< Back to Home

‘It’s in our DNA to keep building the bank from one generation to the next’

As a newly-minted econometrics graduate from Erasmus University Rotterdam, Paul Gerla went to work for Shell at the age of 22. For the next 17 years, he traveled the world for this multinational company - going from Colombia to Malaysia. Gerla genuinely enjoyed all the learning it brought; still, by the time he was 38, with a growing family thrown into the mix, he was ready for a change of career and a return to the Netherlands. When he became acquainted with the Dutch merchant bank Kempen & Co, he knew that it was a venture to which he could devote himself heart and soul. He became part of a group of committed professionals who were working to expand the reach and reputation of the bank. And that is precisely what they did. In an interview with Hello Zuidas, Gerla talks about his position as Kempen's CEO, his views on Zuidas, and the vision driving the bank.

Could you tell us something about the bank's history?
Kempen & Co was started back in 1903 by Mr. Kempen and his associate Martin de Lange (hence the 'Co'). De Lange eventually took over the business, and his son in turn succeeded him. If you look at our history, you can see that it's fundamentally rooted in our DNA to keep building the bank from one generation to the next, and that really appeals to me. We've had our office in Zuidas since 2002. These are our headquarters, employing up to 500 people, but we also have offices in Edinburgh, London and New York.

What are the bank's areas of specialization?

Kempen is active in Merchant Banking and in Asset Management (Kempen Capital Management). Kempen Capital Management is our specialist asset manager, having a sharp focus and a clear investment philosophy, catering for two core activities. Firstly, we excel in a number of asset classes: small caps, property, high-dividend equities, fixed-income securities and funds of hedge funds. Secondly, we offer institutional clients a fiduciary service that provides them with a fully comprehensive asset management solution, based on their own specific needs. These clients include both domestic and international institutional investors, such as pension funds, family offices and insurance companies.

Our Merchant Banking arm (Kempen Corporate Finance and Kempen Securities) offers specialist services in areas such as securities, mergers and acquisitions, capital market transactions and finance advice to institutional investors, companies,
financial institutions and semi-public and public entities. Merchant Banking has adopted a niche strategy and, in addition
to acquiring a substantial share of the Benelux market, has evolved into one of the international market leaders in life sciences and healthcare, financial institutions and fintech, and European property.

What is the vision driving the bank?
For me, the motto says it all: From Good to Great. We constantly strive to inspire our staff. Our strategy for fulfilling clients' expectations is to devote lots of time to building a strong culture among our employees, and that's an aspect I really like.

As a bank, what challenges are you up against?
At a company like Kempen, the challenges are massive.
All around us the markets are constantly changing. The world is a highly competitive place. There's never a dull moment, really. And there are so many fascinating issues to be tackled. The pension sector has been turned upside down. Whereas society was once community-driven, there is now more emphasis on the individual. The question is how do you, as a business, respond to these developments? It is my belief that there are plenty of opportunities for an agile bank like Kempen.

What does a typical working day look like for you?
My alarm goes off at a quarter to six. Since I live in The Hague, I have to commute to Zuidas. I arrive at half past seven, ahead of the rush hour. During the day I'll have visits with clients, activities with staff and meetings with the Kempen or Van Lanschot management team. I regularly try to have walking meetings with staff and clients at the Beatrixpark, one of the most beautiful parks in Amsterdam. My schedule is full most evenings as well, with engagements here in Zuidas or elsewhere in the Netherlands. I'm on the board of the Dutch Fund and Asset Management Association (DUFAS), a body that represents all asset managers in the Netherlands, and I am also on the supervisory board of the Spaarne Gasthuis. So I'm always busy!

Sports are also important to me. The Romans knew what they were talking about, with their maxim 'a healthy mind in a healthy body'. Keeping fit is a must for me, and we also try to promote that mentality among the staff. For example, we sponsor the Amsterdam student rowing club Nereus, and a hockey club, Pinoké, and have been taking part in the Dam tot Damloop and Zuidas Run for years.

What is Kempen's relationship with Van Lanschot?
In 2007 the private bank Van Lanschot bought Kempen & Co. Our core activities cooperate in many areas and draw from the strong foundations of the group. Private Banking and Asset Management, for example, share the same in-house investment philosophy and process. This enables private clients to benefit from the same specialist expertise as some of the biggest investors in the world. The Merchant Bank provides solutions to Private Banking clients, such as notes or certificates based on an index, or an equity. Furthermore we can attract and retain talented professionals by enabling career steps between our core activities.

What do you do to unwind or to recharge your battery for another working week?
All sorts of things. For starters, I spend time at home with my family. I've got one son who is 12, and another who's 19. Apart from that, I work out a lot, get together with friends in the evening for a good laugh, and I recently got involved in the Holland Festival. I got to meet people from totally different sectors there, which has served to expand my horizon. And it also helps to focus your mind on something else. It's important to listen to yourself and take a break every now and then. I recently participated in Kempen's vitality programme. Since then I've been using a seven-minute workout app every morning as well as a mindfulness app which trains you to synchronize your breathing and heartbeat. I rarely have any physical complaints and when I do, I generally recover fairly quickly.

What is Kempen's view of current developments in Zuidas?
I've worked here for almost 12 years and am really impressed by the developments. Everybody who works here, I think, is proud of this location and enjoys working here. It's also crucial for us to be close to Schiphol. We receive lots of visitors from abroad, and it's a genuine advantage for them to be able to take the train and be at our office in no time. However, this is also a source of concern, because with all the activities planned - like Zuidasdok - we want to be sure clients will continue to be able to reach us easily. Clearly it is not in anybody's interest for Zuidas to be closed off for years, but we did sign for a long renewal on our lease, in spite of these large-scale works.

Paul Gerla

• Paul Gerla (born 1966) was appointed in late 2004 to the Management board of Kempen Capital Management, a division of Kempen & Co. Since 1 January 2009 he has been a member of the management board of Kempen & Co and has been chair since March 2015.

• Gerla has a degree in econometrics, obtained at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

• Besides Kempen, Gerla is on the board of the Dutch Fund and Asset Management Association (DUFAS), on the supervisory board of the Spaarne Gasthuis and on the Holland Festival board of governors.