Alumnus Eric Hageman talks about work-life balance
Eric Hageman was the highest financial man at KPN and a front runner to lead the largest telecom company in the Netherlands. However, the economist educated in Maastricht and London chose instead for his family and for a completely different career step. Now, he is CFO at Chime Communications in London.
There were two times in his life when Eric Hageman stepped on the brakes. The first time was in 2004, when he was travelling the world for the British branch of Deutsche Bank as a banker. “It was Christmas. I was with my wife Cristina and our daughter of one and a half visiting my parents in Meerssen, South Limburg. Suddenly, I realised that it was only my fourth day off of that year. I was always on the road, always at work. I saw my family on Saturdays and that was about it. Cristina was pregnant with our second daughter. I thought, ‘this has to change’.”
The wheel keeps spinning. Half a year later, the Hageman family moves from London to the Netherlands where Eric makes a new start at KPN in a completely different world. “From banking to telecom. That seems like a strange turn, but I was very familiar with KPN. They were one of our biggest customers and I had a good relationship with then CEO Ad Scheepbouwer and his CFO. I also saw it as a big step towards my ultimate goal—managing a business. I had already said that when I began studying at the Maastricht University Faculty of Economics in 1989, ‘I want to run a business someday’.”
The career at KPN goes entirely according to plan. Following his debut as Head of Investor Relations and Head of M&A, Eric Hageman moves on to the mobile branch where he becomes CFO. He then becomes CEO in charge of the Belgian KPN subsidiary BASE. The move in 2012 to KPN's headquarters in The Hague as CFO seems to be simply the last step towards the big job: the boss at KPN.
But it goes differently. In the fall of 2013, the media reports the sudden departure of Eric Hageman. He did not want to comment on it much then. This turns out to be the second time he steps on the brakes. “Something didn’t feel right. Managing at this level is a top sport, 24 hours a day. Once again, I realised that I seldom saw my wife and now three daughters and was failing them. I wanted to work for a smaller company. Really making a difference and doing things differently—that’s difficult in a big company. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go, but it was time for a new step.”
A rigorous decision follows. Not only does Eric Hageman take a sabbatical that lasts nine months, but he also moves the family to Barcelona. “Cristina was born and raised there. We got to know each other during a vacation in 1987 when I was still in secondary school. During my studies, Cristina came to Maastricht and we were married. Because of this, I of course didn’t have the usual student experience. After graduating, she came with me to London where we lived and worked for ten years, then back to the Netherlands and Belgium. Now we thought it was time to follow her heart, and so it was Catalonia.”
Eric Hageman grew up in Maastricht and is the first in his family who could attend university. He preferred to go to Rotterdam, but due to the lottery allocation of study places, it turned out different. “Maastricht was the alternative. Back then not as prestigious as now, but afterwards I was very happy that I walked into Problem-Based Learning. As a manager, you’re in fact constantly engaged in a group of people making decisions and solving problems. Maastricht was the perfect foundation.”
After graduating in 1995, Eric Hageman goes to London to work as a trainee for various banks. He quickly realises that an MBA is a prerequisite for climbing his way to the top. “For two years, I studied full time again at the London Business School. A financial hit, yes, but my wife worked and through the bonus system I was able to build some savings. After the graduation, I could have my choice.”
After a career in London and the Netherlands, the native ‘Maastrichtenaar’ lands a financial position in 2014 at Telecity, an IT company and data centre operator. Since last year, the job of CFO at Chime has been added to his CV. “Yes, a British company in sports marketing and advertising. Like Telecity, relatively small on the world market. That's just what I like, to make that type of business stronger and expand. With Telecity we accomplished it; we managed to sell the company for 2.6 billion pounds. With Chime, we’re on the right track.”
Does Eric Hageman still want to lead that big company? The answer keeps all options open. “Who knows. At the moment, our life is in balance. I commute between London and Barcelona, Cristina has set up a great company in baby clothing with her sister, our daughters feel at home in Spain. This is good for now.”
Eric Hageman (1970) studied Economics at Maastricht University and earned an MBA in London. He has worked for Deutsche Bank, KPN, Telecity and, since 2016, as CFO at Chime.