The First 100 Days as Executive Director at KPN

The First 100 Days as Executive Director at KPN
On her first hundred days as Member of the Executive Board of KPN, Chantal Vergouw says: ‘Taking off your gym shoes and putting on your running shoes.’

Who: Chantal Vergouw
Chief Business Market and member of the Executive Board of KPN since June 1 2023
Interviewed by: 
Jan-Piet Nelissen, Partner at Deloitte

You were CEO of Interpolis and have worked in the financial sector for a total of 23 years. Why the switch?
‘Having been Supervisory Director at KPN since April 2022, I was impressed by the portfolio, and the fact that KPN managed to grow again after years of decline, despite all the new kids on the block. It gave me an appetite for more than supervising. I also, at some point, realized it would be interesting to bring my experience in the financial world to a new sector and see if such a transition is possible. It is certainly not the beaten path, so it most definitely demands something of yourself, your environment, and the company.’

What are the similarities and differences between KPN and your previous employers in the financial world?
‘I mainly see similarities. ING, Rabobank, Interpolis, Achmea, and KPN are all large Dutch companies with many employees and a good reputation. At the same time, they all need to fight hard for market share and to find the optimal mix between face-to-face contact with customers and being an e-commerce platform. I think my experience in another sector brings a fresh perspective on those themes. In that regard, I wish for more mutual learning from each other's experiences in the Dutch governance world. Of course, there are differences too. For example, capex never used to play a role for me, whereas it now is a significant part of management: just think of masts or fiber optic cables. Another difference is that in the insurance world, you connect with life events when people are open to, for example, household or life insurance. In telecom, customers often switch suppliers out of dissatisfaction, which is when you have to seize the opportunity.’

What was your onboarding like?
‘Although I had already familiarized myself as Supervisory Director, I started as if it were day one. I mainly had many conversations: with major customers, consultants, telecom colleagues abroad, our partner network, suppliers, but also the Works Council, staff, and teams that are under my responsibility. That provided a tremendous amount of information and insight.’

KPN presented a new strategy during your first 100 days. Is that not challenging to step into?
‘As a board member, it does not get any better. We are on the cusp of a new planning period where I have already been able to give my endorsement, and where I can now further put my stamp. It does mean that I cannot take the time to get to know the company at an easy pace. It is a matter of taking off your gym shoes and putting on your running shoes, but that is exactly what I signed up for.’

What do you see as the biggest challenge towards corporate customers?
‘We are at a stage where our portfolio is in place, and we can offer fully integrated services in terms of connectivity, cloud, security, and data, and on top of that these are tailored solutions. We should amplify this in our communication, which would strengthen our brand positioning. For employees, that raises the bar even higher. People find that exciting but also challenging. As a leader, I want to contribute to an open, transparent culture where we do not talk about, but with each other. I try to live that myself every day. Trust is the most important thing during such a journey. It can get tough at times, and then you must be able to lean on each other.’

This short interview was published in Management Scope 01 2024, as part of the regular 'Coming & Going' section.

This article was last changed on 12-12-2023