McKinsey CEO Calls for End of Belgium, Resigns

Herman De Bode

Herman De Bode, McKinsey’s CEO in the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) was forced to resign last week. The 52-year old Mr De Bode, who is also the president of the Harvard Club of Belgium, is a Fleming. He had signed the so-called “Warande manifesto,” a text authored by a group of 50 businessmen and academics from Flanders, calling for Flemish independence from the multinational federal Kingdom of Belgium. The latter is an artificial state, which prides itself on being the model of a federal Europe.  It consists of 6 million Dutch-speakers in Flanders, its northern half that borders on the Netherlands, 4 million French-speakers in Wallonia, its southern half that borders on France, and almost 100,000 Germans along its eastern border with Germany.
Its capital Brussels, which is also the capital of Flanders and of the
European Union, has a French-Dutch bilingual status. The Warande
manifesto calls for the transformation of Brussels into a European
district, after the example of Washington DC.

belgium-regions-colors-name.gifThe Warande manifesto proposes transforming Belgium into two states, Flanders and Wallonia. It was published ten days ago by a group consisting of i.a. Remi Vermeiren, the former CEO of KBC Bank, one of Belgium’s  major banks, Baron Hugo Vandamme, the former CEO of Barco and chairman of the board of Roularta Media Group, Professor Erik Suy, the former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, and various other prominent Flemings. None if its members are affiliated with any political party.

Source: F. Wishlade, "EU Cohesion policy: facts, figures and issues", Oxford University Press, 1996. 


The group has calculated that an ever increasing amount of Flemish subsidies is flowing to the south each year (3.8 billion euros in 1990; 10.4 billion euros in 2003). This is bad for Flanders, which is overtaxed, and for Wallonia, which is growing accustomed to a situation of dependency. “Solidarity is a good thing,” Mr Vermeiren, the chairman of the group says, “but this is excessive. It allows Wallonia to maintain an unemployment rate of 20% while an additional 10% of the working population is employed as superfluous civil servants.”



The manifesto – basically a book of 252 pages replete with economic data, charts and graphs – caused indignation in Socialist-dominated Wallonia and among Belgium’s Francophone Brussels establishment. The Brussels newspaper Le Soir (26 November) called it “the book that will bury Belgium” and quoted a left-wing, post-modernist Flemish journalist who said the group “has no democratic legitimacy.” In La Libre Belgique (1 December) Tony Vandeputte, the former director of the Federation of Belgian Employers, wrote that the group consists of “nostalgic Flemish-nationalists who take advantage of every opportunity to promote their goal.” Last Friday the Belgian bishops issued a document saying that “if we do not succeed in maintaining a reasonable degree of solidarity between the North and the South in Belgium, we cannot expect solidarity on a larger, worldwide scale.”

Herman De Bode was forced to resign as CEO of McKinsey Benelux on Wednesday, following threats by Francophone Belgian clients of the consulting company, including the Walloon regional government, that they would take their business elsewhere if De Bode remained in function. Mr De Bode pointed out that he had signed the manifesto as a private citizen and as the president of the Brussels chapter of Voka, the organisation of Flemish employers. In a press release McKinsey stated that the company was not involved in the Warande group and takes no position in the political debate about the future of Belgium.

Rudi De Kerpel, a 34-year old Flemish entrepreneur and the owner of several companies, who acts as spokesman of the Warande group, says that Mr. De Bode is the victim of a defamation campaign. “When one sees the slander, the pressure and blackmail that have led to his resignation, one understands why many Flemish captains of industry wait until they have retired before voicing their support for Flemish independence.”

Dissonant comment

This will probably be a very dissonant opinion, but McKinsey did the logical thing to ask Mr. De Bode to resign. Anybody surprised about such a request doesn’t have any idea about how multinationals or major American corporations work or what their culture is.

Mr. De Bode was in a high position in business consulting, not in politics. For people, highly visible like him, there is no such thing as a “private opinion”. Especially when he outs himself in a controversial (in the “Belgian” context) political manifesto.

McKinsey has to do business with _everybody_ in Belgium. It has to have an impartial image, for the sake of the nature of its consulting business itself. It can’t afford to be perceived as connected with somebody that has publicly underwritten a manifesto that clearly would offend part of its customers.

Mr. De Bode of course knew this, another reason why his courage is remarkable. The case would be different if Mr. De Bode was a politician, but he was not. Maybe he will become one now.

Ofcourse it is logical. But

Ofcourse it is logical. But it is unacceptable in a normal society where Freedom of Speech & thought are supposed to reign. If that is a reason to force people out of employement then why not just fire anyone who has a Personal political opinion that doesnt comply with the powernerds or the company? Furthermore I had the impression that it was external pressure that has forced McKinsey to ask the resignation. There should be public outrage! But everyone just keeps shut.
Or am I weird, VH ?

Weird ?


You ask if you are weird. I wouldn't call you weird but inconsistent. You defend the right/freedom of Mr. De Bode to express his point of view but you want to quash the right/freedom of McK's clients to express their disapproval of that opinion, and of McK itself to act in self preservation.

You relate that Mr. De Bode acted personally but all of us are "ambassdors" for what ever group we belong to (family, company, club, country, etc.) that we recognize it or not. The CEO of a company obviously has more visibility than say a mailboy, and therefor will be held to a higher level of accountability.

Another issue is the product McK sells. If McK sold widgets, the opinion of its CEO would have a lesser impact than the fact that McK sells "opinions and recommendations" (consulting). Therefor, if the CEO expresses an opinion, even in an informal way, that is diametrically opposite to your own, how can you trust that he or his team of consultants will have your best interests at heart if you hire them?

There is no nefarious act there other than the act of self preservation on the part of the clients and subsequently by McK's management.

True it is inconsistent, but

True it is inconsistent, but then again as far as I recall intervention against the freedom of speech & using that right is acceptable when another person/element is being damaged. In De Bode's declaration as a private citizen there is no damage being done to McKinsey. It are local goverments who are doing the damage to McKinsey by forcing them to remove De Bode from his Benelux position.
McKinsey's 'expression' is repulsive, under heavy pressure. It is because De Bode uses his right to free speech that he is being punished.

A CEO has more visibility; but was he acting as a spokeperson of McKinsey or as a private citizen? It seems to me that there was no outrage about McKinsey's study on Belgium...why should De Bode be forced to resign because he signed 'another study' on Belgium (as a private citizen).
So according to you De Bode is not entitled to fully use his freedom of speech, because he's also a CEO?
Tell me, if McKinsey's reports were to be influenced by De Bode wouldnt it lead to faulty consultancy; advise that local goverments will refute eventually and in the end would lead to McKinsey's marketshare breaking down because of bias consulting?
I seriously doubt that De Bode has any time to influence the outcome of reports; nor is it in his personal (financial) and in McKinsey's interest for him to do so.
It seems to me De Bode could have stayed in function and those that have fears of manipulation because of his private statement can always enjoy their liberty to switch to the competition, instead of applying pressure to force De Bode out.

Resignation of McKinsey CEO

I guess his "forced" resignation can be seen either way: a sign of lack of freedom of speech as LvB asserts, or a normal consequence of being a high flyer in a company who should have known that his views could create a storm in Belgium.
But regardless of what side of the argument you find yourself, you must admit that it is remarkable, to say the least, that such a factual analysis creates such a storm. I wonder whether he would have been forced to resign if he would have put his name under a manifest calling for homosexual adoption rights, or abortion rights, or the establishment of a Palistinian state or the withdrawal of the US from Iraq, or some other politically correct subject matter. The remarkable fact remains that objective material about what is going on in Belgium (and what cannot be disputed in any manner) cannot be published or discussed but at the expense of your career.
And that's very, very sad, or is it sick?

Probably it would have been

Probably it would have been less of a storm. Its a quiet storm however. There would have been no problems if he signed a manifesto for a continued Federal Belgium...seems that opinion would have been acceptable and not requiring resignation-pressure.

Freedom of speech

I am totally in support for freedom of speech but it is a two way street and it has consequences. While the government is not supposed to set consequences for someone's speech, we know that very few (and even fewer european governments that I know) feel restricted on that subject. In this case however, that is besides the point.

While Mr. De Bode is totally free to express what he believes in, and I respect him for that, McKinsey's clients are also free to speak with their Euros and take their business wherever they please. All of us enter in this type of business relationship every day and we change them many time for shallower reasons than the type of major disagreement that the Warande Manifesto was sure to engender.

Therefor, knowing clients his firm's client list, Mr. De Bode had to expect that some of them would balk at his signing the manifesto. It was courageous of him to stand for his principles but he should not now complain when others (his clients) do the same.

Sorry but there is a

Sorry but there is a clearcut destinction between the private person and the public person. Bode signed as a PRIVATE person, not as a representative of McKinsey. That the goverment automatically decides to exclude McKinsey from any possible future contracts because of this is sheer blackmail & unacceptable. If they cannot make the difference then it tells us a lot about their mentality.

If proponents must keep

If proponents must keep quiet, then the movement will grow quietly till it reaches critical mass. Those who oppose it will say, the day it succeeds, how impossible it was to have predicted such a spontaneous event.

Congratulations to the

Congratulations to the leaders of Flemish Belgium for having the courage to propose a manifesto calling for independence from French Wallonia that bis sucking them dry. We have the same problem in Canada with Quebec which is sucking the life out of English Canada, destroying our English institutions and corrupting the political process. English Canada needs to separate from Quebec, and the sooner the better.


English Canada needs to separate from Quebec

What about non-English Canada? I.e. British Columbia and Alberta. That's where all the money is, as I understand it. Are they going to stay on board the good ship?

Bob Doney

It is a shame really.

It is a shame really. Freedom of Speech suddenly doesnt matter, what freedom is there if you are forced to resign because of ones words as a private citizen. It also shows that some people do dare to put their carreers at stake, but seemingly a lot of them rather remain quiet.
Allow me to go bonkers...but 'Who is Spartacus' pops into mind. We are all Spartacus.
We cannot be Spartacus if we remain silent; speak we must. Otherwise how will they know that we are all Spartacus? They wont. They cannot afford themselves to punish us all.

Keeping our backs straight & steady whilst applying pressure is what will eventually lead us to our goal of Independance. It seems the French-talking 'lot' are preparing for debates on further reforms concentrated around Brussels. Also a reaction to the Warande Manifesto.
(Sorry both links are in Dutch only).