The View from Both Sides of the Desk

Erwin Schaillee of Lantmannen Unibake reflects on a relationship that has spanned both candidate and client sides over an 11-year period.



Erwin Schaillee, Belgian, longstanding international career at senior level at Masterfoods, CSM, FrieslandCampina and Lantmannen Unibake in both Retail and Out of Home.

In April 2008, I was approached as a candidate for a position at CSM, by Vincent Thunnissen, a Senior Consultant. This led to my first, and memorable, meeting with Peter de Jong, now Managing Partner Signium Amsterdam. 

I was a veteran of many meetings with Executive Search firms, but this was different. As a result, it was more difficult, but it deepened my understanding of both the position and my own profile. I realized that Peter was very straightforward, both in terms of discussions and feedback and he managed both sides the same way - challenging and defending both as required. In this way, he finds the best marriage - one designed to last.

It was one of the rare occasions where I felt really respected as a candidate, and this motivated me to really “go for it”. Open and straight forward communication; real understanding of the client company and the position at hand; and almost immediate follow-up are key strengths you rarely encounter in search processes from start to finish. Then there is also after care - they stay in touch after you start in the position to ensure everything is going well. 

Peter and Vincent have a great sense for the personality of a candidate and strong belief in its importance. They do not rely solely on the functional track record shown on paper. A great experience in an ever more demanding environment.

After I was hired at CSM, the Amsterdam team and I kept in contact during my first position as Managing Director Germany. It was during this time that my role soon changed into becoming a client, as we recruited several people in Germany. We met a few more times after I was promoted to an international role based in Amsterdam, further strengthening our relationship.

I subsequently moved to Lantmannen Unibake, where we had a few vacancies and I recommended Peter and Vincent to my boss to provide support for a number of senior key positions. This made complete sense to me. I wanted the company to do well, build a good structure and meet its targets - so it made sense to go with what I knew to be ‘best in class’ to provide support in this area. I also knew it reflected well on my sense of responsibility to the organization.

I was comfortable in recommending Signium based on my own experiences and objective belief they would deliver. To me, they were proven. Although there were a number of third parties interested in this business with us, I recommended Signium to the internal organisation and we started the selection process with good results.

We have now been through the process of hiring two Senior Managers, and although it is a bit early to say as they recently joined, the first indications are very positive. Again, I have enjoyed the process.

I am looking forward to staying in touch with Peter and Vincent. Apart from anything, it’s fun! But I also find it stimulating and educational to discuss and reflect with them on what is happening around us in a changing world.

As far as future opportunities are concerned, as the old saying goes “Don’t change a winning horse”.

Comments Peter de Jong of Signium Netherlands:

When I started as a Head Hunter, I was told that candidates might turn into clients and personal friends. To be honest, I had my doubts whether this would be true. However, Erwin is a living example of just this. I could see immediately on paper that he would be an excellent candidate in terms of Competencies (our ‘Intelligence’ dimension). During our first meeting he also opened up his Personality (our ‘Intuition’ dimension), so I told him straight after that meeting that he would have to meet our client. 

The rest, as they say, is history. I am looking forward to further strengthening our relationship in the future, as a respected client and person. 

If you would like to contact Peter de Jong of Signium Netherlands to discuss your executive search requirements, email or call + 31 6 11 300 964.