Interview

The people behind the pension fund: Wim van de Laar

29 September 2022

The board of Mars Pensioenfonds consists of people who work for Mars or have done so in the past. But who are its members? This article is all about board member Wim van de Laar.

How did you find yourself at Mars?

I joined Mars in 1986 as a Product Development Officer. In fact, that job came as a complete surprise. At the time, I had been working for the KWF Dutch Cancer Society for two years. I was researching DNA structures and how DNA reproduction could cause cancer. This was groundbreaking research that attracted a lot of interest at the time. But after two years, I started to feel like a specialist in a very specific subject. It was as though I knew everything about nothing. During the job interview at Mars, I was asked why I was applying for this position. The answer was very simple: I make and eat three meals a day. That adds up to spending a few hours a day on food, which makes me a bit of a nutrition specialist. And that was that.

What did you do during your time at Mars?

When I joined Mars, it was customary to change positions once every two or three years. Up until my retirement, I had held a total of 11 different positions. They ranged from departments like Raw Material Research to Technical Service, and from Product Development to Packaging Development.

During my time as Product Development Officer, I was asked to develop a new Milky Way Milk. As a new arrival, I succeeded in achieving something several teams had previously worked on. That Milky Way is still being made today. Something to be proud of!

For the last few years, I worked on building new factories. In 2008 it had taken almost three years to get the new Snickers line in Mexico up and running. We optimised this to have the new lines operational in six weeks. We did it first in China. All these new factories enabled me to see a lot of the world. I’ve collected all the KLM Delft Blue houses and have them here on the shelf.

Do you miss anything about your work now that you have retired?

Not really, no! I still show people around the factory. That’s how I get to keep seeing the factory, hear about new developments and maintain contacts. You will still find me in the office for the Mars Pension Fund fairly often. I also like to drop by at my old department to hear how things are going. I like to stay connected to the company. But when you retire, you enter a new phase of your life. Your interests change. I have a two-year-old grandchild and a regular grandpa day. That's something I really enjoy!

When did you join the board of Mars Pensioenfonds?

Actually, that wasn’t entirely voluntary. I happened to meet Rob Driessen at Eindhoven Airport. He was a member of the Works Council at the time and was looking for a replacement. As chance would have it, I had been thinking about doing more for the company at the time. Not just in management but more for the company’s people. In 2003, I became a member of the Works Council and represented the management. That included becoming a board member of the pension fund.

Did you know anything about pensions before you joined the board?

Frankly, I wasn’t all that keen on automatically getting a seat on the board. The subject of pensions did sound a bit boring at the time. After a while, I learnt more about pensions and realised not only what a complex subject it is, but what a great pension scheme we have. What I like about pensions is that you need to have a long-term strategy. Decisions you make now will still have an impact after 20 or 30 years. That is very different from business, where a five-year strategy is already long.

Almost 20 years as a board member is quite a long time. Did you also have various roles at Mars Pension Fund?

Yes, I also had various tasks at Mars Pension Fund. During my working period, I represented the active members. Now that I’ve retired, I represent the pensioners. But what I find most important is the contact with the members. For instance, I always try to be present during a senior citizens club meeting. When I was still working in the office, I remember stopping to talk to a member who was retiring. Just a chat to check if everything was clear and to see if they already knew what they would be doing with their time.

In recent years, I’ve been working on IT. That’s another very interesting topic because the truth is I’ve always hated computers. That creates a healthy scepticism, and I keep working things out for myself. If you can't explain it on paper, why should it be possible via a computer?

What do you hope to achieve at the Mars Pensioenfonds?

I’ve now started my last term as a board member. In four years, I want to finish with a successful transition to a new plan that all active and retired members are comfortable with. I hope we can activate members to look into their pension properly and make the right choices. Activating members personally and getting them interested in their retirement is what poses the biggest challenge. At Mars, we were a bit spoiled with our nice final pay plan. As a result, many members have always felt: 'This is how it should be'. Under the ARP/ASP plan, you have more choices as a member, choices you have to make for yourself.

What aspect of the pension fund do you believe is important for members?

I think it is very important for members to have confidence in the pension fund. Members should feel that their interests are being properly represented. Also, what we do must be explainable to the members. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if we made a choice or decision that I couldn’t explain.

What is your personal retirement tip?

When you have just retired, you get a lot of offers and questions along the lines of 'is that something you could do?' You’re inclined to be quick to say yes because you don't want to fall into a black hole, but go your own way for a while first. That’s how you find out what other things you like before you invest your time in them. I experienced this myself. Before my retirement, I thought: 'I'll do a lot of volunteer work', but nothing came of it. Volunteer work might be voluntary, but it’s not free of obligation. I didn't think I would start playing more tennis. I’ve been playing it for 30 years, but since retiring I’ve suddenly got better, and now you’ll find me on the court three times a week!