In the first half of the nineteenth century, Hans Christian Andersen wrote his famous fairy tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. The Emperor ordered his tailors to make him a suit of clothes from a fabric that was so special that only very intelligent people could see it. The clever tailors were happy to oblige. They pretended as if they had made a suit of clothes, but in fact they hadn’t made anything at all. The Emperor put on the non-existing clothes (after all, he was ‘very intelligent’ himself and obviously couldn’t admit that he didn’t really see anything). Then the Emperor paraded around in the palace in the nude. Everyone admired the new clothes, because nobody dared to tell the Emperor that he was wearing none. In the end, a little boy cried out: “He’s walking around naked!”. Then the illusion was broken.
Using present-day terminology, we would say that the little boy was a whistleblower. In corporate governance terms, the Emperor displayed ‘Sun King behavior’. Surprisingly often, large companies and institutions are reduced to ruins by a CEO or director who behaves like the Sun King himself. Only recently, Erik Staal was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, money laundering and forgery. Under his leadership, one of the largest Dutch housing corporations almost went bankrupt as a result of speculation with derivatives. Within a few years time, Staal reportedly racked up more than six hundred thousand euros in unaccounted expenses using the company’s credit card. And what to think of Hubert Möllenkamp, the CEO of Rochdale, another housing corporation that claims to stand up for ‘poor’ people. Möllenkamp was nicknamed the ‘King’ of the upscale Amsterdam shopping street PC Hooftstraat and drove around in a Maserati Quattroporte.
What’s the issue here is not whether or not the behavior of these top men is despicable. The issue is how on earth it is possible that people like that, not just in the Netherlands but everywhere in the world and definitely also in Curaçao, can do as they please for many years without anyone saying anything about it. Back to the fairy tale. Are you the little boy who calls out that the Emperor is walking around naked or do you bow for the naked Emperor with a polite smile on your face and without expressing your true thoughts? It’s hypocritical if all of us only once he is unmasked start lamenting about the Emperor’s extravagance and scandalous behavior, about his tax evasion and self-enrichment. We have been part of it ourselves and are co-responsible for it. We must accept that responsibility. This also means that we must subject ourselves to a properly functioning system of supervisors at all times. We must expect from the members of our Supervisory Board that they will systematically expose our hypocrisy if we turn out to be too weak to do it ourselves. Supervisory board members who just bow and smile are worthless. Just as worthless as our Sun Kings by the way, who, supported by their lawyers and yes-men, stubbornly continue to maintain that they are wearing beautiful clothes. “Only those who are very intelligent can see these clothes!”, they cry out, “why don’t you understand that?” It’s a fairytale. Don’t fall for it!
Surprisingly often, large companies and institutions are reduced to ruins by a CEO or director who behaves like the Sun King himself.