Enabling the future

Friday, April 7, 2023

Jean-Pascal van Overbeke is a Board Member and chief Consumer BU at KPN*, the world-class Dutch fixed and mobile telecom provider that has recently been named as the best-tested network in the Netherlands, amongst many other accolades. Jean-Pascal sat down with RightBrains to share some highlights and take-aways from his vast career in telecoms, and what it means to be a male ally to women in digital technology.

Dizzying growth of telecoms

The technological advancements and industry shifts that Jean-Pascal witnessed and harnessed over the course of his career are dizzying to comprehend -- and his career journey has the makings of a compelling Netflix series. His story dates back to the days when he sold his advertising company in his late twenties and was planning his next move; when the telecommunication market was primarily government owned. After some introspection, he then joined the fixed-line mobile operator France Télécom (later rebranded as Orange), who was acquiring a team to bring their vision to life: that one day, everyone would have a mobile phone. He set to work on creating companies in a variety of countries to bid once the deregulation of the industry took place across Europe. They were lucky to get a foot in the door just before the industry exploded. “In the nineties, every door you could open had a queue of people ready to buy. The demand was crazy and it was a challenge to keep up”. Initially, it was a small team (Jean-Pascal was employee number two), but within a few years, they were recruiting a hundred employees per day.

Over the years, Jean-Pascal had a significant tenure at Orange’s UK operations -- first as CMO, and later the CCMO, and retained leadership positions at international players like Maxis, Lebara Limited, SUN TV UK, Intelcia, and Virgin Mobile France. The mobile telecoms industry is to this day, where his loyalties lie; even though it’s a tough industry to predict in terms of usage and customer behaviour, it’s still as dynamic and fast-moving as ever. He joined KPN in 2018 and was appointed to the KPN Board of Management as Chief Consumer Market in 2019. As Chief Consumer BU, Jean-Pascal handles all the consumer business at KPN and has focused on building sustainable growth over time in what has become an incredibly saturated market -- with providers essentially becoming utilities.

The constant of change

The one constant throughout his career has been his affinity to work with and thrive within different markets and cultures. He values the relationships he cultivated during the course of his career throughout Europe and Asia with colleagues-turned-friends, and sees his immersion in different settings as the checkpoints in his journey where he learned most about himself. “I’m driven by the excitement of discovery and honing the skill of resilience when adapting to a new market and environment.” He pinpoints how differing perspectives play out in the workplace: when sharing facts and numbers, diverse viewpoints and worldviews offer robust data for decision-making. Jean-Pascal’s support for women within the industry is nestled within this insight.

Diversity and disruption thinking

Jean-Pascal has had many instances in his career where women have pushed him and challenged his way of thinking. His skill set has been enriched by the influence of female colleagues over the years, and the coaching he received from a French female coach in his mid-thirties helped him to hone his business instincts. To him, there is a certain richness and depth that gender balance brings within companies. He notes a sense of dedication amongst his female industry peers and a hunger and ambition to succeed at the highest level, with more and more women joining the boardroom table. “I’m pleased to be part of a company that values diversity and sustainability initiatives and highly regards these non-commercial KPIs. We believe in the power of differences and that's why we invest in an inclusive culture where everyone feels free to be themselves.”

Enabling the future

There are many aspects about the industry that excites Jean-Pascal at this point in time. He feels that it’s sobering to consider the immense power telecommunications companies have to unlock potential and positively influence future generations. “Not only is internet penetration proportionate to GDP growth, but they have a massive role to play in connecting people to their own future and connecting business to new business models.” He adopts a forward-thinking approach and constantly reminds himself that fibre investment and infrastructure will likely still be in play for the next century, and that the technology will increasingly enable other industries to deliver services to society.

Winning energy

With such a wealth of experience and knowledge of transforming telecom companies into digital players and as a business leader, it’s natural to wonder which authors and subjects inspire Jean-Pascal on a daily basis. Ironically, he prefers to read and learn more about unrelated complex subjects that give him a lateral point of view: design, science, and even quantum physics. When asked if he would ever write his own book, he jokingly says he does not have the patience; however, he is energised by the role as a mentor he is currently fulfilling and also enjoys teaching. But the one single thing that energises Jean-Pascal most: “Winning my challenges.”

*Jean-Pascal recently stepped down from the board of directors due to personal reasons, and will be succeeded by a female colleague, Marieke Snoep, whom he regards highly. He will continue to serve as strategic advisor to the board until 2024, and is proud to do so in a company supporting initiatives like RightBrains.