Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Rob van Egmond, Quintiq

Rob van Egmond

 Company: Quintiq

 Job Title: CEO

 Location: 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

“Don’t try to figure everything out by yourself.”

This is one of the first things Victor Allis, my predecessor, told me when I started working for him 13 years ago.  He called it the five-minute rule; if you can’t figure something out in five minutes, go ask someone for help. It sounds simple, but in fact, the five-minute rule has never stopped being useful in my career.

If you rise up the technical ladder through senior management to the c-suite like I did, increasingly you’re going to have to make decisions that are way outside of your field of expertise such as: which key personnel to hire, how to allocate capital, or when to cut your losses on an investment.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know all the answers, and, instead, surround yourself with experts.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

“You need to think about your career.”

You come across this a lot, especially when you’re younger. Some of the worst decisions I have made were because I put my career first. I have since learned that a career comes from making the right decisions independent of the consequences. You must dare to make the bold decisions, even if they may fail.

The same holds for telling your boss what he or she wants to hear. It might serve your career well in the short term, but yes-men don’t become strong and decisive leaders. They become sheep.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

“Don’t be a slave to your career plan.”

It’s important to have ambitions, of course. Most people in the c-suite have some form of the typical five-year plan. And I’m in the planning business, so I understand the value of plans more than most!

But I also understand the value of agility, especially in the technology industry where change is rapid and constant. Have a career plan, yes, but be prepared to pivot and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you. Adaptability and a nose for opportunities will get you further than a five-year plan.  

When I graduated I started in desktop route planning software. That business model – the consumer buys your software on a CD, which he then installs on his personal computer and replaces once every couple of years – is long dead. Most people plan journeys with their phones nowadays using free software.  

If I’d been fixated on a career in “desktop route planning software”, where would I be now? 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

“A CEO of a tech company has to be so much more than a great technologist.” 

First, and most important in an industry where there’s a tendency to get lost in the beauty and complexity of the technology, is to always have a direct line to the customer.

When you lose sight of who the customer is - what drives them, what they want - you’ve lost the ability to build technology that fulfills its purpose. Your technology might be awesome, but if it’s not what the customer wants or needs, what’s the point?

Second, build a network that goes beyond technical specialists. It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be diverse. Foster relationships with experienced and successful people outside of your field. What you learn from your connections in construction, advertising, finance, and so on will help you to become a well-rounded leader with the broad skillset needed in the c-suite. And give you a much deeper understanding of the world in which your customers and employees operate.  Even when I was leading Quintiq’s R&D, I made sure to spend about half of my time out in the field, to keep myself, my team and the technology grounded in reality.   

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

“I believe that your first and foremost concern when it comes to the people that work for you is their overall happiness.”

If the match with the company is a good one then the employees’ happiness and the company’s goals will overlap. But every now and then they don’t.

As such the career advice I’m most proud of is when I gave a highly respected colleague some honest feedback - that she was better off working for another company! The long term goals of the company she went to better aligned with her vision, and would help her grow as a professional.


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