Kriek to make yourself heard!
An interview with Morten Kriek, founder and CEO of KRIEK (Formerly CIS BANKERS)
Morten Kriek (45) was born in the small town of Uden, in southern province of Noord-Brabant in The Netherlands. As the youngest of 5 children, he grew up in a sports mad family and at a young age he already made both the Dutch national cricket team and ice hockey team. “I grew up in a very competitive family”, Kriek said, “and me and my brothers continuously pushed each other to new heights”.
In the 90s Morten suffered an injury that effectively ended his potential ice hockey career. With even more determination he focused on his cricket, which resulted in a 2-year professional stint in England’s high profile Surrey League. After winning a league championship with his team, and winning an award for the league’s best bowler, Morten decided it was time to focus on a professional career away from sports.
Starting out with Lotus (IBM Group), he quickly made a name for himself selling software into the banking sector. Via market leading players such as Compuware, Wolters Kluwer, NICE Systems, CR2 and most recently on the executive management team at Moven, Morten has become a trusted board room adviser for banks all around the world. And it is that network of bankers that sits at the core of the business he started with his spouse, Elena, 7 years ago. CIS BANKERS.
In 2014 Morten decided to take a sabbatical to return to school. At one of the world’s leading institutions, IE Business School in Madrid, he obtained a Master’s Degree in Positive Leadership and Strategy. The passion and determination that were instilled in him by sports during his formative years, drove him to excellence in academic spheres as well. Traveling frequently between Kyiv and US, Morten obtained certificates in Leadership, Strategy and Marketing, visiting leading institutions such as Yale School of Management, Johnson School of Business at Cornell, Columbia Business School and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
Positivity is one of the key influencers in Morten’s personal and professional life. “If you can dream it, you can do it”. This is one of the reasons he and his spouse have been able to grow their business during tough times in Ukraine. Seven years since launching their elite business network, the company has been rebranded: KRIEK. “It was time for a new name”, Kriek explains, “CIS was no longer relevant and we have long outgrown the BANKERS label”. He also added that after seven years, CIS BANKERS had become a synonym for KRIEK.
After the recent Ukrainian Banking Forum, we had time to ask Morten some questions.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
On weekdays it is our daughter Laura, we always bring her to school as a family (smiling). But I guess you would like to know what motivates me every day, which is actually quite simple; the gift of a new day and making it count!
One of my all-time favorite songs is Tomorrow by the American gospel group The Winans. A powerful part of the lyrics for me is: “Tomorrow, who promised you tomorrow?”. A good question with a simple answer. Tomorrow is promised to no one. It is a gift we need to cherish. What I set out to do is to is learn at least one new thing every day, something I didn’t know when I woke up. And I try and make every new day better than the day before. For me, and for others. This may be easier said than done, but every day we either succeed or we learn, and that makes life so interesting.
Give me one word that describes you best
It is actually a letter rather than a word if that is ok: Q
The nickname “Q” was given to me by my team mates while I was playing cricket for the Hilversumsche Cricket Club in The Netherlands. It stood for Quick, which seemed applicable as I was one of the fastest bowlers in the league at that time.
Some people believe in materialization, I know my wife Elena does, and maybe Q materialized for me. Once I made that nickname my own, I started making quick decisions in both my personal and professional life and more often than not, these led to quick and positive results.
Fast forward to the last 5-10 years and I have made very quick decisions on starting a new business, launching new projects, introducing new services. The agility of our business is second to none. All along the same simple philosophy, we either succeed or we learn, but we have to try.
And the quick decision making rubbed off on Elena as well, we even bought a house in two days! (laughing)
What do you expect to be your next quick decision?
I am actually working on a training program for executives to improve the speed and quality of their decision making. The decision to do this was quick, the planning is a thoughtful process that requires more time though.
Ice hockey is the fastest game in the world, and I played it since the age of 4. You have only fractions of a second to make decisions, which result in scoring a goal or not, getting injured or not. In order to make the right decision quickly, you need speed of mind.
During my Master’s program in Positive Leadership and Strategy at IE Business School, we spoke a lot about the importance of a clear mind, about being mindful. In the here. In the now. This is not always easy since humans are much more sensitive to negative than positive impulses. Five times to be exact. And we tend to dwell on those negatives.
In sports, when a referee makes a bad decision against a player, he or she tends to dwell on that too. His or her mind gets distracted and focus is lost which has a negative impact on the next play. Phil Jackson, the famous basketball coach in the NBA, introduced mindfulness and meditation for the LA Lakers during the 90s. And with a total of 11 championship rings, Jackson has a pretty strong case for the success of this approach.
During my Master’s I wrote my thesis on mindful ice hockey coaching. On how the introduction of mindfulness practices would improve the speed of mind of players. And consequently the player would not only perform at a higher standard, but would also be less prone to injury and recover quicker should an injury occur.
The program I am working on now is around Leadership Lessons from Sports. This is targeted at executives looking to improve the speed and quality of their decision making, deriving valuable lessons from various sports, most notably ice hockey and cricket. It will also improve the overall performance of themselves and the people around them.
What is Kriek?
We started out back in 2011 as CIS BANKERS. This was a community of banking and finance professionals, who came together once a month. All members were facing the same challenging environment in terms of a declining economy, challenging regulations and customer confidence dropping to an all-time low. They came together to share views, ideas and experiences.
What we did, besides offering a platform for these meetings, was bring in local and foreign experts on a wide variety of topics, all related to banking and finance. They would come to share their best practices. This resulted in us becoming a dominant player in the events business. Besides our monthly meetings, we organize several high-end events each year, most notably the Ukrainian Banking Forum and the Amsterdam FinTech Forum.
Today we are KRIEK, and we provide a complete eco-system for government, banking, finance and business, which includes events, education, consulting and financial services.
Why did you re-brand?
Seven years ago, the brand CIS BANKERS made sense. The initial plan was to create an online platform, rather than organize events, to share views, experiences and ideas among financial services professionals. We targeted executives in the entire CIS region, a term often used for the territory of the former Soviet Union, and we focused on bankers only.
Over the past couple of years especially, we needed to consider rebranding. In the first place because our organization’s focus is now more on Ukraine and Western Europe. In the second place because we have long outgrown the BANKERS label. Today our organization represents a complete eco-system for business, which includes government officials and regulators as well as owners and top executives from business in financial services and other sectors.
A lot of thought went into this process of rebranding. Our brand was well known and respected in the market. How do we go about preserving that brand value? The result: KRIEK
Those who knew CIS BANKERS know that it was us, Morten and Elena Kriek, that were behind that business. Using the same colors and style, only changing the name ensured we stayed close to the identity people were familiar with. In Dutch, the name Kriek means cherry, hence the red dot in the middle of our logo. In Ukrainian and Russian, крик has a wide variety of meanings, which all come down to this: making yourself heard. And that is exactly what we offer; a platform to make yourself heard. Whether it is one-on-one or on stage in front of 300 conference delegates, KRIEK offers the perfect platform to get your message across to a relevant audience.
Does re-branding come with change, i.e. how do you see the company changing in two years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
I wouldn’t say we are planning major changes. Throughout the crisis, our organization has been a beacon of stability and reliability. Our members expect us to keep innovating while delivering the same quality events and services that continue to have a positive impact on their business.
So re-branding to KRIEK is simply another example of how we keep developing as an organization. The new brand not only describes better who we are and what we do, it also serves us well in our new endeavors.
For example, organizing the Amsterdam FinTech Forum in the summer of 2018 was our first venture in Western Europe. The booming success of this event has not only ensured that we will be repeating the event in Amsterdam next summer, but we will also explore and try other markets in Western Europe for delivering our high-end events.
I am also very excited about KRIEK TALK, the new brand for our monthly networking events. We will bring back something we used to do during the early years of CIS BANKERS, which is the interviews with high profile guests. We start with KRIEK TALK on 23 November and our first guest will be Kateryna Rozhkova, First Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine. Ms. Rozhkova will be answering questions from our audience, and it promises to be a very interactive evening.
Are you a hunter or a gatherer?
I don’t think these two are mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe that in order to be successful, one needs to poses a healthy doses of both. Having said that, I would be more of a gathering hunter, rather than hunting gatherer. I have always enjoy the hunt, the battle. That is the sports person in me.
At the same time, my wife Elena is the hunting gatherer. She enjoys the hunt too, and is good at it, but at the end of the day she is the gatherer, the mother of the company. She looks after the back-office and ensures that our members, our partners and we get the most out of our collaboration.
I am often working on the next thing for us to do, the next event to organize, the next country to explore. The strategy leader, hunting for our next opportunity. And during our events, Elena always takes the lead, making sure everyone at KRIEK is having a great time, that introductions are made, that their expectations are exceeded and that everyone keeps coming back for more. That is a great skill. She loves to lead.
What other leaders do you look up to?
A tough questions, since there have been so many and so few. It shall be no surprise I turn to sports to answer this question. Some of the readers may have to look a few things up, since cricket is not a well-known sport in this part of the world. One of the most inspiring, most gifted leaders of my time is without a doubt Misbah-ul-Haq. He was the captain of the Pakistan cricket team between 2010 and 2015.
Due to political reasons, Pakistan have not played at home against any country since 2009. The team was surrounded by corruption issues (spot fixing) and players with egos bigger than the team. Enter Misbah! He was no exceptionally skilled cricketer by any means. No kids would wear a shirt with his name or number, but rather that of an express pace bowler or a stroke making batsman. Misbah was not gifted with those skills. He was gifted with the type of skill you can not touch. The gift of leadership.
In the face of all adversity, Misbah brought the Pakistan team to the #1 position in the world! He created an invincible unit and made big scores when he needed too. At 42 years old he even became the oldest captain in the 140-year history of cricket to score a test match century (100 runs).
Misbah’s greatest character strengths are Judegement, Bravery, Love, Fairness, Teamwork, Humility and Spirituality. These are trades that would serve any leader well.
While sports people can be labelled great players or even legends because of their play, Misbah is an immortal based purely on his leadership. Not because of what he did on the cricket field, but because of the man he is.
What can we expect from KRIEK in 2019?
First of all we have increased our activities, both in Ukraine and internationally. Besides the Ukrainian Banking Forum, which we organize for the eighth time in October, we have a minimum of two T10 Forums. These are 1-day events consisting of ten 10-minute presentations and a couple of round table discussions. In February we will do one dedicated to “Bank of the Future”, together with Moody’s Investor Services. In April’s event we will look at the expected impact of the elections on the Ukrainian financial services sector.
As I mentioned, we will also organize another FinTech forum in Amsterdam in June. This time the event will be spread over two days since we have a lot of interest from banks and FinTechs all over Europe in our events.
We also added something new in Amsterdam: The Kriek Trophy – Golf Tournament. On the day following the forum, Saturday 8 June, we have booked an entire A-Status golf course on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Golfers of all levels can compete in this 9-hole shootout, followed by an Awards Gala Dinner.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?
The world gets smaller and smaller, we hear that all the time. Join our community and make yourself heard, because with KRIEK the world becomes a little smaller still.