Gerrit Zahn’s Corporate Values

Everyone likes to talk about values, don’t they? Especially in corporate leadership roles. But so many values statements sound bland, boring and frankly unmemorable.

Gerrit Zahn, chairman of the Dutch megabank ABN AMRO (and a former finance minister), has always taken an innovative approach to this sort of thing. Here’s a clip of him delivering a presentation to the bank’s employees last week about best practices and the need to put the customer first.

He does it in character, as his ‘sister’, Priscilla Zahn, a brothel madame, who owes more than a little to the immortal Dame Edna Everage.


Non-Dutch speaking viewers may miss some of the jokes, but everyone should be able to appreciate the double entendre he manages to get out of the terms ‘back office’ and ‘front office’. As Zahn says in the video, brothels always put the needs of their customers first, and he’s keen for banks like ABN AMRO to follow their lead.


Three things to note:

  1. Cultural difference. ABN AMRO’s spokesman described Zahn’s performance as ‘typically Dutch’. In previous years he has appeared as his ne’er-do-well brother, and as a circus ringmaster. It would be hard to imagine, say, Anthony Jenkins of Barclays opting for the same approach (though I’d pay good money to see JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon in lipstick and drag). Zahn’s approach may have worked well with the Dutch audience in the room. But will it work globally?
  2. Humour This can make all the difference. Zahn’s approach may well have made his target audience think differently- and therefore more deeply- about his subject matter. But it’s important to stay on the right side of acceptability. Some people may not be hugely amused by the head of a major bank making a joke of his profession’s world-renowned meretriciousness.
  3. Being memorable isn’t necessarily a good thing. With 192,000 YouTube hits (and counting), Zahn is on his way to becoming an internet sensation. But it’s good to be memorable for the right reasons.


Many people may only get as far as seeing a photo of Zahn in his finery; others will watch the video (but may not understand what he’s saying). His message may well get lost in the process. What everyone who watches the clip is guaranteed to see is the head of a major bank fooling around. He made me laugh, sure. But would I trust him with my money?

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