Since 1958 once every two years the Koning Willem I-Prijs (King Willem I Award) of the Koning Willem I Stichting (King Willem I Foundation) is being awarded. Nowadays there are three prizes, also called the Oscars of the Dutch business world, which already shows how important they are. The King Willem I Award is the most prestigious award for courageous, resilient and sustainable entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. They are presented in the categories Large Companies, SMEs – the winners receive a statue of King Willem I on horseback – and a Plaque for companies that excel in sustainable entrepreneurship. Since Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in 2014 took over the position of honorary president from her husband King Willem-Alexander, she is the royal, that is present at the award ceremony.
On Monday evening 23 May 2022 the awards were handed out at the brand new Forum in Groningen, that was only opened late 2019. It is a huge building in the heart of the city centre, and houses the library, a cinema, a comics museum, conference rooms, horeca and lots more. I however don’t think Queen Máxima saw much of it. After her arrival in the pouring rain around 7.45pm – luckily the distance to the side door was rather short – she was led into the building and took the stairs to the second floor, instead of using the escalators.
As it is a gala like event, the Queen wore a long multi-coloured dress by Mary Katrantzou, that she had worn before. There were female guests in real evening gowns. I must admit in my trousers and blazer I felt rather underdressed, although the photographers were even dressed worse. At least I was seated in the back row. I had taken a note book with me, but because it was often so dark, I sometimes I had no idea what the notes I was writing looked like.
The moderator of the evening, Sophie van den Enk, was full of humor, the city poet of Groningen, Myron Hamming, recited several poems. The Noordpool Orkest and the duo Lies & Saar took care of the musical setting of the evening. The duo sang a Dutch version of John Lennon’s Imagine about freedom, no religion, while in the background the colours of the Ukrainian flag appeared: Every dream is one. The Somalian Groninger Mohamed Yusuf Boss, a choreographer and dancer, also appeared on stage to show a rather impressive dance.
Professor Dr Klaas Knot, the president of the King Willem I Awards and of De Nederlandsche Bank, presented the three nominated companies in each of the three categories. They all shortly told something about their company, often full of humor and pride. The whole room was full of people working for those nine companies, the youngest guests, a little baby, only a few weeks old. Everybody was in a festive mood, as the last edition in 2020 had been held online. Mr Knot spoke about the 4Ds (the starting letter of the Dutch words connected to it) the companies are standing for: daring, vigour, sustainability, perseverance. But also: thirsty, dreaming. Remarkable: all nine companies were represented by men. Not a single female entrepreneur entered the stage, which I thought was a pity. While something was told about the companies, on the screen and the side screens videos were shown. The side screens however were hardly noticed I guess, as even I saw little of it. Everybody was focused on what happened on stage.
– Large Companies: Rituals, NXP Semiconductors, Demcon
– SMEs: Bakery Van Vessem, FibreMax, Maan Group
– Sustainable companies: MUD Jeans, Emma Safety Footwear (named after Queen Emma), Kipster
Finally it was time for Queen Máxima to enter the stage and announce the three winners: NXP Semiconductors, Maan Group and MUD Jeans. Mr Knot handed out the awards, while Máxima applauded and let herself be photographed with the winners, one of them even shedding some tears of joy. After the end of the award ceremony the Queen and the winners were led into a side room, where the media could take a few pictures. Then it was time to go to the NOK Restaurant on the 10th floor for the reception. I hope the Queen has been able to enjoy the marvelous views from there. The media in the meantime waited until she left the building around 10pm. A quick wave and a look at a cute guide dog … and there she went … to appear fresh at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the next day.