Sharing stories

INTERVIEW - Even in times of social distancing, the Concertgebouworkest and PwC have remained close. A conversation with Marc Diepstraten (Member of the Board of Management, PwC Netherlands) and Mariëlle Krouwel (Director of Corporate Marketing & Communications, PwC Netherlands).

Sharing stories

In a year without concerts or receptions for business associates or ensemble performances at the office, everything was up in the air. Yet despite all the uncertainty, 2020 unexpectedly brought much to both organisations. Here Marc Diepstraten and Mariëlle Krouwel discuss the meaning of their firm’s partnership with the Concertgebouworkest.

From service provider to partner 

PwC and the Concertgebouworkest share a long history which culminated in a partnership in 2011. As a result, the orchestra offered PwC the option of inviting business associates to concerts, for instance. The two have strengthened their bond ever since, and the partnership is now broader and fundamentally deeper. Marc Diepstraten says, ‘Our organisations share so many priorities, and we’ve got to the point now where we share experiences and learn from each other, particularly when it comes to inspiring our staff. In recent years, musicians have given concerts at our offices, resulting in true interaction. Plus it’s great to see that the interest in culture and music is growing among our younger employees as well.’ 

In good times and bad 

Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis brought an abrupt end to this interaction both at the office and in the concert hall. Indeed, the orchestra could no longer be enlisted for the firm’s relationship marketing initiatives. But Marc and Mariëlle both say this hasn’t undermined the partnership, emphasising that they’re happy others can count on PwC in good times and bad. Mariëlle says, ‘I actually feel it’s an honour that we can help the cultural sector and the Concertgebouworkest, that we’re a meaningful partner to them. It’s also how we show our employees that there’s another world out there besides our own.’ 

Mariëlle Krouwel, who has been with PwC only since May 2020, has yet to attend one of the orchestra’s live events herself, but despite that, she says she believes the relationship with the orchestra is of great value: ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a newcomer that the priorities our organisations share jump out at me more clearly. I think the health crisis brought a new openness to the partnership, too. Normally, you’ve got a calendar, a programme and a contract where everything’s nailed down. The year goes by without a hitch. But during the pandemic, we were constantly conferring with each other. I can’t count the number of times we’ve said concerts would surely resume after the summer… The great thing about the Concertgebouworkest team is that they were always asking what they could do for us – constantly regrouping and looking at what was feasible together. Several fantastic and inspiring initiatives were the result.’ 

It’s customary today to encourage employees to take a walk and put on some classical music, and we see that they’re open to it.

Putting your feet up

Marc tells how the orchestra offered PwC live streams of special concerts which are incorporated into its well-being programme, a project to keep employees physically and mentally fit. He says, ‘Listening to music provides moments for reflection, something our staff need quite a lot of in this difficult period. We need time to think about how we see ourselves and how we’re using that vision. Music can be a great tool in this process. Feedback shows that our colleagues welcome these scheduled moments when they can sit back, put their feet up, so to speak, and let go of their day-to-day worries. For me, the live streams give me a chance to just float away in between all the activities I’m involved in and be somewhere else for a little while.’

 Mariëlle adds, ‘Research shows that classical music contributes to people’s well-being. It’s also a hard time for us to relax right now – there’s work, online meetings, household chores, children… It all gets jumbled up together. It’s customary today to encourage employees to take a walk and put on some classical music, and we see that they’re open to it.’

Acknowledgement and recognition

So what priorities do the Concertgebouworkest and PwC share? Marc says, ‘PwC aims to make a positive impact on society. We want to enrich people’s lives and help them move forward. Culture, too, can touch us and play a positive social role by bringing people together. This is all in line with our own ambitions and those of the Concertgebouworkest. PwC, like the orchestra, is also constantly striving to achieve the very best results. In fact, the Concertgebouworkest’s acknowledgement and recognition of this framework of values was a determining factor for us in entering into the partnership.’

 The importance of effective collaboration is a recurring theme at PwC, one the firm draws inspiration for from the Concertgebouworkest. Marc continues, ‘How do you get people to work together effectively? How do you make everyone co-owners of the final product? The same applies to a musical performance – music of the highest calibre is possible only if and when each musician takes individual responsibility.’

A single glance

Mariëlle brings up a two-musician rehearsal she briefly attended during a ‘coronavirus work visit’ to RCO House, the orchestra’s home base near Museumplein. She recalls, ‘It was instantly clear to me how the two musicians were interacting. They were depending on each other and could indicate with a single glance whether the music should be louder or softer, slower or faster. They both had such a keen sense of each other. We’re always talking about these things at PwC, too. How do you work together as a team? How do you develop a sense of one another? It was new for me to see similar processes happening within an orchestra. In our work, we often borrow expressions from the world of high-performance sports, like “winning” and “crossing the finish line together”. Now I’ve been introduced to a new order of high-performance athletes who can teach us even more about teamwork.’

Marc says that much resonates with him on a personal level, too: ‘What motivates you? What’s your intention when working together? There’s always more than a business motivation. And what about giving feedback? What’s the best way? Orchestra members are super-specialists in this area, on a par with our own super-specialists. And when we talk to one another about this, an amazing synergy occurs – precisely because the world of the symphony orchestra and the world of consulting are so far apart.’

One layer deeper

Talking to one another and sharing stories – that’s what Mariëlle believes in. She says, ‘Inspiring one another with meaningful stories in areas where we have common ground as international organisations is key.’

Mariëlle mentions the new insights she gained during an online event for PwC alumni where two violinists from the orchestra discussed working from home during the coronavirus crisis – an issue PwC staff have also been dealing with internally since the pandemic and one on which the consultants are advising their clients. She says, ‘I was definitely aware there was a social divide between those who could continue to work from home and those whose work just dried up instantly, like people in the hospitality industry. Musicians are somewhere in between these two groups. They continue to work from home, practising to maintain their level of performance. At the same time, though, especially at the beginning of the crisis, they weren’t able to play together, and there were no concerts. So what do you do? How do you stay motivated? How do you stay mentally fit? I find it very admirable. This story gave us a broader view of our own situation and helped us encourage our employees to look one layer deeper.’

We see how important culture is, how relaxation, new insights and inspiration from other worlds contribute to well-being in general.

Taking responsibility together

Ultimately, though, there’s a larger narrative at play. Mariëlle explains, ‘Both organisations want to contribute to society, to help the Netherlands move forward. So how can we work together to accomplish that? It’s all about a two-stage process. Once we see how important culture is, how relaxation, new insights and inspiration from other worlds contribute to well-being in general, it’s time to take responsibility together for the arts and culture in the Netherlands, in addition to tackling business and financial problems. It’s also our aim to make that happen by doing more than making a financial contribution in exchange for the orchestra helping us with relationship marketing. We want to look at areas where we can help each other more broadly.’

Marc sees opportunities in the form of knowledge that PwC can contribute, based partly on advising other world-renowned orchestras ‘in areas like future-proofing, the continuity of business operations and creating new forms of financial security. We want to look at how we can support the orchestra in these areas.’

Mariëlle says getting shared stories out there is meaningful, too: ‘The whole issue of working from home, for instance, fits with a theme of current relevance: the future of work. Research shows that even after the coronavirus crisis, we’ll still be “working differently”. The orchestra and PwC have plenty to share here. Together with the Concertgebouworkest team, we’re identifying those themes and stories which are valuable to our own staff and to our associates. Perhaps there are more of them than we originally thought.’

Door Marije Bosnak