“How can we limit the impact of the restructuring in the best way possible for our business and our people?” – Kitty van Dongen, CFO at Ahoy
Since 1971 they have already been known as ‘the greatest of the earth’: a home for international artists, first-class athletes, politicians, and other prominent parties. Ahoy, a venue of world renown. And partly because of that, the pride of the city of Rotterdam and its residents.
The Eurovision Song Contest, a brand new convention centre, and a central role in the Rotterdam Hart van Zuid: nothing seemed to get in the way of the development of Ahoy. Until March 2020, when the pandemic turned the world upside down. A disaster for Ahoy, where the operation of the Ahoy complex and Onderzeebootloods and the organisation of trade fairs and events belong to its core activities. “All activities came to a halt”, explains Kitty van Dongen, CFO of Ahoy.
“Due to Covid-19 all our activities came to a halt at once. A restructuring was inevitable.”
A restructuring as a result of Covid-19 could not be avoided: “We bid farewell to approximately 100 people, 40% of the total workforce. A difficult decision, in recent years much had been invested in good people and now we had to let go of a part of these committed employees. It was unacceptable. The question is then what is the right thing to do, nobody could predict the future. That is why, in association with Kneppelhout, all sorts of scenarios were created: How many people can we retain, what are the risks? And when it became clear that there was no longer any way out: how do we organise it properly for our people and how do we guarantee a successful mass redundancy?”
Apart from issues under employment law, Kneppelhout also assists Ahoy in matters related to corporate law, including commercial disputes, issues related to directors and shareholders, and the sale and purchase of shares. “For instance, Kneppelhout also assisted us in the sale of a participating interest in another company held by Ahoy. It was important for us to know what the potential risks were, how they were taken into account in the terms and conditions of the sale, and what guarantees we were able to issue. And what do you do when, as in our case, proceedings are pending that can have an adverse effect on the sales price?”
“The clear expectation management, the mediating approach, and adequate follow-up are typical of Kneppelhout.”
“Whether it regards a restructuring, or a share transaction, you do not want the process to take more time than necessary. Certainly not when it comes to people. Major changes can cause considerable unrest. You want to limit that unrest by quickly providing clarity. Kneppelhout understands this.
In the event of the restructuring, Elise Oonincx-Vreeburg, employment lawyer, assisted us in the elaboration of sharp analyses of the various restructuring options, in the course of which she also provided specific and practical recommendations. In this respect the following was, among other things, taken into account: what you communicate when in order to limit unrest within the organisation, how you prepare a good redundancy plan, what you can do to ensure that the restructuring process proceeds swiftly, and moreover, how you do not lose sight of the people who are not declared redundant. In the end, everybody agreed with the settlement agreement offered and all the people we had to bid farewell to signed it within two weeks.
In the wake of the sale of the shares, Evert-Karel Ditvoorst, corporate lawyer, represented our interests well. Among other things by defining and limiting the risks. By placing the risks of pending proceedings in context through a practical approach, good arrangements could be agreed on, in order that both parties knew where they stood. The clear expectation management, the mediating approach, and adequate follow-up are typical of Kneppelhout. I can also see this in our other cases, for instance in the event of commercial disputes. Sometimes I wonder how it can be, that things can be done so promptly!”
For all matters that are related to our operation of the Ahoy complex, whether the complicated area development of “Hart van Zuid”, zoning plans or tenancy law, we work with Ingomar Souren, property lawyer. He is always available, by word and deed, for consultation with me or our company lawyer. He thinks in solutions, but when required he just as easily switches to legal action.
“A Rotterdam mentality without posh, that is Kneppelhout.”
“A Rotterdam mentality without posh, that is Kneppelhout. At most legal firms you get the impression that you pay for the look and feel of the office building. That is not the case here.
Kneppelhout is a professional party with a human dimension. By no means distant, instead perfectly approachable. But they are definitely ‘objective’ in their consultancy, I can remember a case where that was very important. When emotions run high, you must be able to rely on it that the professional on your side is not getting too carried away. What I also appreciate, is that Kneppelhout thinks along, without being pedantic. And, above anything else, a party that you can ‘simply’ have a discussion with, even when it comes to the somewhat self-willed CFO I am!”, smiles Kitty.