Saskia Van Uffelen

Speaker
Break the vicious circle: dare to do things differently
The differences between generations were never so great

Saskia Van Uffelen, the CEO of Ericsson Belux, has been working in the ICT and telecom business for more than 25 years. She has also been appointed as Digital Champion to represent Belgium before the European Commission. In 2011, Data News named here ICT Woman of the Year. Since then, she has emerged as a role model: not only as a top manager and digital ambassador, but also as a female entrepreneur who knows how to combine a busy job with a family of five children. Saskia invariably calls for a new way of working where the quality of all generations – baby boomers, generations X, Y and Z – are given a full chance.

Of sports camps and making coffee

It is common knowledge that Saskia Van Uffelen is considered one of the “impressive women” in Belgian entrepreneurial circles. Far less known is that she studied physical education and educational sciences. This choice of study discipline may perhaps explain her great passion of putting man always at the centre of organisations. “My dream when I graduated was to organise sports camps for young people. But that entailed having to deal with all sorts of things: I had to rent buildings, take out insurance policies, draw up a business plan, and develop financial and leadership skills, etc. I realised that I first had to gain experience in a company. ” Saskia Van Uffelen was able to acquire that experience when a friend set up an ICT company. “At first, I was tasked to paint the showroom and make coffee. Then I received customers and started to sell – a good basis for becoming a CEO later...”

Career boost

From that moment, Saskia Van Uffelen has pursued her entire career in the ICT world. She has held different marketing and sales positions at the national and international level in such companies as Xerox, Compaq, HP and Arinso. “The common thread running through my career is that I always to enable companies deal with changes which, in these disruptive times, win an increasingly greater digital impact on business processes and on the way in which businesses deal with customers, is bound to gain in importance,” she says. In 2008 she was given an opportunity to prove this skill when she was appointed CEO of Bull & CSB Consulting for Belgium and Luxembourg. In a couple of years, she managed to transform the company from one that depended on hardware products in the public sector to a provider of services and solutions in the public sector and industry. Under her guidance, the turnover was doubled to €80 million and the number of employees was increased to 400. Her proactive policy did not go unnoticed. In 2011, she was named ICT Woman of the Year by Data News. Since then, she has been often cited in the media and is increasingly playing a public role as opinion maker, particularly through her columns in the financial newspaper “De Tijd”.

With both feet on the ground

She managed to touch many a heart with one of those columns from 2013. In it, she described how was informed over the telephone how one of her consultants, not yet forty, had died unexpectedly from heart failure. The said event strengthened her resolve that we must develop another way of working, with more room for communication and fulfilment. She therefore calls for flat organisations where the four generations – the baby boomers, generations X, Y and Z – cooperate in a constructive manner. “Each generation is particularly relevant,” she says, “the older generations for their experience, the young generations for their creativity and digital talents.” According to Saskia Van Uffelen, younger people are still not sufficiently represented in the board rooms of companies, where conventional power relations still hold sway. If it were up to Saskia Van Uffelen, we would all be CEOs, with the requisite responsibilities and rights and obligations.

Three years in the making

It is precisely this cultural change that Saskia Van Uffelen wanted to implement at Ericsson Belux when she was appointed CEO of that company in 2014. “You need three years to transform a company,” she says, “and the second year is the most difficult. You can implement the quick wins in the first year, but in the second year you really have to manage the change and to make crucial decisions. That applies for the third year as well, but then you start seeing results.” At the time of this writing, Saskia is in her second year at the helm of Ericsson, i.e. the difficult year.” Changing a culture in a company may take three years, but in the minds of the people it sometimes takes longer,” she says. “Especially in middle management, you at times see people who were probably able to make that career in the past because they were technically proficient. But in these times of digital disruption, companies are in greater need of people who can deal well with human capital, and for that entirely different skills are needed.”

Digital Champion

In addition to her busy life as CEO, she is also the mother of five children, she has been appointed digital ambassador for Belgium and still finds time to write columns and her first book “Iedereen ‘Baas’” [Everyone ‘Boss’]. “Having to juggle all these things is difficult of course, but you must naturally be able to plan well, and manage the consequences of your decisions properly. But when I can work on meaningful things, I draw enormous inspiration, and get all sorts of more insight into many aspects, including into myself. And that makes me all the more fulfilled as a person, so that I can give back more to my company and to my family.” As Digital Champion for instance, Saskia Van Uffelen makes people and companies more aware of subjects such as digital education, e-commerce and security on the Internet. In her book, “Iedereen ‘Baas’” she explains to entrepreneurs how they can reconcile and reorganise the differences between generations into more success for the company.

After work

On weekends you will often find Saskia at home, usually in her garden. That is my form of mindfulness. It gives me an opportunity to be busy with something in nature with my mind set at zero – the perfect way to recharge my batteries and find new energy.”

Iedereen baas

Entrepreneurs, Diversity, HR, Corporate Culture, Leadership, Strategy, Topmanagers, Socially responsible Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Innovation, Trends, Youth, Seniors

Saskia Van Uffelen, CEO of Ericsson Belux, makes a passionate plea for companies to organise themselves differently. She explains how business leaders can reorganise the differences between generations – the baby boomers, generations X, Y and Z – to powerful advantage.” “We must turn to a flat organisation structure in our companies where the decision-makers of today may be assisted by the generation of tomorrow,” she says. In her view, it is important that the younger generation are given a chance to assume full responsibility, all the way up to the board room.” “All too often, an older person will find ten reasons not to follow a good idea of a younger person. My generation continues to have the reflex of hanging on to the world of yesteryear.”

Saskia Van Uffelen on the other hand argues that each generation will be important in the world of tomorrow: the older people for their experience, the younger people for their capacity for innovation and their digital skills. Under the motto “everyone a boss,” Saskia Van Uffelen shares tips & tricks on how to prepare the company for the future, whilst paying the necessary attention to the impact of digital trends on the running of the company and its employees.

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Languages of the keynote
English, French, Dutch