News - December 16, 2009

Good grades, and an area of improvement

An analysis of the procedure for reappointment of Aalt Dijkhuizen.

Barack Obama may have a 'company plane' but the most powerful man in the world can't match Aalt Dijkhuizen, Wageningen UR's strong man, when it comes to salary. That is not the only advantage he has over American presidents. For instance, they are only allowed to stay in office for two terms; Dijkhuizen is currently in the picture for a third term of four years. Without an elaborate election campaign; all he needs are the five votes of the Supervisory Board members. If they are happy with him, he's a made man for the next few years.
 Before they come up with their recommendation, the Supervisory Board members - who are outsiders - will be sounding out the Wageningen UR family. Thus last Monday, a confidential committee formed by staff councils and employees' consultative bodies gave its opinion of Dijkhuizen. That recommendation is not binding but is a significant indicator for the Board of how the organization feels about the Executive Board Chairman. The discussions and recommendations are confidential. This is mainly to protect Dijkhuizen's candidacy but also to allow the organization's representatives to speak freely.
 Even so, it is clear that a number of topics were discussed. Firstly, there is the salary of 313 thousand euros. That is the reward for managing a university, a university of applied sciences and a market-oriented research organization. In the past the Supervisory Board has said that it will only review this salary when considering new candidates, and the Board is unlikely to change this policy during the reappointment process. However, some opposition on this point can be expected from the Minister, Gerda Verburg. It would be surprising if she were to disregard a proposal to reappoint Dijkhuizen, but there has been a substantial rise in public disapproval of huge salaries over the past few years. A solution needs to be found; Dijkhuizen is not likely to agree to a cut in salary of 40 percent to take him down to the Balkenende norm.    
 Then there is another tricky dilemma for the Supervisory Board. Dijkhuizen's hard work and dedication are not in doubt. What is more, the organization is well positioned and in good financial health. The Chairman of the Executive Board and the team he leads deserve top marks for that performance. However, it was already clear during the previous reappointment that not everyone supported Dijkhuizen in his work. At the time, there were complaints about the distance between the Executive Board and staff.
 It is now known that the confidential committee made it clear to the Supervisory Board that there is increasing criticism of the Executive Board Chairman, at least in part due to his tendency to be autocratic. He reacts badly to open criticism whereas an organization like Wageningen UR needs creative employees, who are also likely to be critical employees. If you want to generate commitment - and Dijkhuizen is entirely in favour of that - you will have to be able to take criticism. That is an area for improvement.