Dirk Jan de Vos
Studied: BSc Financial and Business Economics
Place of Work: Cisco Systems
Position: Operations Manager/Chief of Staff - EMEA HR Ops
What attracted you to study Economics?
I went to a small international school in the south of France and Economics was not a subject that you could choose to study at high school level, so it can be hard to think about what you want to study when you are in high school. I thought about what I wanted to have my career in, fully aware of the fact that university is a life experience but it’s also a means to an end. Micro-economics, which uses models as ways of explain things, gelled much more with me than macro-economics, which is more to do with politics. The beauty of Economics is that you learn how to think in an abstract way, to take problems out of context, control variables and see how the model changes based on inputs. I don’t use Economics in a pure way at work, but the skill of analytical reasoning that you develop at university is what you will be using in the real world.
Was it hard to make the transition to working whilst you completed an internship?
As I was leaving high school I had this realisation that I wanted to be an investment banker, specifically Mergers & Acquisitions. However, I first completed a summer work placement at a yachting brokerage firm on the French Riviera in a Sales Assistant role. That role enabled me to get my hands dirty on all sorts of things, going to exhibitions in Monaco but essentially working from 9 – 5. In the summer of my second year I did an internship in Mergers & Acquisitions at UBS, which was a great programme, excellent exposure and working on a number of different projects. I think that my experience of working for the yachting firm somewhat clouded my experience at UBS, though: the hours were really long and the programme very intense as a result. For me, however, the transition wasn’t that bad. I had a fantastic time at university, particularly my final year, but I was ready at that point to go into the real world.
What has been your career path since graduating?
After graduating I decided to go back to the yachting firm, working in a slightly larger role within Sales and then in the Marketing department, which involved managing the publications from content to manufacturing as well as attending exhibitions. I then had the opportunity to get into the automotive industry, which is something that I had thought I really wanted to do. Going into it, I had my doubts, and that taught me to follow my instincts because, as it happens, it didn’t work out at that company. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes but you do need to follow your instincts. So at that point, having tried a few things, I started to gain a greater understanding of Human Resources through a friend who was working at a more strategic level, partnering with the business to look at how the board could engage its human capital to achieve its business goals. The biggest asset that most companies have is the people working for them, and HR has a big role to play in how you manage those assets, what you can do to enable them to deliver, how you get the right roles in place. I started to look around to see what else was out there and came across this role at Cisco.
What is your role at Cisco?
Initially it was a one year placement within the HR department for the UK and Irish markets. It was a step back from what I had been doing before, but you just have to suck it up and start from the ground floor when you start something new. I’m naturally quite curious and gradually built up trust with my colleagues so that they were giving me more to do. Having understood the complexity of the organisation and with exposure to senior level managers, my manager got promoted to the role of HR Manager for EMEA and Russia, and I stuck with him to help him run the team. My role progressed into the official Chief of Staff position.. I’m involved in a variety of projects; recently I have been working on a large restructuring exercise, working on a global level looking at our funding model, how the department is going to be profitable. The beauty of Cisco is that you can go after a lot of things; you don’t have to wait for someone to bring you with them. There are great people and great opportunities.