physical offices, it did not need to build them because consumers could either conduct all transactions from their computers or from the cybercafes ING opened in some regions. "More and more European banks are taking the online route to increase their customer base without boosting costs," a BusinessWeek reporter observed. "But none has expanded as quickly as ING Direct" (July 7, 2003).
A regulatory change brought ING Direct to the United States. In 1999 the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act ended the separation of banking and insurance operations. U.S. companies remained cautious about such combinations, but ING, having had success in Europe, was eager to go into the U.S. retail banking market and saw ING Direct as the way to do it. "We could have bought a bricks-and-mortar bank, but that would be nothing new for the U.S. market," Kist told the New York Times in 2000, as ING Direct launched in the United States. "We're not in competition with hundreds of thousands of banks. We're doing a new trick" (August 26, 2000).
Consumers responded to the new trick; by 2003 ING Direct had 1 million U.S. customers, with the high interest rates on savings and widespread, clever advertising and promotions proving as attractive in the United States as they were in Europe. As an example of the latter, ING Direct advertised to Los Angeles consumers by offering free gasoline at certain service stations and then distributing brochures to drivers who came in.
In the early years of the 21st century, ING also heightened its profile in the United States by putting its name and logo on all its U.S. companies. Kist promised the New York Times there would be "a lot of noise about ING in the U.S." (August 26, 2000).
Kist stressed that ING's focus went beyond profits. For instance, information technology brought the company not only a lucrative online banking operation but also a way to reduce the amount of travel its executives did—and the means to reduce the impact of travel on the environment. In 2002 ING established the ING India Foundation for Social Development, aimed at alleviating child poverty and increasing women's educational opportunities in that country. ING published a report assessing its degree of social responsibility and sponsored a Georgetown University conference on corporate citizenship. ING's designated "stakeholders" consisted of investors, customers, employees, and society as a whole.
Reflecting Kist's sports-influenced emphasis on teamwork, ING sought consensus in management decisions and worked to make all employees feel they were important to the company. It did so by offering them offices that were both architecturally attractive and energy efficient, encouraging them to move around within the company, and fostering smooth worker-manager relationships. There were a few little extras as well, such as Kist's annual in-person delivery of chocolate Easter eggs.
Corporate efficiency remained a priority for Kist, but he believed that one need not be a micromanager or a workaholic to achieve this. For him, aids to efficiency included speed-reading and assigning degrees of importance to various tasks and problems. "The slow, unimportant things I leave to one side; many solve themselves," Kist wrote in his New York Times article (July 13, 2003). Moreover, he believed his participation in sports showed ING employees the importance of interests outside the office. "I'm not impressed by workaholics," he wrote.
"The Brains Behind a Profitable Online Bank," BusinessWeek , July 7, 2003.
Kist, Ewald, with Joseph B. Treaster, "A Sports Guy's Credo," New York Times , July 13, 2003.
Moskowitz, Milton, and Robert Levering, "10 Great Companies to Work For: Combining Style and Substance, These European Companies Stand Out," Fortune International , February 4, 2002.
Treaster, Joseph B., "A Dutch Behemoth Invades America," New York Times , August 26, 2000.