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Bert Groenewegen

Bert Groenewegen has been the CFO (chief financial officer) at cable provider Ziggo since March 2010. The former CFO of PCM Publishers praises the time as a student for being an excellent period to develop oneself personally.

"Your time at university offers a particularly good opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities"

Why, back then, did you decide to study in Tilburg?
“That was pure coincidence. That year, my secondary school in Utrecht judged Tilburg to be the best place to study economics. Previously, other universities had been preferred. I recall that Rotterdam and Groningen were always very popular. Of my six classmates who enrolled at Tilburg, I was the only one left after one year. I graduated in business economics in 1989 and lived in Tilburg with great pleasure for four years.”

Why business economics?
“I wasn’t strictly planning my career, but knew from the beginning that I wanted to work in a business environment. So I placed the word ‘business’ before ‘economics’, and that was all there was to it. [laughs] The fact that I subsequently graduated from the Department of Information Management and not from the Department of Business Economics was a conscious choice. I was working for a computer company and they were undertaking a project that I could turn into a thesis. That’s why.”

So you had already worked before you graduated?
“Yes. During my study, I worked as an intern at ABN, then called ABN LaSalle, in the United States. After my internship, I was offered a job at the international division of ABN, which at that time was a kind of diplomatic service. However, I wanted to work for Exact Software which had just been founded by a fellow student.”

Who was your favourite professor and why?
“The lectures of Van de Klundert (macroeconomics) were interactive and focused on recent events. He knew how to enliven the dry and dull material with issues one would encounter, for example, during the formation of governments. The questions he raised always guaranteed fascinating discussions.”

Do you have an interesting anecdote from your student days?  
“I will never forget the unpleasant surprise shortly before graduation. When, on completing my dissertation, I registered with the Examination Office, they told me that I was missing a course credit. I couldn’t believe what I heard and rushed home to check my results, but they were right. To graduate as planned, I needed to get the missing credits within a week. Thanks to professor De Freitas in the marketing department, I managed to do so.  I was then working on a five-year strategic plan for the supervisory board of Exact, and the Department of Market Research allowed me to convert this plan into a thesis. It was a very close thing and at the last moment I returned in high spirits to the Examination Office. ‘The grade will be assigned after the weekend,’ I promised the Examination Office optimistically but that was simply not accepted.  So, I drew Professor De Freitas out of his office and he assigned me a grade on the spot, without even having read a single word of my thesis. In the end, I got a higher grade than that awarded to me at the Examination Office, but they were not able to amend their records.”  

How has your career been?
“Since March 2010, I have been the CFO at Ziggo, a merger of three cable companies. Before that, I worked at PCM Publishers for four years, which in the summer of 2009 was acquired by the ‘Persgroep Nederland’.  Going further back, I held various positions at respectively: the investment company General Atlantic Partners, the originally Japanese ICT-company Sokkia Europe, the group known from the Enron affair Arthur Andersen, and the software company Exact Software Nederland. For the last company I worked on two separate occasions. First, before graduating from 1986 until 1989, and later from 1993 until 2004. During this time, amongst other things, I supervised the Initial Public Offering (IPO).”  

"At fast changing companies, you are presented with surprises which bring interesting challenges"

Cable companies, a publisher, ICT and two investment companies: You have worked in a wide range of fields. What is the binding factor?
“I often join a company as the CFO, so the link is the financial-organisational side of things.  In addition, looking at Ziggo, PCM and Exact, all three companies are very customer-focused. The third link is ICT: I am closely involved in developing financial systems that I work with myself.”

What is the best thing about your work and what drives you?
“Working in a company with people I feel connected to. That together you stand by something and you collectively try to convey this to the rest of the organisation. I’m also interested in change and dynamics. I prefer to work for companies where substantial changes take place.  Exact Software grew in a short time from a small to a very large company; at PCM, after several unsuccessful ventures – one involving private equity – we had to create stability, whilst at the same time considerable reorganisation was needed; and now at Ziggo we are in the process of closing a merger while the company is growing (and needs to be growing) and a difficult flotation is expected.  At fast changing companies, you are presented with surprises which bring interesting challenges. Sometimes these are problems, but on other occasions they also represent opportunities that you must react to quickly. That’s what I like.”

What role has the university played in your life and how has this influenced your career?
“The university has been reasonably influential in my life since I am married to a [former] fellow student: my wife also studied economics. Thanks to the university, I also took my first steps into business. First via an internship in the United States and a little later via the classmate who set up Exact.”

Does Tilburg University still play a role, and if so, in what way?

“With regard to my partner and friendships, most definitely; but not really in the area of work.  I attend reunions of my old student association (Olof) and the fraternity (Black & White) and I was recently invited to participate in Tilburg University’s soundboard group.  We meet once a year to discuss developments at the university with people from the business world.”