Meet the Boss: Jasper Westerink, CEO, Philips Africa

Jasper Westerink

1. What was your first job?

My first formal job actually was with Philips – I joined the corporate HR department in Amsterdam.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Africa as a continent is very diverse. So I think the main challenge for us is to see how we focus the right energy and the right efforts to drive healthcare to a better level. And since the size of the continent is huge, I think this is a challenge. I stay up for that one in a positive way because I do see many opportunities and I think as a team, we are very eager to see how we can bring growth and how we can bring improvements.

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

I think my first boss. He had a very entrepreneurial view. He did not shy away from challenging how things are done in multinationals. He was challenging how you balance agility with leveraging the many benefits of a multinational. He was quite open to exploring new business models and new technologies. At that time he was already close to pension age, and I found it quite remarkable how he kept his energy, his fresh mind, and his challenging attitude.

4. The best professional advice you’ve ever received?

You cannot manage a business if you don’t know enough details. So immerse yourself in really understanding how the business works operationally, but do also take time to step away and take a helicopter view.

5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?

I think I’m adaptable – and that “I” also includes my wife because in my career with Philips we’ve lived in a number of locations and have been able to adapt.

I also think the balance between being operational and strategic has helped a lot. I like to understand how things work because it is a good way to understand what can and needs to be improved.

Another factor is having an open mind and remembering that every day you can learn from other people.

In addition, it is always good to ensure the road you’re on is still the right road. You need to have the ability to say, “This was not the right choice, this was not the right process – let’s track back quickly, make quick changes and move into the right direction.”

6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

On the job. Period.

7. How do you relax?

In South Africa we really enjoy driving out of Johannesburg, because in one or two hours you are in a completely different world. So we really like to go to the game parks. So we will make use of the opportunity of being here to be out in nature.

I have a three-year-old son, and I also try to remind myself every day to make sure I spend time [with him] because a lot of people that are a lot smarter than me tell me that time goes very quickly and that you don’t want to end up having a son of 16 and you regret not spending enough time [with him]. So I also spend a lot of time with my three-year-old.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

07:00. I try to get up early. Normally the meetings will start at 08:30, 09:00 and days are quite packed. So when you get in the office at 07:00, it gives you time to ensure the priorities for the day are correct, look at some emails, and sometimes you can grab a cup of coffee and get to know the team.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

I think it is important to see how people react to questions which are a little bit more direct and confrontational. You want to invoke a little bit of emotion to see how people handle that. So I tend to ask the question, ‘Why would I hire you?’, to see how they react emotionally. Do they get defensive or do they use the question to explain why they are the right person for the job?

10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

I think there are so many opportunities that the biggest challenge is to make sure you pick the right one and focus on that. Throughout Africa there are many, many opportunities and I think successful businesses will be able to pick out those one or two opportunities and drive them hard.