The wire and cable industry may not be as sexy as the television industry, but the opportunity attracted Belden President and CEO Roel Vestjens. Fifteen years ago, he left work at Dutch consumer electronics company Philips to join Belden. It seems the spark had gone.
“I was bored at Philips. So, when a friend of mine who’d recently made the transition to Belden approached me to take on a marketing manager position there, I was intrigued. I didn’t find either industry particularly sexy, but I did think televisions were sexier than cable,” Roel laughs.
Shortly thereafter, he joined Belden. And even though it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, the flame continues to burn today.
It’s an affair that has taken him into key markets around the globe: first to Germany, where he led the global marketing and sales of the connectivity businesses; next back to the Netherlands for his first general manager role, overseeing all manufacturing facilities for cable in Europe; then jetting off to Hong Kong for four years; and finally positioned to where he is now in America.
However, it was Roel’s time in the Netherlands that marked arguably the most pivotal point in his career. Here, his work got noticed by John Stroup – the company’s then President, CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors. “I got on John’s radar. I was very blessed,” Roel recalls.
“He wrote a development plan for me that was a first in the company. It was very interesting as it required me to share what my desired end position with the company would be. I wasn’t going to lie, so I let him know that I wanted to become CEO. And he said, ‘OK, well let’s work on it.’”
That was 10 years ago. And, as luck would have it, Roel became CEO in May last year – right in the thick of the early and uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic. For anyone else, that could have been a nightmare.
However, for Roel, since he’d been already with the company for 15 years, involving himself in pretty much every aspect of its operations – he was COO before he took on the CEO position – he was more than prepared to take on the challenge.
“The first thing I did was hire McKinsey & Company,” he says. “We gave them an assignment to figure out: out of all the markets that Belden is active in and all the applications for which we develop products and solutions, which will be a winner and which will be a loser because of COVID-19? We needed them to predict what areas we should invest in and what areas we probably shouldn’t, and should shift resources instead.”
Besides our brand strength – our company has been around for 118 years – it’s our product portfolio that puts us ahead of the competition.
As a signal transmission solutions provider with a complete product portfolio, including cable, connectivity and networking products, Belden connects and protects organizations worldwide with the industry’s most complete suite of end-to-end networking solutions.
It’s present in four different industries – industrial automation, broadband and 5G, smart buildings and cybersecurity. With COVID-19, knowing its strengths and weaknesses would be key to not just surviving, but thriving.
“Commercial real estate was a loser since there are hardly any new office buildings being built because there’s so much capacity in buildings to begin with,” Roel explains. “A clear winner, however, is our broadband business because with people working from home and children learning from home, more and more strain was being placed on the networks. So everyone needs to upgrade.”
During COVID-19, Roel shares that business partnerships also became even more valuable. That knowledge led Belden to take great care in ensuring everyone made it out of the tough times together.
“If it was required and they were having some financial struggles because of the pandemic, we helped them out. Our partnerships are tremendously important,” he stresses.
“They help us maintain a continuous supply of goods. We had a disruption in our supply chain a few years ago because we were too dependent on one supplier for certain components. And I made a personal vow that this would never happen again.”
For Belden, it’s all about balance, striking a chord that will satisfy all three of its key constituents – employees, customers and shareholders. “They’re not mutually exclusive, but they’re all very important,” Roel says.
“We constantly talk about this, and I think the trick is to deliver results in all three areas. If we work on the right processes and hire and train the right people, then it becomes possible.”
As it stands now, Belden is regularly awarded one of the world’s greatest places to work in terms of employee engagement, thanks to the investments it has made in its staff’s happiness. And according to its Net Promoter Score, its customers are also quite content.
“Since we started measuring, our NPS score has never been so high. Our customers are getting happier and happier with us,” Roel beams. And the company is doing its part to continually ensure shareholder satisfaction. “Obviously, we have to deliver the financial results and the growth that our shareholders expect from us,” he says.
“So, we’re cleaning up our portfolio and simplifying the business to really focus on organic growth and innovation.” Despite the fact that revenue declined last year, Belden’s research and development investments are up by 11%. This year, its budget is allowing for a further increase, meaning that over two years, Belden will be spending 27% more on R&D.
“There aren’t a lot of companies doing that,” Roel notes. “Besides our brand strength – our company has been around for 118 years – it’s our product portfolio that puts us ahead of the competition. It’s so broad that it provides us the opportunity to develop true solutions for our customers. Nobody has the breadth of product in the industrial space like we do.”