The KNCB and its CEOs: a cautionary tale

Netherlands KNCB

The latest bombshell announcement from the KNCB (aka the Bond), that they are dispensing with the services of CEO Milena van Not after she has been in office for less than a year, is another chapter in the soap opera of the Bond’s relationships with its chief executives.

It all goes back to 2006, when it was proving impossible to find a successor to outgoing chairman (and former ICC Board member) René van Ierschot: the three-man committee established by the KNCB general meeting to consider ‘the modernising of the Bond’s structure’ found much that was wrong in the current set-up, and among other things recommended an expansion of the Bondsbureau [office staff] and the appointment of an (initially part-time) CEO.

The first occupant of this new post was journalist Maarten Westermann, who held the position for eighteen months before announcing that he would stand down at the end of his contract, in part because he had been unable to find the sponsorship he had been asked to bring in in order to convert the CEO post to full-time.

He also argued that the job required someone with greater managerial experience than he had, and the Board now appointed former Netherlands and Somerset fast bowler André van Troost, who had gone on to a successful business career after retiring from cricket.

Van Troost, however, lasted just a few months before he abruptly resigned in February 2009, arguing that the job was not challenging enough and could be done in three days a week: most of the KNCB’s money, he said, came ear-marked from the ICC, and as a result the CEO had little or no room for manoeuvre.

The Board now made the first of a series of mistakes: while announcing that it had appointed its own treasurer Jan Zwart, who had himself only recently joined the Board, as interim CEO, it did not disclose that he had been assured that he would be confirmed in the position permanently once it had gone through a sham appointment process.

The first call for applications, published only in Dutch and only on the KNCB website, carried a preamble stating that this procedure was required by the ICC’s rules, and added that the Board already had a strong internal candidate.

When he became aware of this, Richard Holdsworth, at that time ICC Europe Regional Manager and a member of the appointing committee, demanded that the advertisement be revised, and published in both Dutch and English in a range of media; the Board continued to insist, however, that the successful candidate should have a good first-hand knowledge of Dutch cricket and be a Dutch speaker.

This is not the place to go into all the machinations which followed, but the upshot was that former Warwickshire academy director Richard Cox was appointed that September amidst Board resignations and allegations of ICC bullying and blackmail.

Cox stayed as CEO for five years, trying to build the Bond as a professional organisation and to improve its relationship with the ICC, but his tenure was dogged by conflict between two incompatible governance models: his view that the KNCB should be a top-down organisation run by the Bondsbureau, and the existing constitution which vests ultimate power in the clubs, who elect the Board.

This conflict broke into the open in November 2014, when a coalition of club chairmen made it clear to the Board that on a number of grounds they were profoundly dissatisfied with Cox’s performance and that in their view it was time for him to go.

The Board was divided on how best to respond to this challenge, which at one point seemed to threaten to sweep it away as well, but in the end it was agreed to set a number of Key Performance Indicators for the CEO. Before the negotiations over these could be completed, Cox decided to resign.

Rather than advertising the vacancy, which was no longer required by the ICC, the Board decided to appoint as Cox’s successor Alex de la Mar, a long-serving employee who had been general manager before the creation of the CEO post in 2006, and who had continued in a range of functions throughout the intervening nine years.

This procedural step outraged the clubs, and at the general meeting in December 2015, in a contested election unprecedented in the Bond’s recent history, the ticket of candidates nominated by the retiring Board was defeated by a rival slate, led by former vice-chair Betty Timmer.

It soon emerged, however, that this minor revolution had not solved the KNCB’s structural problems.

Very much a hands-on chair, Timmer soon began to argue that the time she was investing in the Bond’s affairs meant that she needed to be paid for her services – and in the course of 2017 the Board agreed to pay her as a consultant for a series of specific projects.

Although no announcement was ever made about De la Mar’s position and the post was never advertised, an announcement from the KNCB suddenly revealed that Jaap Wals, a sports administrator with long experience in the Gymnastics Association and more recently in Swimming, would become the Interim CEO with effect from 1 February 2018.

Wals presided over the creation of a new annual policy cycle, giving the clubs and other stakeholders a much clearer role in the evolution of the Bond’s planning, but on 12 August 2020 the Board suddenly announced that there was a vacancy for CEO and commenced the first open appointment process since Cox’s appointment in 2019.

By this time a new organisation had been called into existence in the form of Cricket Nederland BV, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the KNCB with responsibility for managing major events such as the home Super League series involving the Dutch men’s team; as the BV’s Events Manager Timmer would now be paid a salary, combining that function with chairing the KNCB.

The search for a CEO for the Bond culminated in November 2020 in the appointment of Milena van Not, who would take up the role early in 2021, but by that time the Board had established a governance review committee, chaired by former KNCB chairman Van Ierschot, which would ultimately recommend a significant expansion in the BV’s powers and raise the possibility of the appointment of a separate CEO for the BV.

The Board threw its weight behind that idea and it was proposed to appoint Timmer to the post, but at the April general meeting – at which Timmer stepped down as chair of the KNCB in order to remove any perceived financial impropriety and concentrate on the affairs of the BV – it became clear that many clubs were unhappy with the lack of financial transparency, the idea of rival CEOs, and the appointment of Timmer without an open application procedure.

Incoming chairman Jurgen Delfos undertook to take the proposals away for further discussion with club representatives, but although no announcement has ever been made it is understood that Timmer’s position was subsequently confirmed, at least until after next season’s home Super League fixtures.

This, then, is the background to this week’s decision to part company with Milena van Not: the issue of what are in effect rival CEOs may or may not have been a factor, but it seems most probable that the immediate cause was the continuing battle between a KNCB chief executive who insists that she and her staff should be given the room to do their jobs and a Board which wishes to maintain its own power and reserves the right to interfere with the running of the office whenever it sees fit.

The author served on the Board of the KNCB between 2012 and 2016, and as Vice-chairman from December 2012 to June 2015.

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