First Q&A

First Q&A

moderated by Twan Huys

After Dekkers’ presentation, moderator Twan Huys Twan Huys asked him about his personal approach to leadership in more depth.

Asked which is harder to manage, a company or a family, Marijn Dekkers replied managing a family with three teenaged daughters was more difficult, and he was still learning. “I spend all day solving problems at work but I’m not supposed to solve any issues at home at all. I only get involved when it gets really tough,” he said.

Q. Is it worth it, being in charge of €multi-million company?

A. Marijn Dekkers said he gets a kick out of the challenge of seeing what he can do with his talents.

Not a definition of success

Q. Do people on your board hold you back and slow your pace?

A. Marijn Dekkers said yes, ‘but if I always run 100 metres in front of everyone else, that's not a definition of success’. Compromise and knowing where a rubber band breaks when it's stretched are important.

Q. Do you raise your voice?

A. Marijn Dekkers said he very rarely raises his voice any more

Q. Twan Huys put it to Marijn Dekkers that if you have to say ‘I'm in charge here’, then you’re not in charge; is that true?

A. Marijn Dekkers replied: “I can tell you what to do, but if you don't own that solution, it might take you a year to get to it. If you are assertive and ambitious and quick, you bring people along.”

Q. Do you make many mistakes?

A. Marijn Dekkers admitted that he does. “I'm too open, I share a lot of what I’m thinking and sometimes that gets misused, and people start talking to each other and it gets political. I should bite my tongue more.” Self-confidence based on success shouldn’t translate into feeling that you’re better than other people, he said.

Never use arrogance

Q. Is arrogance something you can use as a leader?

A. Never, said Marijn Dekkers. He advised not to indulge in self-pity, or to presume someone else will solve your problems. “You are responsible for your own happiness. Don’t blame it on something else that you don’t control. Don't be a victim.”

Q. An audience member asked how new managers could learn to be open and aware, one of the key tools in the leadership toolbox, and one used by an increasing number of companies.

Don’t miss out on rich experience

A. Marijn Dekkers said there was a lot of talk of the contrasting styles of upcoming leaders and older leaders. He said he had been driven by a desire to progress his career, changing jobs every two years. But he observed that people under 35 are not interested in that. “They are more interested in feeling relatively safe as part of community, and don't want to change that,” he said. “I can understand it, but agreeing with it? It depends where you get the richness of your experience from. It was not just a case of testing one’s own talents, but also about the ability to ‘get impulses that you would otherwise never get’. He advised the audience not to miss out on the richness of diverse experience.

Stakeholders on board

Q. A question from the audience referred to the crisis at VW and the German model that has a company board of directors chosen by employees and the community. She suggested unions should be represented in the boardroom.

A. Marijn Dekkers said he knew nothing about VW, but that there was a tremendous advantage to be had in business by getting all stakeholders on board ‘even though it takes longer’ because it means that more sustainable strategies can be implemented. But it costs an enormous amount of time and money. For a company under pressure or in trouble (like VW now), the speed of decision-making would be a problem. It was a mistake to think that employees would not pay for management mistakes. “Of course they will pay!” he said.

Too big to fail?

Q. Twan Huys asked if it was possible that a world brand like VW could go bankrupt after a crisis like this.

A. Marijn Dekkers said with 600,000 employees, VW was too big to fail and the German government would not let that happen.

Q. Twan Huys asked about the performance of former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, Marijn A. Dekkers said he did not wish to comment about VW, but as a CEO it was important to know the difference between overly aggressive ambition and achievable ambition when setting company goals. Referring to his teenaged daughter, he said it was unwise to ‘over challenge’. He can only put the goal – such as a Grade Point Average of 7 – in front of his daughter if he can be sure she can make it on her own without cheating. “You have to be capable of checking on that, and it wasn’t happening at VW,” he said.

Q. Twan Huys said Dekkers’ comment about listening to the organisation, conveying a listening capability, and making people talk up rather than you talking down was ‘fundamental’. “Do you accept people who criticise you?” he asked.

A. Marijn Dekkers responded that people should not be afraid to say what's on their mind.