CEO Andrew de la Haije: ‘Optimally serving our clients is more important than growth or profit’
Andrew de la Haije is Director of the Dutch branch of Xebia Consultancy Services, an internationally operating consultancy agency that coaches companies through digital transformation. He followed the executive master’s programme in Cyber Security and graduated with distinction.
If you add up the number of years Andrew de la Haije (47) has spent in higher education, you end up with approximately twelve. ‘Studying is like looking into a mirror: you always see new things.’ Why did he choose to follow up his university of applied sciences and research university degrees with another two master’s programmes? And what drives him in his career?
Since 2018, De la Haije has been the Director of Xebia Consultancy Services (with 350 employees in Amsterdam and Hilversum and more than a thousand worldwide). The agency specialises in digital transformation by offering advice, but also by coaching companies through the implementation phase. Could he give an example? ‘Philips,’ says de la Haije. ‘They wanted to be able to respond more swiftly to market changes. This required a digital transformation and a switch to agile working, a work form that makes the organisation more agile and more flexible. I was one of the pioneers of this approach in the Netherlands.’
De la Haije wants to keep a close eye on what he calls the ‘operational hassles’ of his client companies, which can suddenly and unexpectedly end up in a delicate situation – as has once again become apparent in the coronavirus crisis.
Xebia has a cell structure and consists of ten sub-companies specialised in strategy, software development, agile working, and protection and security. They work in shifting compositions on various projects. ‘We aim to be the very best in our field, and our sub-companies are responsible for making it happen. Remaining true to our corporate mission, which is to be an authority in our fields of expertise, is more important to us than growth or profit. This is why we want to attract the greatest talents to work for us. In terms of our clients, we focus on the top 250 companies, including Pathé, market leader in the cinema sector, and Mollie, leader in electronic payment design for web shops. Obviously, we can never safeguard a client against a downturn, but we can certainly help them take measures to protect themselves.’
Anyone who works with digital systems knows that security is an ever-growing problem and therefore an important concern. This is true at all levels, from the individual to the worldwide. Criminals have discovered how to use the Internet to embezzle money, governments try to influence elections in other regions and/or disable companies, public organisations and infrastructures. And then there are the frequent data leaks. In his previous position as Director of RIPE/NCC, de la Haije wanted to boost his cyber security skills. RIPE/NCC is one of the five organisations that issue regional IP addresses (for networks) and AS numbers (for Internet providers). He also became a member of the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) of the international Internet organisation ICANN. ‘With my management degree I mostly felt the need to learn more about technology and how to secure it,’ he says. With that in mind, he enrolled in the executive master’s programme in Cyber Security at Leiden University and TU Delft. The two years he spent on the programme from 2016 to 2018 represented his eleventh and twelfth year at an institution for higher education.
Attending and teaching lectures
The executive master’s programme in Cyber Security was created for professionals and is part of the Cyber Security Academy in The Hague, which teaches courses at different levels. The two universities both contributed a Professor Van den Berg as an expert for the master’s programme: Professor Jan van den Berg (Delft) is an expert on the technology of digitalisation, while Professor Bibi van den Berg (Leiden) is an expert on governance. From Jan van den Berg, de la Haije learned that digitalisation is a layered phenomenon, a mixture of technology, process, and the humans who are in charge of it. He also learned that integration is the guiding principle behind this process, but also that this process is incredibly complex, as is its security. ‘Since I already had more than 25 years of experience, Bibi van den Berg sometimes asked me to teach part of a lecture based on my own experiences in the field,’ explains de la Haije, who graduated with distinction, an achievement he is clearly proud of. It was the second academic study programme he completed while working.
No law study after all
Like so many young people, de la Haije did not really know what he wanted to do after completing his pre-university education. His father advised his talkative son to study law or go into politics. Young de la Haije originally opted for a Law programme at the University of Amsterdam, but soon discovered that law held little charm for him. He became interested in companies and how they grew, or failed to grow, and found a study programme that perfectly matched this interest: Business Economics - Strategic Management, Marketing & Organisation at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. His mother felt it was a step down from an academic study programme, but his father told him to follow his heart.
An internship in the United States brought young de la Haije in contact with consultancy, which sealed his future: he had found his passion. However, after completing his degree, he discovered that consultancy companies required an academic degree. So he once again enrolled at the University of Amsterdam, in a study programme with the exact same name as the one he had already completed, but this time at academic level.
After his studies, de la Haije briefly worked for KPMG and was then hired by Accenture, an international consultancy agency. He was to remain there for seven years, learning the ins and outs of consultancy. He then went on to head RIPE NCC for twelve years. ‘My children used to say: my dad runs the Internet,’ says de la Haije laughingly.
Double MBA degree
De la Haije negotiated with RIPE/NCC, in addition to his position as Chief Operating Officer (COO), that he would also be appointed Chief Information Officer (CIO): this was around the turn of the century and the upcoming top executive saw that people underestimated the impact and importance of information technology. De la Haije was responsible among other things for the large-scale transformation that brought RIP NCC itself into the heart of the digital era.
And yet, the lecture hall still beckoned. Why? De la Haije: ‘It had been such a long time since I’d followed a study programme. I enjoy studying and I was interested in whether and how the theory had shifted to match the unstoppable digital developments.’ And yes, he also wanted to keep testing his intuition against the theory. This led him to Tilburg University, where in the 2010-2011 academic year he completed a dual international MBA programme that is even recognised in the US. Qualification: with distinction.
The coronavirus crisis
‘We can weather this crisis for now,’ says de la Haije about Xebia. ‘We saw a rise in demand because of the sudden need for remote working. But we also saw demand drop, for example among our experts who coach companies. Still, all our companies managed to keep their heads above water without help. I’m personally very keen on contact with people. I have to know and see people in order to coach them on their own journey and understand what’s going on. It’s something I’ve really missed. For the rest, it was pretty much the same for me as for everyone else. My children aged 16 and 18 are very independent, but I also had to work at home a lot with my 8-year old around.’
‘I think we need to switch to a mix of working from home and being at the office. Things like software development can clearly be done from home, but you have to see other people from time to time.
Editor: Corine Hendriks
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