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Dutch CEO, in drag, talks up 'brothel values' in banking

January 16, 2014: 11:32 AM ET

Gerrit Zalm, bank exec and former finance minister of the Netherlands, said bankers could learn a lot from prostitutes.

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ABN Amro chairman Gerrit Zalm as Priscilla, his "sister."

FORTUNE -- Note to other CEOs: This is not okay. But, hopefully, they weren't even wondering.

Earlier this month, ABN Amro CEO and Chairman Gerrit Zalm addressed the Dutch bank's employees dressed in drag and pretended to be his "sister," Priscilla, who he said was a successful madame. The performance happened at an annual event where Zalm typically updates employees on the bank's performance. Instead, Zalm came as Priscilla because he said, as Priscilla, that his bankers could learn a lot from brothel workers. You can predict what happened next.

Among the groaners that Zalm delivered as Priscilla was that, like a bank, her business had "a good front office and an excellent back office." Zalm's fake sibling said that her business didn't have any problem attracting outstanding female personnel. "Women on top, that's our motto," Zalm said. He also said, as Priscilla, that clients in her branch prefer "younger relationship managers."

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Zalm's fake sister said his brother had come to her for advice. She said that she tells her employees to aim for a "warm welcome, long-term client relationships," and to always "exceed the expectations of the customers."

The bad taste at ABN Amro appears to go beyond its chairman, who is also a former finance minister of the Netherlands. The bank posted a video of the performance to its own YouTube account. In the video, you can hear employees laughing at Zalm's jokes. It's not clear when the event occurred.

The video was posted on Tuesday. But ABN Amro said that Zalm gave the performance at six different employee functions, including four in Amsterdam. As of Thursday morning, the video was still up on the bank's YouTube account. One commentator on a Dutch news site said, "Poor taste ... both in his/her actions and hideous dress!"

An ABN spokesman said Zalm's performance came at an employee event that traditionally is meant to be less serious. He said Zalm has dressed up in years past, though never as a women. The performance "fits in with a Dutch sense of humor," wrote the spokesman in an email. "It is a big, big hit in the Netherlands!" Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands.

The finance industry has traditionally been male-dominated and, over the years, it has been criticized for its treatment of women. Zalm's performance will not help. In 2008, Citigroup (C) had to pay $33 million to 2,500 employees to settle sexual discrimination allegations that became known as the "boom boom room" scandal. Among the 280 employees Goldman Sachs (GS) promoted to managing director last year, less than 25% were women. Of ABN Amro's eight-member board of directors, two are women.

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About This Author
Stephen Gandel
Stephen Gandel

Stephen Gandel has covered Wall Street and investing for over 15 years. He joins Fortune from sister publication TIME, where he was a senior business writer and lead blogger for The Curious Capitalist. He has also held positions at Money and Crain's New York Business. Stephen is a four-time winner of the Henry R. Luce Award. His work has also been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the New York State Society of CPA and the Association of Area Business Publications. He is a graduate of Washington University, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

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