Introducing Sander van der Heijden, Managing Director Chemicals & Natural Resources at Accenture Netherlands and new member of the Netherlands Leadership Team (NLT).
‘I joined Accenture in April 2016 and in July I was invited to become part of the Netherlands Leadership Team. Being asked to join the NLT was both a great compliment and an enormous vote of confidence. The fact that most of Accenture’s Managing Directors are homegrown has its pros and cons. The obvious advantage is that the MDs know the organization, the industries, the people and their markets inside out, while the challenging part is the fact that one doesn’t necessarily have as much information from outside the organization as one would possibly like.’
‘Over the last 20 years I have worked for a variety of companies in both engineering and professional services. I see it as my responsibility to share my experiences and best practices that I have gained at other companies and clients. It was great to experience how open-minded and interested my colleagues are in learning new ideas and exploring new ways of doing things. In my opinion, being open minded and embracing change is one of the strengths of Accenture.’
The job had my name on it
‘Looking back at my career, there are three crucial elements that have always been at the core of what I do: business development, the Chemical Process Industry and new technologies. Virtually all my previous roles have incorporated a combination of these. This position posed a challenging combination of all three and it had my name on it. This was the path I had to take. The prospect of working at Accenture, a company that’s on the forefront of all things “New”, offered me endless opportunities to learn new things and so I simply had to seize the opportunity.’
What motivates you?
‘Personal growth is one of my key drivers. Also, I am very motivated to learn new skills and gain new insights, as these are an important part of my personal development. For example, when I started open-water swimming a few years back and I was asked whether I wanted to start training for the 500 meters or 2km option and I went straight for the latter, to push myself to grow.’
‘That drive defines who I am and why I enjoy my new challenge at Accenture. Taking on complex problems and trying to solve them is a key motivator. What it takes to succeed? I think it’s the ability to listen well to clients and the challenges they are faced with. It is important to truly understand and assess their challenges so that I can share their insight with our teams to discuss and define how we can best support our client. To quote Stephen Covey, “First seek to understand, then to be understood” – a slogan I fully support. It is about humble curiosity. In solving complex problems, I aim to make best use of the individual strengths in a team. Encouraging and motivating the team to do so also helps me to execute my role and responsibilities the best I can.’
Always look at the bigger picture
‘For example, if a client approaches us with a request to implement a new CRM system, I always ascertain what it is they want to achieve. It is important to understand the bigger picture and underlying drivers. In this example, if we conclude that the CRM system won’t achieve the desired results, we will look at alternatives. The complete picture allows you to present the best solution. After all, there is more than one way to skin a cat.’
For our clients, simply making the best product is no longer enough
‘Today’s Chemical and Natural Resources market is full of exciting challenges. The sector is undergoing a reinvention of sorts, which sees companies shifting from a product-centered approach to a client or service-centered approach. For instance, a company that produces vitamins can work together with a hardware partner to monitor the level of that specific vitamin in your blood, thereby co-creating a service that can be offered to patients in hospitals. Similarly, a company that produces ship coatings no longer only sells coating, but also monitors how many miles a ship has sailed to offer the shipping company the service to reapply the coating before it wears off. Thus, killing two birds with one stone whilst it is in the harbor for other maintenance.’
"These days, simply having the best product is no longer enough to outdo the competition"
‘Accenture’s strength is to understand our clients’ business challenges and have the capabilities to support them in transforming the way they run their business using Digital Technology, both in advice and execution. The fact that the market is so dynamic and offers so many dilemmas and opportunities is one of the key reasons why I enjoy my job as much as I do.’
I’m all for a healthy work-life balance
‘Obviously, there’s more to life than work – I’m all for a healthy work-life balance. For me, hiking is one of my true passions. When I was younger, our holidays were spent hiking and skiing in Switzerland and Austria. When I worked in the United Kingdom (1995 -2000), I enjoyed long hikes in Scotland and Wales whenever I could. During my time in the UK I met my wife Cherry, who is now a complete hiking convert. We have embarked on numerous hikes, but our biggest adventure was trekking the Dhaulagiri Circuit in 2011 in the Himalayas. Three weeks of intense hiking, reaching 5,500-meter heights, carrying only the essentials. The following year we hiked the Haute Route, crossing the French and Swiss Alps.’
I love the contrast
‘Next to loving the physical challenge, hiking is also good for mindfulness. It brings me back to basics and the here and now. There’s no Wifi, no mobile reception, no nothing. I love the contrast of on the one hand being in nature and just concentrating on getting to the top of the mountain and on the other hand dealing with complex client challenges and our intense always-on business. It offers me the chance to recharge my battery and come home entirely re-energized and bursting with new ideas.’
Sander van der Heijden (1967)
- Studied: MSc. Chemical Technology, Delft University of Technology (1992)
- Started working at Accenture: April 2016
- Relationship status: Married to Cherry
- Loves: A good glass of whisky (after a strenuous walk in the Scottish hills)
- Gets annoyed by: Stubbornness
- Favorite food: Fish and chips in Brighton
- On my nightstand: Book 6 The North Western Fells by A. Wainwright
- Listens to: Various tunes, mainly 70s, 80s and 90s but not restricted to a single genre. From the Andrew Sisters to Kraftwerk, Paulo Nuttini and Sam Smith. I am also both a Beatles and a Rolling Stones fan (yes, that’s allowed) and I play guitar.
- Last purchase: A house. We will move in Spring 2017.
- What did you learn last week? I had an eye-opening moment during an Accenture course: ‘If your gut feeling raises concerns about something, don’t hesitate to bring it forward.’ Addressing the proverbial elephant in the room, so to speak. If you don’t address it, it may not end well so it’s in the interest of both parties to raise it.
- Would like to sit next to in the plane: Jools Holland. He is great at bringing the best musicians together, especially during his annual Hootenanny.
- Life-changing event: My father passing away in April 2015. I lived with my father since I was 14 and we had a very special bond. I miss him and his passing made me realise to enjoy each day.
- The best lesson life has taught me: Everyone is always right from his or her point of view. There is not one right or one truth, there are always several angles.
- Most beautiful place on earth: Langdale in the Lake District
- Hobbies/passions: I have many, but my number one has to be mountain walking
- What nobody knows about me: I meditate
- Life motto: ‘The secret of happiness is very simply this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile’ – from The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell.