Pursue your passion

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Michiel Valk is the Chief Information Officer at Essent, a market-leading energy supplier aiming to provide sustainable and affordable energy solutions to over 2.5 million customers in the Dutch private and business market.

Information technology has always been Michiel’s focus and passion and he has been programming since his school days. He began his career as an information analyst, and later rose to management roles like CIO/IT Director in various industries, including HR and Telecomms. In his current role at Essent, he is actively helping to shape the digital transformation of the energy sector since late 2020.

Digital and data-driven solutions play an important role in helping people live more sustainably; insights into consumption, for example, are critical in the process of informing practical advice to consumers. It’s exactly what a CIO in the energy sector brings to the table: looking beyond technology to the opportunities it can bring, and developing those prospects for the good of the consumer and the environment.

Cultivating an atmosphere for excellence

Michiel is happiest when leading teams who develop technology through collaboration and creativity and relates it back to an organisations’ business goals. He summarises his day-to-day in his particular role: “The role of a CIO is one that, in essence, focuses on the creation of a favourable atmosphere for teams to thrive and create innovative software and solutions that surprise our customers with its creativity, simplicity, and degree to which it answers to their needs.”

It is his belief that diversity is a critical part of creating an atmosphere where teams can be inspired to create exceptional solutions. “Balance in terms of gender, nationalities, and personalities provides a backdrop where teams feel the freedom to collaborate and utilise their varying backgrounds to the advantage of the technology.” He believes that leaders must be mindful of the fact that unconscious biases can still creep into the fabric of teams despite the best of intentions; but urges patience in this adjustment in addition to instilling processes that can support teams to become more open, like blameless post-mortems. It is within these processes where women should feel confident to contribute and speak up, especially if they form part of a larger male complement sharing a similar perspective. He also feels that it is vital for organisations to partner with initiatives like RightBrains because it fosters open conversations about women’s ambitions and signals the intention to tackle lingering prejudices.

Encouraging dialogue

Throughout his career, Michiel has found that talking to people has been the best way to learn and develop new insights and ideas. He has benefitted from formal mentorship, but he also highly regards conversations he had with technical experts that helped him to fully grasp the potential of some new technologies. He values the ability to bring his own ideas to the table, receive feedback, and change his opinions based on different insights and arguments. It’s why he views differing worldviews as a valuable commodity and why he feels that an ‘openness for dialogue’ is critical when managing successful, ambitious and diverse teams.

As CIO, Michiel’s tenure at Essent has been marked with unexpected challenges and a volatile market following the war in Ukraine and soaring gas prices – but he is positive that the intersection between tech, people, and sustainability at an energy company is where he belongs. “In response to some of these challenges, Essent has made some bold and successful moves in our architecture to adapt to these events – and the process has motivated and energised me to rise to the challenge in an unpredictable industry.”

Pursuing your passion

Michiel is most proud of creating a vision that employees can connect with and carving out roles throughout his career where he could function at his best. His advice to others within the sphere of digital technology: “Spend your own energy on a job and industry that you feel passionate towards. If you are not happy, stop. And pursue something different and worthwhile – you owe it to yourself.”