C-suite career advice: Hans Tesselaar, BIAN

"The most important thing you can do is become an expert in your field."

Name: Hans Tesselaar

Company: BIAN

Job Title: Executive Director

Location: The Netherlands

Hans Tesselaar is the executive director of the Banking Industry Architecture Network e.V. (BIAN), a member owned, not-for-profit association created to establish and promote a common architectural framework for enabling banking interoperability. Hans has over 30 years' experience in the Financial Services Industry, and has worked across banks, insurance companies and pension funds. For 12 years Hans held various management positions within ING, from Chief Architect to Director Sourcing, Innovation and Governance (Director CIO Office).


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The advice best given to me was to make the move from a consultancy job into senior management. Being in a consultant was something I really enjoyed, but I struggled with the fact that management always has the final word in important decisions.

Naturally this job transition did not happen overnight: a lot of work was needed to ensure I had a set of rounded capabilities to oversea a large business department. One big difference between being a consultant and in senior management is level of responsibility. As a consultant you are never in the firing line, however, as management you are responsible for overseeing everything from business operations and finances, to the career progression of individual employees. Making tough decisions that will inevitably impact individuals' lives means that knowing how to handle company politics becomes key.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? A piece of advice I wished I had never followed was to go into sales. My strengths lie in building personal relationships and furthering my knowledge in business, not in direct selling. Some good did come of this journey, however: it taught me how to negotiate better with people under pressure, and, more importantly, affirmed my decision to concentrate on only pursuing positions that suit my natural skills.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? If you have an interest in business, don't be quick to write off a career in IT. The world of business is always interested those who can combine technology and business knowledge together and understand how it can be used to help a company or employees works better and more innovatively.

Did you always want to work in IT? IT was never a career I dreamt of pursuing as a child. But after 5 years in the working world, I soon realized that the space was too interesting to not be a part of.

What was your first job in IT? Back in 1975, I started out work in the industry as a programmer. 43 years later, I've worked in more IT roles than I can count on both hands.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? A job in IT can often be perceived as the job in the basement. In other words, an unglamorous, dull role to support primary business functions. However, this could not be further from the truth. Particularly today, the IT industry is home to some of the most exciting and rewarding jobs on earth. Businesses across all industries are under pressure to deliver innovation to overcome various business challenges. It will be the IT function responsible for delivering much of these critical innovations. Who wouldn't want to be a part of it?

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? As well as nurturing great managerial skills, it's crucial to become an expert in your subject area and truly believe in what you preach. It's not a case of toeing the company line from 9-5 - those in the c-suite are fueled by a genuine passion for change and progress.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My ambition was and still is to make a lasting difference. You have to continually explore new grounds in your area of expertise, think outside the box and always remain curious while never being afraid to make mistakes. This isn't something that can generally be done between the hours of 9 and 5. You need to invest heavily in what you believe in and, crucially, you need to have a partner that supports what you do! 

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? If you like what you do, the balance is always right.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? If I were to do it all again, I would choose to be more loyal to myself than towards my employer.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? A degree. It gives you wider perspective. IT is more than just coding.

How important are specific certifications? The most important thing you can do is become an expert in your field. Spending your time working towards very specific qualifications, more often than not limited with expiration dates, will limit your progress and impact on the industry.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Personality, the ability to communicate well, and industry knowledge.

What would put you off a candidate? If they think they can do the job on autopilot.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? I am always surprised when I come to interview candidates and they have very little knowledge of the company they are applying to work for. This is a basic mistake that can easily be fixed by simply making the effort to research the role and organization fully before the interview stage.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? Both are crucial. You can be great at the technical side of things, but without a good knowledge of business, you'll struggle to reach the C-suite.