Wijers, Hans 1951–
Chairman of the board, Akzo Nobel
Born: January 11, 1951, in Oostburg, Netherlands.
Education: University of Groningen, MA, 1976; Erasmus University of Rotterdam, PhD, 1982.
Career: Erasmus University of Rotterdam, 1976–1982, assistant professor of economics; Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, 1982–1984, worked for think tanks; Bakkenist, Spits & Company, 1984–1986, senior consultant; Horringa and De Koning, 1986–1993, managing partner; Boston Consulting Group, 1993–1994, managing partner of the Amsterdam office; Dutch government, 1994–1998, minister for economic affairs; Boston Consulting Group, 1999–2002, senior vice president and chairman of the Dutch office; Akzo Nobel, 2003–, chairman and CEO.
Address: Akzo Nobel, Velperweg 76, POB 930, NL-6800 SB Arnheim, Netherlands; http://www.akzonobel.com/.
■ In 2003 Gerardus Johannes (Hans) Wijers became chairman, CEO, and managing director of Akzo Nobel, a multinational company whose history dates back to 1777 (although the present name was adopted in 1994). The company has three major areas of focus: coatings, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals (including veterinary medicines). Wijers was a multifaceted man whose route to corporate leadership was complex.
BACKGROUND AND BUSINESS EXPERIENCE
Wijers was born in Oostburg, a small town in Zeeland in the Netherlands. His education and inclinations seemed to steer him toward an academic career: having earned a doctorate in economics (with a concentration in industrial management), he took a position as lecturer at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Six years later, in 1982, he was employed at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment in The Hague and participated in two think tanks for the Dutch government. He was a member of the Democraten 66 (D66) party, which had social priorities that were to resurface later in his life.
From 1984 to 1993 Wijers was a consultant for two Dutch firms: he first worked for Bakkenist, Spits & Company and, later, as managing partner of Horringa and De Koning. In 1994 he was named managing partner for the Amsterdam office of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG); with the exception of the years 1994–1998, he remained with BCG until 2000, when he resigned as senior vice president and chairman of the Dutch office. Wijers's work during these years included surveys and studies on business environment. He became convinced about two things: that a thriving natural environment was essential to a prosperous business and that technology (most specifically the Internet) played a major role in shaping the corporate world.
As chairman of the Dutch office for BCG, Wijers continued his involvement in technological communication. He became a member of the Platform Internet voor Alledag (Platform Internet for Every Day) which supported the use of the Internet by everyone in the Netherlands. The group was headed by the Prince of Orange (heir to the Dutch throne) and included many leading businesspeople.
MINISTER FOR ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
From 1994 until 1998 Hans Wijers was the minister for economic affairs for the Dutch government. These were high-profile years, during which he became a prominent spokesperson for emerging technology. Predicting a doubling of the world population by 2040, he argued for the importance of a sustainable economy. He predicted that electronic commerce (the Internet) had enormous potential for economic, political, and social benefits, and he claimed that the Internet ought to be allowed to be driven by market forces. He was committed to a "digital marketplace," and he met with various European and international countries (including the United States) to promote the "development of a market-driven, deregulated, private sector–led environment for electronic commerce," as he put it in a joint statement (with William Daley, U.S. secretary of commerce) on the development of the Internet and the promotion of global electronic commerce (made in Washington, D.C., on October 21, 1997). Under Wijers's leadership, the ministry became an advocate for the Twinning Network (which is a network of Dutch and international people to promote and develop communications technology). It was the Dutch intention to become the forerunner in information and communication technology in Europe.
On May 1, 2003, Wijers succeeded Cees J. A. van Lede as chairman of the board of management of the old Dutch conglomerate Akzo Nobel. Only two weeks later he announced that his first priority was a realignment of the pharmaceutical segment. He said that it was necessary to adjust cost levels to lower sales and to reassess the company's strategy for healthcare business. (Organon, the company's health-care arm, was experiencing declining sales volume.) To do this, he announced (Business Wire, May 15, 2003) a reduction in the workforce and the establishment of R&D and marketing alliances. A second priority was maintaining the coatings division as the world's leader. Wijers put into effect a policy of "selective divestiture," in an effort to make the division "efficient and lean."
In light of these remarks, it came as no surprise when Akzo expressed its intention to sell three of its business operations (catalysts, coating resins, and phosphorus chemicals). The proceeds of the sales would be applied to debt reduction and preservation of Akzo's good credit rating. In an article on corporate responsibility in the Financial Times (July 10, 2003), Wijers stated that codes of conduct could not be imposed from above. He said the Akzo was giving responsibility for ethical conduct to those people who actually ran the individual businesses and that these managers had been given a "direct line" to him. In January of 2004 Wijers went to New York, where he addressed Akzo employees in that city. He told them that while the economy seemed to be improving, a robust recovery was not assured. For this reason, he said, the next year's focus would again be on lowering debt and cost levels, along with increasing the use of assets. This was promising to be a challenging future.
Hans Wijers was a passionate advocate of technological advance (especially the Internet) as a tool for Dutch and European success. He was a member of Platform Internet voor Alledag and chairman of the Advisory Council of the PPP Knowledge Centre. His faith in government as the embodiment of people in their quest to bring social benefits was shown by his membership in the IDI Foundation and his chairmanship of the National Orange Fund. Finally, his commitment to conservation was reflected by his chairmanship of the Dutch branch of the World Wildlife Fund International.
See also entries on Akzo Nobel N.V. and The Boston Consulting Group in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
"Akzo Nobel Chief Hones Internal Growth Strategy," European Chemical News, 80 (January 12/14, 2004): 6.
"Akzo Nobel Management Ensures Management Continuity," Business Wire, February 22, 2002.
"Akzo: Room to Maneuver," Euromoney Institutional Investor, 9 (October 1, 2003): 11.
Daly, William, and Hans Wijers, "Joint Statement of the Development of the Internet and the Promotion of Global Electronic Commerce," October 21, 1997, http://wxww.technology.gov/digeconomy/dalwijrs.htm.
"How Do We Make the Company Do the Right Thing? We Delegate," Financial Times, July 10, 2003.
Milmo, Sean, "Akzo Nobel plans more job cuts; new chairman could explore breakup," Chemical Market Reporter, March 4, 2002, http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FVP/is_9_261/ai_83583037.
"New CEO at Akzo Nobel Spring Analyst Meeting," Business Wire, May 15, 2003.