Here in the Netherlands we like to hold a special event for our colleagues when they retire. And there is usually something extra special when someone senior takes their pension. So when Klaas, the CIO of the Pensioen Vorkhef, the industry-wide fund for forklift-truck drivers, retired last month, there was a small symposium and reception in his honour. His colleagues chose the old Dutch mint in Utrecht city centre as the venue. A highly appropriate place to hold such an event, as I told my old friend Ronald, who is CEO of the fund.
It is the mark of an important and well-liked man when you see almost everyone in our industry under one roof at such an occasion. And so it was with Klaas, who spent the final 10 years with his colleagues at Pensioenfonds Vorkhef. As I look around the room I see old friends - and foes - from pension funds, associations, the regulator and academia. Luckily many more friendly faces than not.
After a while we move to the auditorium and the chairman of the trustees makes an introduction. Klaas started his career at one of the large Dutch banks, we are told, but later moved over to spend most of his years in pensions. And like most of us, Klaas won’t really be retiring - he’ll just be doing the parts of his job that he likes the best as an independent director.
The main billing of the session was two presentations by senior asset management figures. They tried to articulate a new vision for investment. After that, the chairman of the trustees presented Klaas with a cheque for charity, and a comedian from Friesland - Klaas is from Groningen, so something of a foreigner in Utrecht - gave everybody some light relief. Some of the foreign visitors were frowning during this. They just don’t understand our Dutch humour.
‘Those presentations sound like a work in progress, don’t you think?’ Ronald asks me as we troop up the stairs to the drinks reception. ‘Did you notice how they studiously ignored terms like new normal?’
I catch up with the chairman of the Vorkhef trustees just as I am about to leave. ‘How will you cope without Klaas?’ I ask. ‘That’s difficult to say,’ he replies. ‘For one, I’m not sure who the investment committee members will pick up the phone to speak to when things get tricky. The thing about Klaas was that you could call him day or night.’
I think about the secrets of success as a CIO as I walk across the carpark. And just then, my mobile phone rings. It is none other than the chairman of the Wasserdicht Netherlands trustees. He’s very tiresome and wastes a lot of time but, of course, I can’t ignore him.
I put the phone on speaker as I drive home and settle in for a long conversation about the day’s market movements and the chairman’s stock portfolio. All in a day’s work, I tell myself.
Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds