It continues to make do with that video meeting

October 31, 2020 by No Comments

Do you remember where you were a year ago? When Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) said at a press conference: stop shaking hands as a precaution. And out of habit, he shook hands with RIVM director Jaap van Dissel afterwards. Live on TV. Laugh. That was a year ago this Tuesday. The laughter soon died down.

Crisis is opportunity, became the new insight. The pandemic is exposing weaknesses everywhere. In the economy. On the labor market. In health care. Much has to be done differently.

It is now clear: there is no world after the coronavirus. There is the world with the virus.

Yet corona and chance are still a brave duo. That struck me in recent days when I read the first annual reports for 2020 of major Dutch listed companies. If you can forget for a moment the dead, the sick, the care overload and the economic damage, companies have seized opportunities with a success that you thought was impossible a year ago.

Less travel. Less pollution.

No, that’s not a very new insight. But the numbers are staggering. Especially in view of the nature of the Dutch economy. About 30 percent of the value of the production of goods and services comes from exports. From one day to the next, the globetrotting business community was at home. Stillness was progress.

In 2019, Heineken spent 150 million euros on travel and accommodation costs. Last year: 63 million. IMCD, wholesaler of chemicals, went from more than 18 million euros for business travel and representation costs to less than 6 million. International consultancy Arcadis: from more than 48 million euros to less than 13 million euros.

Less travel, less costs. Are financial directors thus becoming the climate fans in business?

Staying at home and working from home suddenly made achieving sustainability goals a breeze. Philips (healthcare technology) recorded 78 percent less CO2emissions from the air traffic of managers and staff. KPN saved 73 percent on petrol for its company cars.

Nice outcome. Or too beautiful? Less driving and empty offices resulted in less energy consumption. And that is precisely a goal that brings money to the top of KPN. The three-year bonus (2018-2020) that will soon be paid is also based on 5.5 percent less energy consumption (compared to 2017). A green goal between the financial frameworks.

But wasn’t that too easy to catch thanks to the pandemic? The commissioners had to have it checked again. The outcome: even without the Covid effect, the goal had been achieved. Partly for this reason, the three-year bonus of CEO Joost Farwerck is 600,000 euros.

The unexpected bonus calculation underlines that the supervisory directors had to work as supervisors in 2020. They met more than previously planned at many companies. And from home. Sometimes meetings were shorter, because otherwise it would turn into night work with participants from the Far East to the American West Coast.

Fine chemicals company DSM has replaced the group photo of the supervisory directors in the annual report with a collage of screenshots. But you also taste the discomfort. The supervisory directors of soil researcher Fugro miss personal consultations and the group dinner on the eve of their meetings. Video calling is more enjoyable than traditional conference calls, writes chairman Harrie Noy. But for team building it remains.

Menno Tamminga writes on this site every Tuesday about corporate policy and economics.