Speech Hans van Diejie

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Dear Peat Marwick Nederland,
Maybe I might have come in and say hello to your guests, but I was afraid that I would stick out like a sore thumb, so I will ask one of your more intelligent alumni to read out this letter instead. Please note that I have gone to great pains to get this letter translated into an elementary understandable form of correct English, which is not my native tongue, as you know.
My sincere congratulations on your anniversary, although I fail to see how you can celebrate a 50th anniversary for a firm that existed for only 28 years. But there you are, Peat Marwick Nederland, a pretext for a party was always welcome in the old days, was not it?

You came to the Hague as a very small outfit in a year when Buddy Holly had just died and The Beatles were only known as a skiffle band in Liverpool. Mr Churchill had only recently left the political stage for the last time, John Kennedy had not yet been elected and Konrad Adenauer was still trying to rebuild Germany. Indonesia invaded the last part of the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and Mr Eisenhouer’s bullying meant that the Netherlands could do nothing about it. Elvis was joining the US army and the long play record had just been invented. TV was a rare phenomenon, we had only one TV station in the Netherlands which was not even called Nederland 1. Saturday was a working day for most adults, and a school day for most teenagers, and the cold war still coincided with warm summers. I remember it all well, because I am 42 years older than you are, Peat Marwick Nederland.

Most people in the accounting profession in the Netherlands only considered you a nuisance in the beginning, since you were just auditing subsidiaries of multinationals anyway using primarily expatriates who were glad to leave the US or the UK, so who cared? Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, you became notably ambitious, you worked the national market more actively, you started hiring expensive young people from universities, you rapidly expanded your tax practice, and you even had the guts to start a consulting group in the 1980s. Mind you, the consulting practice was led by an accountant with a funny foreign degree, the management of the audit practice alternated between a Brit and an American, and – let’s admit it - the tax department was invariably led by multiple alcoholics with chain smoking capabilities. Small wonder these people did not show up tonight!

The funny thing was that these three disciplines worked together as one. As if there were no big differences and petty jalousies between them! You created team spirit which went beyond hierarchy and people called each other by their first names, as if the partners and the senior managers were almost ordinary human beings! You want people to dress smartly in jacket and tie, thereby destroying the habit of accountants looking their usual boring, tedious and dull selves.

You seemed to think that documenting everything you did was a good idea, 30 years before the AFM finally said the same thing. You gave young people a lot of responsibility if you thought they could handle it, even if their knees were shaking at the very thought. You even thought that females might do as good a job as males, thereby forcing all future accounting firms to have at least two toilets in their buildings. And your Christmas parties were orgies of food, drink, jokes and performances, as if hangovers almost were something to be proud of. You expected people from maybe 10 nationalities to work together simply because they shared a common culture and training and believed in what they were doing, and the amazing thing is that it even worked in most cases.

Everyone was expected to do their bit, not just by their bosses but even by their peers, because the job had to be done and on time, and one man’s failure would look bad on everybody else. Cohesion was strong despite the stiff working hours. Why your people put up with it, I fail to understand, because slavery was abolished long ago, Peat Marwick Nederland. Your partners made heaps of money and the angels of the heavenly auditor looked kindly upon those who got home with a couple of drinks.

The funny thing is, your people were proud of their Peat Marwick firm and they showed it. Modesty inside the firm, pride towards others. For some reason, they considered themselves part of an elite bunch of professionals and then this elite bunch changed its name, logo, style and composition in 1987. Small wonder that your people tried to turn the new company into Peat Marwick Nederland Mark 2 again, but that would have been too much to expect and a partial exodus to other firms and to the business world was inevitable. Kiss Peat Marwick Goodbye, as someone summed it up. The merger diluted your strong drink with a shandy and despite the bigger glass of KPMG, the original flavor of PMN had gone. So had your cohesion, for that matter. Some may regret this, but that is time and progress, like it or not. I did not, because my own friends and I benefited from this merger. As one of your partners would have said: Hells bells, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

One might say you were an arrogant rather bunch, Peat Marwick Nederland, all the time trying to conquer the world, buying your handsome cars, having your after work drinks, attending your trainings abroad and getting your supposedly portable computers. Why couldn’t your act like the grey mice that accountants are supposed to be, and why couldn’t you stick to doing the same clients every year again rather than wanting to do new and exiting ones? You made other people nervous, Peat Marwick Nederland, especially me. How come you thought that giving your staff challenging, inspiring and sometimes demanding work would be appreciated by them? Why did you want to be so special?

However, the number of people showing up today at this reunion, 22 years even after it officially ceased to exist, is maybe just one more and possibly the last show of gratitude and comradeship you will ever have. A fairly unique tribute to something that was there in the past and is worth remembering, even if the good old day were sometimes just old.

Peat Marwick Nederland, you were an unconventional bunch of hard working bastards during most of your existence. I have had a good career myself and I have always outsized you. As one of my friends once said: big numbers! And big numbers always win, eventually. But I envy you a lot of things and sometimes I secretly wish I would have been good enough to join you when I was young. But that was never an option, because you might have rejected me, so except for this confidential letter, I will forever hide my jealousy. I may have been bigger, you were better. But then again, only males maintain that size does not matter. You and I know better now. You may have deserved more than your 28 years of ambitious and hectic existence, Peat Marwick Nederland, and you have every right to celebrate your past qualities again in future, even if Martin, Huub, Pim, Peter-Paul and Gineke say that the budget has run out. Just tap a couple of those millionaires attending today. Have them wiggle their credit cards and you may celebrate again in 5 or 10 years time. Please accept my congratulations and have one – but only one! – drink on me and on your absent friends. Yours kindly,

Klynveld Kraayenhoff & Co.