Jan van der Hoeven: “I value the human behind every person”
The stories of the Foxconn Global Services Division (FGSD) managers are, in a nutshell, the stories of how technology has transformed Europe over the last three decades. From exciting new possibilities and job opportunities to seeing major technology players leaving Western Europe for the rich promise of the unchartered East, each FGSD representative has a story to tell. The recounting gets personal only when you realize how much people’s initial dreams were transformed by the major changes at the turn of this century. The technology revolution brought to Pardubice a team of diverse spirits, nationalities and backgrounds, each of them with a wealth of knowledge, values, memories and personal experience. Here are their stories.
When you cross the border from Germany to the Netherlands, it would take less than five minutes to reach Millingen aan de Rijn. The town, with its six thousand inhabitants, marks the point where the Rhine, Europe’s second largest river, enters its last phase before emptying into the North Sea. The closest larger towns are equidistant – Nijmegen, some 15 kilometers away, and Kleve, the same distance but across the border, in Germany.
“When we were young, we only had two Dutch TV channels. Yet we could receive three more in German. We were basically watching those five channels for everything we needed. German is easy for us to understand, that’s why most of us can speak German easily,” says Jan van der Hoeven, CEO of Foxconn Global Services Division (FGSD) EMEA, a Dutch native of Millingen aan de Rijn .
From hotel accounting to technology finance
The proximity with Germany made the border region on the Rhine an attractive destination not only for travelers. Early in the 80s, American technology companies who were testing the waters in Europe for their latest inventions were also looking for good locations for expansion. “When I left school, I had all kind of jobs. Military service was compulsory at that time, so I decided to enroll and get that off the table. When I returned, I got a job as an accounting clerk, which felt like the direction I wanted to take. The company had two hotels and a restaurant, so everyone did pretty much everything. This was one of the first businesses where computers started to come in 1982. For that time, they had quite a progressive computing system, so I was impressed. We also started seeing more and more guests from a company called Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). I started hanging out in the evenings to talk to these people and learn what they were doing. Four years later, when I felt it was time to move on, I applied for a job at Digital and I got it. I stayed there for 13 years. From an accounting clerk I went on to become a business analyst and other business functions,” says Jan, describing his early days in the technology sector.
Major changes loom ahead
The beginning of the ‘90s was a time of major turmoil in Europe. Countries of the former communist bloc had opened themselves to the new possibilities of the market economy and companies such as DEC could not ignore the new reality. In 1998, Digital merged with Compaq and the business reorganized. As a result, as Compaq had several spare fulfillment centers, including one in Nijmegen, the Dutch business was soon closed down.
“Fortunately for me, I was at the right age, with the right level of education. I had a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate in my pocket, so I wasn’t concerned about my future. The day after leaving Digital I had a new job as finance manager with BMC Software, another large American company,” says Jan.
“I enjoyed BMC Software for four years when, one day, during a shopping trip to Nijmegen, I bumped into Henk Knoop, the former CEO of FGSD, whom I knew from Digital. He told me he had just got a job with Foxconn. Foxconn? I’d never heard of it before. Well, he told me, Foxconn is setting up a new service center for Europe. If I were interested, I should let him know. At that time I was commuting daily to Amsterdam, which was quite a distance, so I said why not. Six months later I sent in my CV. I started working for FGSD on April 1, 2003.”
Small beginnings full of potential
“We started FGSD as 5-6 people and we had to do everything. It was nice that we had to travel to the Czech Republic, where the availability of space and people made it possible for the center to be created. In time we also started thinking about other more strategic locations where we should be. As FGSD is moving more into a business-to-consumer (B2C) model and the pressure on the turnaround time is increasing, we need to be as close to our customers as possible,” he said.
One of the major trends that Jan notices in the technology aftersales services industry is speed. “People want their devices back fast, so they rely on quick turnaround times. On the other hand, products are getting less and less expensive. That’s why it becomes a challenge for us not only to produce, but also to repair, resell and recycle. We’re going more and more in that direction. Another trend is in supporting the implementation of legislation, which is becoming tighter and more expensive by the day,” he said.
Asked what people who cooperate with FGSD should know about him, Jan remains modest. “I’m quite down to earth. I try to keep my feet on the ground at all times and I also ask my people to do that. In a technology company, it’s always very hectic and things are changing very fast. That’s precisely why we need to keep our feet on the ground, so we are ready for whatever change is ahead of us,” he said. “I value the human behind every person. When you get older, you recognize the importance of that more than 20 years ago. What I’d like to create in FGSD is an environment where people can be creative, have a level of freedom and have enough time left for their private life. Many years ago it was predicted that, in the future, private and professional lives will mix completely during the 24 hr day. Now we see this happening: I see people working late at night and early in the morning, but also sometimes leaving early in the day because they have obligations to attend to. And that’s fine, as long as people don’t mind working and getting their jobs done,” he said.
“One of my strengths, which can sometimes become a weakness, is my patience. I give people and issues time, but I also like to see the change at the end,” he says, adding that another major feature of his personality is team work. “I’ve played football for many years. When you are with 11 players, you can push each other to the limit. You want the best out of everyone because you win together and you lose together. On the field, it can sometimes get really tough. But after 90 minutes we would all go for a beer. I’m a team player by nature and that’s what I am also trying to bring to people here. I believe that it’s very important to understand that, although we have different functions, everyone works for the same team. That’s why we need to accept mistakes from others, help others and make sure that their responsibilities are delivered on time, because each of us in an important piece in the total puzzle called FGSD. If we all do that, we bring an excellent service to the market, which ultimately leads to more satisfied customers.”
How about biking, I ask, driven by the traditional vision of Dutch people in love with their bikes. “I don’t do it enough; I’d like to bike much more. It gives me freedom and also satisfaction. Before a bike tour, I think about the trip that I want to make and I take the number of kilometers as a challenge. Then, when I manage to do it in the right time, it brings me huge satisfaction,” he concludes.
Author: Cristina Muntean, Integrated Communications, FGSD