This is the first time the Supervisory Board (SB) of Vodafone Netherlands reports in the form of an interview. Despite this being a new experience, chairman Erik de Rijk is relaxed and in a good mood when he takes a seat for this interview. Smooth and positive are the words for him that describe 2014-2015. De Rijk looks back and ahead.
You characterize last year as uneventful. Can you tell us why?
‘Despite the fact that Vodafone Netherlands has done and accomplished a lot last year, for the SB it was a relatively quiet year. Besides the regular topics that we normally deal with, there was only 1 specific subject that required our attention and that was the acquisition of Nexct.’
What are the regular topics that a SB has to deal with?
‘We supervise the operations of Vodafone Netherlands on the whole. That is, the overall performance of the company, its performance in the various market segments and the plans that are being developed. We also look into investments, for example for the network, and the return on these investments. We make recommendations to the management board about all these topics. And sometimes specific material subjects pop up that need our attention, like major outsourcing projects and restructuring or an important acquisition.’
The specific material topic this year was obviously the acquisition of Nexct. What were the SB’s views on this?
‘We consider Nexct an asset for Vodafone Netherlands. The acquisition contributes towards realising our strategy and ambition to offer integrated communication services. We therefore made a positive recommendation regarding the acquisition.’
Were there any issues last year that resulted in a negative recommendation by the SB?
‘No. That has never happened so far. Developments are always brought to our table at a very early stage, which enables us to share our views and opinions during the entire process. The management board has ample opportunity to adjust if needed.’
How would you rate the interaction with the management board in general?
‘Our contacts are very pleasant. The discussions are always constructive, we are kept in the loop at all times and collaborate smoothly. Our relationship is open and honest. The management board presents topics the way they are, highlighting the positive aspects as well as any possible downsides. This ensures an open and honest dialogue and decision-making process. Any other way wouldn’t function in my view. After all, SB and management work towards a common goal and that goal can only be reached if we communicate fair and square with each other.’
How would you describe that common goal?
‘The development of Vodafone Netherlands. Giving due consideration to all stakeholders involved to the greatest possible extent. Vodafone Group as shareholder, our employees, our customers, the authorities, et cetera. We need to balance these interests – that can sometimes be or seem to be conflicting – as well as we can and create value for our stakeholders and for society. In this respect I value this report so much. It shows the scope of all the things we’re involved in and what we do. We do want to be transparent and look at subjects from various angles instead of just highlighting one particular aspect. Our stakeholders appreciate this.’
Did the SB make any proactive recommendations about topics that were not on the agenda?
‘No, also in that respect the year was uneventful. It did happen, though, in previous years. For example, as a result of the Rotterdam fire in 2012, we proactively put the topic network quality on the agenda. Even in the months after the fire, we were informed that customers were still bothered by insufficient coverage. Such concerns are discussed with the management board. After all, network quality is the most important benchmark for customers. In the early days of mobile telephony it wasn’t taken for granted, but nowadays people expect coverage everywhere and at all times.’
How does the SB assess Vodafone Netherlands’ operations of the past year?
‘The fact that we didn’t have that much to do, is actually quite positive. It means that Vodafone Netherlands is stable. Like other Dutch companies, we noticed signs of economic recovery. The decline in revenues stopped and we now experience a slight increase. In all strategic pillars Vodafone Netherlands made good progress. The strategy is executed well and proves fruitful. This contributes to a positive trend. The management board has everything on track and well in hand. We are satisfied with everything that has been done and accomplished.’
Within Vodafone we have an excellent pool of people to draw on. The management board of Vodafone Netherlands is actually quite something.
A large part of the year the SB only had 2 members instead of 3. Did this inconvenience the SB or Vodafone Netherlands?
‘It is true that Liliana Solomon left Vodafone and as a result the SB of Vodafone Netherlands as of 31 December 2013. We immediately started our search for a replacement. Soon enough we had someone in mind, but due to the busy schedules of all people involved, it has taken longer than anticipated and hoped for to appoint this new member officially to the board. Despite the fact we had to do without Liliana’s input, we are convinced we have performed adequately. In this respect it was quite convenient for the SB that not a great many impactful things happened last year.’
When it comes to the composition of the SB, which aspects are taken into consideration by the SB and the stakeholders that appoint members to the SB?
‘In our composition we try to encompass the widest possible range of expertise, as well as diversity in regions and cultures in those regions. In this way we can offer a broad perspective. For our succession we benefit from the fact that SB member Ronald Schellekens is also the Vodafone Group HR Director. He knows exactly what is needed and where to find the right people in Vodafone Group. For the SB as well as the management board of Vodafone Netherlands.’
Is the SB heavily involved in management changes?
‘Yes, changes of management are also brought to our table. Due to the specific knowledge within the SB we are involved more than usual for a private limited company, right from the start. Within Vodafone we have an excellent pool of people to draw on. The management board here in the Netherlands is actually quite something.’
What are the SB’s expectations of the year 2015-2016?
‘We hope and expect that Vodafone Netherlands will continue the successful implementation of the strategy and that the upward trend persists. As SB we will gladly contribute again with our knowledge and expertise. We therefore have a positive outlook on 2015-2016 and we are full of confidence with regard to management board, management and employees.’