The Kalff interview
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The Kalff interview

ABN Amro is not one house but many. Its interests across the globe include auto leases in Brazil and Japan's biggest foreign bank. But it has achieved this position in seven years without making either headline-grabbing mergers or hiring high-flyers. Instead, its universal banking business is a patchwork of different names. Through all the expansion, the bank's culture remains distinctly Dutch and every decision is pondered by its eight-man executive board. Chairman Jan Kalff is the man who holds it all together.

"I always wanted to be a banker"

Conservative but dynamic

A marriage of necessity

ABN Amro is an unusual institution. No other bank is successful in such a wide range of businesses: from auto leases in Brazil, to retail banking in the US, and Eurobond lead-management. It's the biggest foreign bank in both the US and Japan. There's hardly a banking field it's not expanding in.

And all this has happened in a mere seven years - since the bank was formed by a merger of two Dutch banks in 1990. Yet ABN Amro has made no headline-grabbing mergers. Its investment banking network has been put together from a patchwork formed of a dozen small acquisitions. Most of these units retain their original names.

The bank also has a unique culture. Its board meets twice a week for three hours at a time and approves every major loan and senior appointment. The firm abhors stars, preferring to hire medium-level outsiders, rather than high-flyers. It's also very Dutch. Where European rivals, such as Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and BZW, have imported American methods to develop investment banking, ABN Amro's board still doesn't have a single foreigner on it.

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