Executive Interviews

Experiences shared
by leading experts

Thomas Mulder - Executive Director HR, Internal Comms and Workplace at VodafoneZiggo

  • January 18, 2023

Thomas Mulder is the Executive Director HR, Internal Comms and Workplace at VodafoneZiggo in the Netherlands. He has been with Vodafone for over 11 years, having previously been HR Director of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg at Accenture.

How can leaders create diverse teams?

It starts with being aware of unconscious bias, and we call that conscious inclusion. People need to really understand the opportunity that diverse teams bring in comparison with more heterogenic, homogeneous teams. So, there is self-awareness and conscious inclusion.

I think the second point is that you need to give the topic priority. Working on diversity is a long-term thing, so you can always start tomorrow instead of today. You need to make sure that you raise it on the priority list, and you can do that by attaching clear objectives of what you want to achieve.

The third point is to create a culture around inclusivity and diversity. You need to focus in your internal communication on diversity, on role models, on the behaviour that you would like to see. If you do these three things in parallel - make sure that you develop the capabilities needed amongst your leaders to shape and lead diverse teams, set a clear ambition level and target, and create a positive internal buzz around this to make people aware and to really highlight what you want your culture to be - then I think you can create diverse teams within your organisation.

What would you say excites you about working for VodafoneZiggo?

From an HR perspective, on the one hand, we invest billions in spectrum, in our network, in technology, where we get a return only in years' time, so we have to have a very long-term focus.

But, on the other hand, the competition in telco [telecommunications] is fierce, so we also have to focus on today, and make sure we are with the right proposition and the right price in the market. That dynamic, with both a long-term and a short-term focus, is one thing that I really enjoy.

The second thing is from an HR perspective again. If you look at the diversity of our company, we produce television content for our own TV channels, we have Consumer Sales Marketing teams, we are one of the biggest retailers in the country in terms of numbers of shops. Also, we have a B2B [business-to-business] salesforce for all different segments - fixed technology, mobile technology, we’ve got big IT infrastructure and team, we’ve got technicians on the road with national coverage and customer care.

If you think about all of this and think about the diversity, that is super fascinating to lead and to manage - especially because nothing in this organisation works in isolation. We have to do everything end-to-end, and that is always super interesting, of course.

The third thing for me is just the sheer importance that we have in society. If you think about our network, if we have an outage, the nation comes to a standstill. But also, if you think about innovation that’s happening in society - also the way we have to deal with challenges like climate change, for instance - we are privileged to be able to play a vital role in that and that is what makes it very attractive to work for this company.

What changes have you seen to the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and what in your opinion have been the main drivers for these changes?

A couple of things. We, of course, are dealing with an ageing population in the Netherlands. The way I sometimes put it, now and in the years to come, every month, a covert of people retire that is the size of VodafoneZiggo. That means that the labour market is getting increasingly tight.

Within that, we don’t see the massive resignation wave that we have seen in other Anglo-Saxon markets, so that means that the number of people who are actively in the market looking for another role is very small. That means that, if you want to be able to attract talent, you have to be super quick and laser-focused.

Therefore, in the Netherlands, we are attracting more talent from abroad and I’m also glad to see more international talent joining VodafoneZiggo. As an organisation, you need to make sure that you are able to tap into that international pool of talent, because, if you only limit yourself to the Dutch labour market, that could easily be too small.

Finally, if you think about the digital transformation that our society is in at the moment, there is a massive demand for new skills and capabilities, and just pulling on the new joiners on the labour market, the digital natives, is not enough. I think that the companies that offer development opportunities to people are the winners.

If you could go back and give your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

From the age of 17, I thought, let’s start my career in HR, because that’s an opportunity to see how an organisation works from the inside, and you get to see every aspect of it quite quickly. Then, let’s see where it ends, and that’s still my strategy now, 20 years later.

I think the only career advice that I would give myself if I were able to do it again is to enjoy the moment more. I’ve always been driving things forward, always been focused on the next thing with my team, the next thing with my business, and my people agenda, instead of just sometimes letting it go and enjoy the moment that you are in.

I think generally this is also career advice that I would give to a lot of people. The fear of missing out is also a big driver for career decisions these days and that’s actually a negative career consideration. Valuing more what you have, thinking more carefully about the perspectives that you may have may also reduces the risk that you take the wrong decision, just because you are anxious that you are missing out on something in the short-term.

How did you plan out your career development?

I actually did not really plan it out. It started with this ambition to start my career in HR and then I focused more on my own development. I think that’s more important than planning your career, because when it comes to career moves, you are not in charge with that; it’s about being at the right place, at the right time, being able to make a move and not necessarily about being only the best candidate.

A lot comes down to luck when it comes to developing your career. So, it’s better to then focus on the things that you can influence, and that is your own development; making sure that you’re open to feedback, that you know you can grow personally and professionally. For instance, I think I’ve done two things: I’ve always developed myself as a generalist in business with an executive MBA, with executive programmes at London Business School, and also Singularity University, to develop myself more as a generalist, rather than a particular HR specialist.

The second thing is that I think I have taken a risk a number of times in my career. I tend to focus on the grey areas. A lot of things are black and white in this world; they are clear, they are chartered, people know what is expected and what you need to do, but there are also areas in the business where it’s grey, where it’s not clear, because it’s new, unchartered, people really don’t know what the expectations are.

This is when you can shape your own agenda and position yourself as a leader in a different way, in an authentic way, and that offers you more career development, steeper learning curves, than in a world that is black and white. There are also risks attached to those grey areas, and I think, a couple of times in my career, I have consciously taken the risk and that is really accelerated my personal development.

I was the HR Director for Accenture for the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg on a good career trek. I had programmed to become a senior executive, when I was offered to join Vodafone. However, Vodafone did not have a job for me, they just said, why don’t you come, it’s going to be fun? I decided to quit my job at Accenture; I had a team with lots of momentum, uncertainty about the next step, and basically moved my family to London in a new environment, not having a clue about what I was going to be doing there. I think that is an example of such a risk.

After an introduction into the company, I then got a phone call to do the due diligence on a global telco in 35 countries - I did have experience with integration, but not with due diligence. I would say that is an example of taking a risk in a grey area, where you then get these opportunities to accelerate your personal development.

What is the most surprising thing that has happened in your career?

I have never really felt that something came as a real surprise. What I would have never expected at the start of my career is that I would have moved abroad and to multiple countries. I think I never anticipated that; it really happened in the moment and turned out to be a very good thing, I have to say.

How will digital transformation change the role of HR, in your opinion?

If you think about digital transformation, a lot of things in society, and in organisations, corporates, need to change. It’s the organisation that needs to become more agile, more centred around technology and data. The second is that you need different skills and capabilities in a digital world. The third thing is a different style of leadership - much more focused on coaching, holding people to account, rather than command and control, for instance, but also much more focused on an external radar, instead of internal best practice, so those leadership shifts.

Then, there is a culture of collaboration amongst people who master different capabilities, different profiles. All of these things – organisational development, capability development, leadership development and culture development – are the fundamental tasks and responsibilities of HR. HR needs to set itself up for success to shape a digital transformation. Not just to be a partner in the process to become a digital organisation, but to shape what that looks like and then help to transform the organisation to become digital. I’ve seen that happen in a number of companies and I think that will ultimately change the role HR has in a company.

There is another reason this will accelerate – the crisis we had with COVID, but also now wellbeing and wage inflation. The cost of human capital is increasing. All these things together are part of the biggest challenges that companies are facing nowadays. HR is right at the centre of these challenges, and better able than anyone in the company to come up with solutions and deliver those. So, that is also what I think will drive transformation in HR.

Thank you to Thomas for speaking to Alison Whiten, Associate Consultant in our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands. 

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment