Expat bank CEO joins protests in Bucharest: I care about my children’s future
Steven van Groningen, the CEO of Raiffeisen Bank, one of the biggest lenders in Romania says he was impressed with the atmosphere at the protests in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square and that he went there with his family every evening. He explained in a blog post that he did this because he is not indifferent for his children’s future or the future of the country he is living in.
His presence at the protests hasn’t gone unnoticed by the local politicians who support the Government and who claim that the multinationals have been supporting these massive demonstrations.
“I don’t know what other institutions are involved, but I’ve seen leaders of some multinationals – companies that are welcomed and will continue to be welcomed -, but I found it more than unfair that the president of a foreign bank, an expat, to protest against the Government. Of course, maybe he is upset about the giving in payment law or for other things that we have done for the Romanians,” Dragnea said at Romania TV on Sunday evening, when 250,000 people gathered in front of Romania’s Government building for the biggest protest the country has seen in the last 25 years.
Romanian senator Daniel Zamfir, a member of the National Liberal Party (PNL), and a well-known adversary of the big local banks (he initiated and supported the giving in payment law), posted a photo on his Facebook page showing van Groningen in Victoriei Square during the protests.
“Do I see well??? Van Groningen is at the protests? He, the President of Raiffeisen Bank, which has made hundreds of millions on the back of the Romanian state? He, who ripped off hundreds of thousands of Romanians and who wants to go against Romania in international courts because of the giving in payment law, is now a protester???” Zamfir wrote.
Steven van Groningen said in a blog post that he went to the Victoriei Square because he cares. “I was expecting some would use my presence there in a totally predictable way. It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” he wrote.
“My presence there is a personal decision. Before being a bank president, I am a father and I care about the future of my children and of the country I live in. I don’t think that from this point of view there is any difference between me and the people I met there – clients, friends, business partners, entrepreneurs, athletes, another Olympic champion, employees. Just like them, my desire for a better future for my children, for a more prosperous Romania, is totally legitimate,” van Groningen explained.
“I understand that the fact that I care about Romania, the country where I’ve been living for 20 years, and which is home for me, bothers some. I saw reactions of indignation from politicians, statements that it wasn’t right that I was there,” he wrote, adding: “Yes, I am also a bank president. In this role, I care about the 5,500 Romanian families who depend of the salary the bank pays to them, I care about their future as well as about the 2 million clients who entrusted us with their savings and the 30,000 companies the bank has been financing.”
He said politicians shouldn’t be surprised with his position as it has been the same for at least ten years.
“To create value, to increase productivity, which will allow us to pay higher salaries, we need a competitive private sector. Businesses need a predictable environment, without major legislation changes done overnight. Any change has to be discussed with those impacted by it, in an ample consultation process. Any legislative proposal must be made based on an impact analysis – another legal requirement that politicians often don’t respect,” he explained.
“We need real dialogue, not just to pretend that we are having a dialogue. In the past ten years, too little has changed in this regard. Dialogue is avoided. Why bother with counter arguments when it’s so much simpler to discredit or insult any critical voice. Ad hominem is not a good sign when we’re talking about a democratic process,” van Groningen concluded.
Steven van Groningen has been running Raiffeisen Bank Romania, one of the top five banks in Romania, sine 2002. He took over immediately after Austrian group Raiffeisen took over Banca Agricola from the Romanian state. He is one of the most respected and admired local CEOs.
He is married to Valeria Racila van Groningen, a rowing Olympic champion at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and they have two sons. Mrs. van Groningen also organizes the Bucharest International Marathon, one of the biggest sports competitions in Romania, which is sponsored by Raiffeisen Bank.