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an unusual perspective






min read

A conversation with Sven Sauvé and Salem Samhoud

Being a CEO today is fundamentally different than in past times; change is happening faster than ever and the developments in society such as polarisation, diversity, equity & inclusion, the surfacing of criminal activity in mainstream life, increasingly keeps the CEO awake at night. In an open conversation between Sven Sauvé (CEO RTL Netherlands) and Salem Samhoud, we dived into Sven’s learnings about leading a successful organisation in a rapidly changing media landscape. Sven shared how he experienced dealing with unprecedented situations, such as the The Voice scandaland the worry about the safety of his employees. 

“Especially as a media company, you have to be a mirror of society to touch upon all different opinions and perspectives.”

Lesson 1 – Build multidisciplinary teams and embrace diversity 

When crisis strikes, accurate response requires the input of people from different backgrounds. While working with like-minded people may be comfortable, it is the collision of contrasting perspectives that sparks innovation. To make sound decisions, teams need professionals, people who dare to speak their minds and are direct, people who are not afraid to speak up and disagree with each other. People with different DNA. To absorb these new perspectives, you must be willing to listen with an open mind. 

Lesson 2 – Find the balance between rational decisions and emotion  

We find ourselves in a time where you have to worry about the safety of your own employees. When this safety is in some way disrupted, you need to prioritise. In case of the The Voice scandal, the first obligation you have, is to take care of the victims and their safety. These decisions are the most important, and they should be taken as rationally as possible, based on careful fact finding. Manage the crucial aspects first, but, do not expect yourself to be a machine, embrace your emotions and find ways to express them.  

Lesson 3 – Communicate openly, frequently and authentically 

In the realm of media, you are constantly in the spotlight, always in the midst of some event. When crisis happens, silence won’t cut it, you cannot just close the door. Communicate openly and authentically and with the perspective of the people involved constantly top of mind. Start with the inner circle, the people most actively involved, then widen the circle step by step to ensure full transparency. 

“You always need to create a setting where you can deal with emotions, not only your own, but everybody’s.”

Lesson 4 –  Create an environment where people feel the freedom to speak up…  

‘Speak up’ is easily said, but especially when there is a difference in hierarchy, or a problem is less visible, it can be difficult for people to express themselves freely. Therefore, you need to create a radar for signals, and take all signals you get seriously. You hold the responsibility of ensuring that every individual’s voice is heard, regardless of their position. Pay attention to nuances, hesitations and the unspoken cues that reveal deeper issues bubbling beneath the surface. People need to be able to rely on you. That is why creating a safe working environment where feedback is freely offered and invited, is so very important. 

Lesson 5 – Take the time to reflect 

In the constant whirlwind of decision-making and being busy all the time, it is crucial to take dedicated moments for reflection. By deliberately setting aside these moments, you create space to think about the bigger strategic topics, the direction of the company and checking in with each other amidst the chaotic pace of daily business.  

Lesson 6 – Learn as a company and make an even bigger societal impact  

Many of the challenges companies are facing are intertwined with broader societal issues, such as mental health, ethics, respectful cooperation, it is one big wave after the other. As you navigate these challenges, your organisation has an opportunity to learn, but also to share knowledge with other companies and make societal impact on a larger scale.  


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