How is it being a Dutch leader at a Hungarian company? - Cees de Quaasteniet, our Managing Director, answered our questions

Get insights into the leadership journey of Cees de Quaasteniet, the Managing Director of TOPdesk’s Hungarian office! In our blog series “Our Leaders in the Spotlight”, we introduce the members of our leadership team, as well as the values they work by. In our company culture trust and equality play a central role, meaning every colleague, whether a leader or an intern, is equally important. We aim to convey this perspective and bring it closer to you in our blog.

Can you share your journey from the Netherlands to become the Managing Director?

My journey began when I had been with the company for about 15 years. Initially, I worked in development, managing the department alongside my colleagues. Over time, my role evolved to oversee larger projects, such as creating the strategy for TOPdesk and leading the agile transition across business units. I also facilitated the alignment of these units and branches through Alignment Conferences.

After completing these larger projects, I felt ready for a new challenge. When a position opened in Hungary, I decided to apply because it aligned well with my passion for working with people. Additionally, this role offered clear responsibilities. In my previous roles, I often worked with various business units and branches to support and create their goals and ambitions. However, my part of my responsibilities were not as clearly defined, which sometimes made it challenging to have concrete expectations of others.

What motivated you to take on the managerial role in Hungary?

I enjoy roles where I can paint my own picture, working collaboratively with a great team to set a vision, create a plan, and then execute that plan. I have a deep connection to Hungary because my wife is Hungarian. After she spent a few years with me in the Netherlands, it felt right to switch things around and be with her family in Hungary. Fortunately, I had already worked in Budapest before, finding software testers a few years ago. I knew I liked the city and the people. I appreciate how in Hungary, there is a cultural emphasis on taking time to eat and be together, which contrasts with the Dutch approach where everything tends to be scheduled.

This move was both personally and professionally motivated. I was ready for the next step in my career and wanted to stay with TOPdesk, as I enjoyed working there. If this position had not been available, I might have considered leaving TOPdesk. Fortunately, the timing and the job were perfect, and looking back, I am really happy with my decision.

Can you share some insights or lessons that you’ve learned about leadership from your experience in managing in Hungary?

I think the differences are not significant based on the country, although certain cultural aspects in Hungary are distinct. For example, in the Netherlands, we tend to be very upfront, but this is not always the case within the company. In Hungarian culture, engaging in conflict is not always straightforward, which I see as a notable difference. Generally, I’ve learned that setting clearer expectations in a respectful manner is crucial. Instead of dictating as a manager, it’s better to reach an agreement on what needs to be done and how it should be executed.

The major learning point for me has been about maturing in our processes. We have many people who are eager to work hard and start immediately, but it’s often better to first sit down, make a plan, and think things through. On the other hand, from a Hungarian perspective, the frequent meetings and discussions can be frustrating, so finding a balance is beneficial. My approach has always been collaborative. Instead of creating plans on my own, I try to involve others. This way, more people contribute to ideas and perspectives, which enhances our understanding of the problems we want to solve.

Another lesson is the importance of setting clear expectations and being consistent with them to avoid confusion. Our core values are trust, responsibility, and freedom. We ask everyone to trust each other by default, which is crucial for fostering strong community relationships. This trust, in turn, encourages mutual respect. When issues arise, we are responsible for addressing them and speaking up, which strengthens the trust and respect among us. Only with these foundations can true freedom be achieved. This freedom might manifest as deciding your daily activities independently from your manager, choosing to tackle tasks differently in the morning, or have flexibility in your work schedule. Such freedom is only possible when trust and responsibility are firmly established.

Generally, I've learned that setting clearer expectations in a respectful manner is crucial. Instead of dictating as a manager, it's better to reach an agreement on what needs to be done and how it should be executed.

Cees de Quaasteniet, Managing Director

What business practices or values have you implemented from the Netherlands in the Hungarian office?

I think the most significant insight I brought to the Hungarian office was the use of an alignment canvas. In my observation, teams were missing the opportunity to sit together and deliberate on what is important for the year, both globally and locally, and how our team could contribute to those goals. It’s beneficial to step out of the office, perhaps in an offsite setting, to think more about the future rather than just focusing on routine tasks.

This approach also ties into the maturity of the office. Starting such practices too early in a company’s development might not be practical when the organization is small and the tasks are clear and straightforward. However, as a company grows, aligning the company’s objectives with team activities becomes essential. This might include aligning with company values, which, although already a part of our company culture, includes respecting each other and feeling empowered to share good ideas or concerns.

Another aspect I emphasized was the training of talent leads, which is quite extensive in the Netherlands. Before you can effectively manage others, you need to understand yourself better. When I arrived here, I pushed for the development of a strong talent lead group. Talent leads not only manage but also coach their teams. While I contributed many ideas for this development, the actual work of building this group was done by others. I believe these practices, which I brought from the Netherlands, are crucial for our local office’s growth and effectiveness.

How do you balance maintaining your Dutch identity while embracing Hungarian culture in your professional life?

I think it’s not a very clear intentional thing that I do, but obviously, we’ve brought some things from the Netherlands here, such as peanut butter and hagelslag, or chocolate sprinkles as they’re called. We still bring those from the Netherlands. That’s a good question, actually: What is the Dutch identity? I think I’m still quite myself, and with that, I’m still quite Dutch. I speak up when I see something, and I try to be open and direct with people about how I see things. This helps me learn and understand the reasoning behind certain actions and why some things may not be possible here.

Currently, I’m not considering returning to the Netherlands. I really enjoy it here. It’s a beautiful country with friendly people. I appreciate the local food and the way time is spent with family, gardening, or going out. Budapest is a beautiful city. The things I miss the most are family and friends, and perhaps cycling to the beach. Sometimes, I miss visiting festivals with friends. Obviously, they are not around, which is perhaps the biggest missing part.

In the Netherlands, services such as those provided by the municipality or companies are quite efficient. If you have a complaint or request, it’s usually handled quickly. I might have even been impatient in the Netherlands, but since coming to Hungary, I’ve learned that things can be slower here. For example, arranging home energy requires standing in line on the street early in the morning. Government-owned services could benefit from improvements in speed and a stronger focus on delivering excellent service.

However, this is where TOPdesk can make a difference. We can improve the lives of those working in these offices. A positive aspect, if there is one, is that you learn to be more patient and that not everything comes immediately. This could be a good lesson for some Dutch people as well.

What is your favorite part of living and working in Hungary?

The sun and the pleasant weather are things I think I would miss if I returned to the Netherlands. It’s delightful to work in our garden here, which is a real garden compared to the small patch we had back in the Netherlands. I’ve discovered that spending my free time building and tending to the garden is currently one of my favorite activities. Additionally, enjoying coffee or dinner with family is truly enjoyable.

What I appreciate about working in Hungary is the sense that there is still much to be created. On the business side, we are still finding our way. But also in creating a better workplace and office. Things are not yet fully established in terms of how they will or should be, so there is a lot of room to create and evolve for the better.

Another aspect is that after the COVID period, we adopted a hybrid way of working. We are still exploring how to keep our community and values while also accommodating work-from-home arrangements. This remains a challenge that I anticipate we will continue to address in the future.

Living and working in Budapest, with the ability to go down to the office and be in the city, is also a very nice part of it. There’s much to mention, but I think that covers the main points.