30 years in HR, part 3: Dangerous work!

Hollandse Signaalapparaten

On March 1, 1983, I started at Hollandse Signaalapparaten at their head office, in Hengelo. Henglo is in the east of The Netherlands, near the German border. Signaal, as it was generally called, was the biggest part of the Defence & Control System Division of Philips Electronics. In those days Signaal was a big company, more than 6,000 employees in the Netherlands. The company was mainly involved in naval defence systems. Their most famous product was the Goalkeeper, a last-minute defence system against missiles.

We will send in the troops!

Philips had not really embraced Signaal. The fit between light bulbs, vacuum cleaners, televisions, medical equipment and defence systems was not ideal. And management of Signaal behaved as if they were independent! Philips had decided to send in some troops from Eindhoven. The troops were led by the new HR Director (Director Personnel & Organization). He brought a senior Personnel Manager, who was going to head the recruitment team. And me, the trainee who was available.

East of the river IJssel is a no-go area

At Signaal I had a fantastic six years. I started as recruiter, recruiting engineers from the Dutch technical universities. Signaal was growing and the need for high level engineers (mechanical, electro-technical, software) was high. In those days, if you researched the wishes of young engineers, there were always two big minuses on the list: I do not want to work for the defence industry, and I do not want to work east of the river IJssel (East of the river IJssel was considered a no-go area for students of Delft an Eindhoven university, and unfortunately Hengelo was far east of the river IJssel…).

So, fortunately for an ambitious young starter in his first step in the promised fast career, the starting point was challenging. Big demand, low supply. Our only advantage was the content of the work. At Signaal you could work at cutting edge technologies. The recruitment team was completely fresh. We worked very hard to reach our goals, and as there was nothing else to do in Hengelo than working, we worked from Monday morning to Friday evening, let’s say 12/24.

“The murderers are recruiting here today!”

Important were the milk-rounds at the universities, where you could meet many potential candidates in a short time. Sometimes we were not very welcome. I remember that one day we arrived in Eindhoven, and there were banners with texts like “Watch Out: the MURDERERS are recruiting here today!!!”. My courageous boss , incognito, went in to test if it was safe for us, and we were able to do our work unharmed.

Signaal was a fascinating world. Most of the people on the work floor spoke the local dialect, and it was hard to get around without speaking this dialect. You were always considered to be the wise-guy from The West. There were many long-standing practices that not exactly fitted in the Dutch Philips policies (example: there was a fund, originally established to help poor employees, where you could get a new pair of glasses every other year; this had eroded, and all employees with glasses could now claim a new pair from the fund! I am sure my pair on the photo above was paid by this fund).

Signaal was excellent training ground

During my six years at Signaal I learned a lot. After the start in recruitment I hold various other positions, and when I left I was responsible for the recruitment and training team. There was no better learning school for recruitment than Signaal in those days. The teamwork in the HR team was great, and when I meet colleagues of those days we still have many good memories.

The Philipsification of Signaal was never a success. Shortly after the Philips team left, in 1990,  Signaal was sold to Thales, a French company where defence and control systems fitted a lot better in the portfolio. I followed my boss to Eindhoven in 1988. The Consumer Electronics Division got a new president (Jan Timmer), and he wanted to renew his corporate HR team.

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