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Exit interview: Ton Groeneveld

What was your first ever full-time job – and do you remember what you were being paid at the time?
It was in the Royal Navy as a lieutenant. It was a nice time at sea. The point is that you have no fixed working hours. You work, when there is work to be done and that is nearly always on a ship. Mostly, work doesn’t even look like work.
During the rare moments of clear thinking you realise that the prospects in the Navy are not always good.
In those days the payment was approx e900 a month.

What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise – and did you take it?
The best advice I really don’t know. But an interesting one came from my favourite university professor. When I took my job at Dutch Railways, he seriously advised me never to take a holiday or a day off. For, on these days, unexpected things might happen. Bosses don’t like it – which is certainly true – and above all, when you have a nice job, you don’t really need it.
I didn’t follow the advice, but during my first holidays I always felt rather guilty.

How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
In the second half of the eighties the pension fund was a subsidiary of Dutch Railways. The job itself had already been vacant for a long period. Nobody in the railways liked it, because it was not a typical railway job. So at last the Railways Board and Management Development gave a lot of incentives to cover the job. I accepted. A few years later Dutch Railways and the pension fund were privatised and management development was abolished. But above all, the pension fund sector became an increasing attractive working area.

What was your most satisfying achievement during your career in pensions?
It is not the stuff with investment policy, a new contract or the boards. What really matters are the things behind the job. I had the same experience as my father. When he left as chancellor of the university he told the audience that the job itself was an easy one. If you need a new professor or a new hospital wing, you push the appropriate button and hurray, some time later you shake hands with the new professor or there is the celebration party for the new wing you just opened. Therefore, he thought his biggest achievement was the new teapot that came into operation in the professor’s room. The real problems to solve are those which have no real owner.
He was right. In the same way it took me over 10 years to have a decent Dutch national flag instead of the SPF Beheer flag on top of the building on national holidays, like Queen’s Day. In a mysterious way unfortunately the rope of the flagpole has recently dropped into the pole…
I wish my successor a lot of luck.

And what has been your worst moment in your pensions career – and why?
It is 11 September 2001: the World Trade Center attack. The financial markets closed. That afternoon I was at the Amsterdam airport to take a plane to Berlin. It was a very quiet day at the airport. Thinking back it was most amazing that business was as usual. My mobile phone was switched off in my suitcase. Some TV-sets in the distance, at which I looked with a casual glance, showed a programme of which I thought was a Discovery Channel education programme of smoking volcanoes in Hawaii. The event was not mentioned in the airplane. That evening I learned about it in a Berlin taxi. Next day it wasn’t possible to get a plane back home.
How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
I would say: don’t do it. The business becomes unattractive by the issuing of too many rules that are too tight by the pensions supervisor. The issue is to lower the risks; the result is they make the system very expensive. This will have consequences.
Try to retrain yourself as a pension funds consultant. You keep clean hands and it will also give you a great opportunity to get very rich.

What would you do differently, if you could do it again?
You would not really notice the difference.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
Oh yes, a lot! For instance: to run a company in the entertainment industry. Or: a job in a far away country with a nice Mediterranean climate.
The combination of both is even better!

Are you really retiring or will you be recycling yourself into some new role?
Amazing: The recycling process almost goes automatically. Having experience is considered to be of value in investment advisory boards or as commissioner. For the time being I will try to get a nice mix of retirement and some professional activities.
Your parting words of wisdom for those you leave behind in pensions are?
This is a difficult one. I wish that notwithstanding the strong increasing politicising of the pension sector, all participants will keep in mind the interests of the pensioners. After all we claim to do it for them.
For me, joining the club of pensioners, this wisdom is also a matter of self-interest.

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