Rob Zandbergen, CEO of USG People, started his career in the military. After secondary school he went to the Royal Military Academy in Breda, where he received five years of training and education before serving the following seven years as an officer in the army. “After 12 years in the military I left the army and started work with Dutch telecom operator KPN. I stayed there another 12 years, five of which I was based in Jakarta with responsibility for Asia. I held several financial management positions.

“Then I moved to Solvus, which is half of the company I now lead: USG People. Following a period of severe restructuring, Solvus was sold to USG People in 2005. I was first appointed CFO of the newly formed combination before becoming CEO in 2010. What I learned in the military is that you need to have a clear goal, a clear target, and discipline—and these are exactly the things that I use to this day. While you do need to have a good strategy, in my opinion the key to success lies in thorough and disciplined execution.”

During his time with KPN, Rob watched the company change from a government-owned monopoly into a private company faced with growing competition. It was a long and arduous process that helped shape Rob’s management style. “I learned to become more international. The army was not that international. It was my work with KPN, especially in Asia, that taught me that what is normal in a Dutch context is not always normal in a more international context, and that there is more to the world than just the Netherlands.”

Before Rob joined USG People the company enjoyed some notable years of success. In 2005, the organisation was growing and there was a steady stream of work. “Then the economic crisis hit Europe; things turned sour and it became more and more difficult. The year 2009 was an extraordinarily tough year, 2010 was a bit better, but then 2011 to 2013 was again a difficult time in the European markets. We responded by changing the company’s strategy and increasing its focus. Perhaps that is the real challenge: you can’t do it all, you can’t be successful at everything that you do, so you have to concentrate on the areas where you can make a difference. That is precisely what we did, not just talking the talk but also walking the walk.