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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Bill Clinton, insurance company Achmea and the Dutch treasure hunt in the Frisian polder: a story of large egos and even larger pay checks

Imagine that you are Willem van Duin, CEO of a Dutch insurance company. 

A company which has become the largest insurance company in The Netherlands through an endless series of mergers and acquisitions?

And imagine that ‘Eight million people in The Netherlands are insured by (at least) one of the brands of your company’, as you state so proudly on your corporate website? And that your company exists 200 years in 2011?

Is it time to throw a party then?! Oh yeah, it is definitely time to throw a party!

And do you invite some really inspirational guests then, which can firmly send your party into ‘the World Series of corporate parties’?! You betcha!

Not those boring local heroes, with their old and excessively exploited, boring stories and their boring charisma! No, heck, you throw in a real name!

Someone that everybody knows and with a charisma and stamina that fills up a whole convention centre. Someone, whose flamboyant personality illuminates your insurance company and lifts it to a whole different level.

Heck yeah! You invite… Bill Clinton. It costs some, but then you have some…

And so did Achmea, the Dutch insurance company in question, on May 28th, 2011. They ‘invited’ Bill Clinton to go on an expedition to a Frisian polder hamlet, called Achlum. 

A tiny village, but with a big attitude!

And boy, had it been a party. Bill Clinton had litterally speeched his heart out upon various subjects:

The theme of Clinton’s speech is maintaining solidarity in the 21st century. He discusses the ‘zeitgeist’. People have never been so mutually dependent. Never in a time there has been so much traveling. ‘The information for which I had to do a full university study, can be found by a child on the internet within 30 seconds’.

Clinton emphasizes the similarities between people. “Most people descent from the same, small group of Africans. Research has disclosed that just 1 to 4 percent of human DNA originates from the Neanderthal people. My wife and daughter were not at all surprised, however, that I’m one of those Neanderthals”.

After Clinton’s impassioned speech, Achmea's CEO Willem van Duin almost exploded with feelings of pride and victory. Former president Bill Clinton and Willem van Duin at one stage. Touchdown!!!!

Obviously, he took his chance to throw in a few questions. 

Willem van Duin:How should we convince people that there is a strong self-interest in solidarity?”

Clinton responds with the example of Greece. “When the economy was doing fine, the success of the euro was skyrocketing. Nevertheless, in case of an emerging crisis, as it happened in 2008, the poorest countries are traditionally the first victims of it. That is no problem in the United States, as the national government can support those poorest states. However, this is different in Europe”.

Clinton does not want to tell the European people what to do, except: “In the long run, cooperation will always beat conflict and large will always beat small. We do not have any other option than to enlarge our sense of community. This is how the human race has always survived”.

The sheer presence and the speech of Bill Clinton had been a mindboggling success for Achmea. ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ (i.e. “I came, saw and conquered”) in full Julius Caesar style. In the Frysian polder… Can you believe it?! 

Achlum, this tiny Frisian hamlet, had been history in the making that very day in May, 2011…

Last week on 26 June 2014 and a little over three years after the event, the Washington Post published an overview of Bill Clinton’s most lucrative speeches in an article called ’How the Clintons went from ‘dead broke’ to rich’. And on a prominent fourth position in the top ten list of this overview, there was a tiny Frisian town that we know all too well now!

A screen shot of the article in the WaPo
Picture courtesy of: Washington Post
Click to enlarge
Willem van Duin of Achmea cursed, when he was informed about the article in the Washington Post. He knew that hell would break loose on him in this tiny and envious country, called The Netherlands, where everybody was jealous about one’s success and pizazz.

“Heck yeah! Clinton was expensive with his $600,000 speech! [i.e. €440,000 - EL] But if the price ain't right, this kind of people simply doesn't show up."

Still, Van Duin knew that Clinton had been worth every cent that he paid for him.

“Every darn cent! Besides that, these are simple expenses, which are divided among all these eight million customers! And what is €0.06 per customer anyway?! It is nothing! It really isn’t! So get off my back, please!!!” 

And later he fell asleep and dreamt of Bill Clinton and him: on that stage in Achlum in 2011. And in his sleep, he put a glorious smile on his face… 

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