Getting to know Frans Vreeswijk

IEC Deputy General Secretary talks to e-tech

By Claire Marchand

Frans Vreeswijk became IEC Deputy General Secretary on 1 March 2012. He will assume his full role as General Secretary and CEO at the 2012 Oslo General Meeting in October. Prior to joining IEC Central Office, he worked for 30 years for Philips. He was President of the IEC Dutch NC (National Committee) and served on the IEC CB (Council Board) and SMB (Standardization Management Board).

Frans Vreeswijk Frans Vreeswijk

Question: What is your background?

Answer: I studied electrical engineering at Delft University, in the Netherlands and obtained an MSc. in 1982. Right after university, I joined the Philips research laboratories in Eindhoven. I worked for more than 12 years in research, first as a scientist, later on as Department Head. During those years, my work involved the development of systems for transmitting high-definition television signals. In that capacity, I was also a Dutch representative to ITU (International Telecommunication Union) from 1988 to 1994, my first introduction to standardization and to Geneva, Switzerland. I was also active in the DVB consortium and helped to develop the PALplus widescreen television standard.

When I left research in 1995, I went to the business side of the company and moved to Vienna, Austria, as development manager in the field of consumer electronics, more specifically in charge of VCRs. This was new and very interesting for me because as I was heading a large development organization working closely with the factory, I had the opportunity to learn much about the production, logistics and management processes.

The next step for me was a transfer to the company’s USA operations in 1997. I worked on digital television, first in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then in Briarcliff, New York. When I moved back to the Netherlands in 1999, I became responsible for the development of flat screen televisions, more specifically plasma screens, and later  we developed the first  LCD TV (Liquid Crystal Display). At the time, the plasma screens were about the price of a small car! They were really expensive but after the third generation, we managed to reduce the price to make it a more affordable high-end product.

Then I went back to research for a couple of years, in a management function, and then to IP&S (Intellectual Property and Standards), a corporate unit of Philips, where I was in charge of worldwide standardization for the company. As such, I was also involved in the Dutch IEC NC, of which I later became President. In those years I represented Philips in the Blu-ray Disc Association. From 2008 until the beginning of this year, I was responsible for intellectual property and standards for the Healthcare Sector.

On the personal level, I am married to Wils and we have one daughter, Charlotte, who is 28, and three sons, Frans, 26, Sebastiaan, 24 and Lucas 18. I speak fluent English, German and Dutch and have a reasonable knowledge of French. My hobbies include reading, running, cycling and ice speed skating.

What made you get involved in standardization and intellectual property?

After about 24 years in research and development, I knew it was time for a new challenge. There was a job opening in the Standards division within IP&S and since I had been actively involved in standardization, first in ITU and later on in several consortia, I felt it was the right move.

I joined IP&S in 2005 and was responsible for worldwide standardization. That of course included IEC International Standards. In that respect, I was dealing with the experts that were members of IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and SCs (Subcommittees). My job was to make sure that the Philips issues and positions were well represented in the various TCs, that the Philips businesses were aware of standards, and that the company had a good overall strategy and policy as far as standardization was concerned.

In 2008, IP&S governance was organized along the business axis. This meant that instead of having a division in charge of one type of activity, e.g. standardization or licensing, throughout the company, each Business unit was in charge of its own standardization, licensing and patents and so on. In that new structure, I became responsible for the Healthcare unit. This structural change was very challenging and it broadened my experience and expertise.

When and why did you become involved in IEC SMB and CB?

Considering my position at Philips, this was an obvious and logical move. When I became responsible for the company’s standardization activities, I took over more than the business function. My predecessor was the Dutch representative in the IEC SMB and was active in the Dutch NC. Naturally, I inherited these roles and responsibilities as well.

I spent about 4 years in SMB, half a term because my predecessor retired mid-term and then a full second term. The same thing happened when I joined the IEC CB mid-term.

How did you perceive the IEC when you joined the management committees?

I have to say that I was somewhat taken aback by the structure, the details and depth of the proceedings during my first SMB meetings. It took me a bit of time to work my way into the functioning of the SMB even though I had been briefed beforehand. As a result I wasn’t sure how effective I was. But I learnt and came to appreciate what was done by the SMB. Being involved in the process, realizing what it was about, I saw that my opinion counted. I could engage in discussions, have some influence and make things happen. That definitely changed my perspective of the IEC.

Why apply for the position of General Secretary and CEO?

Having been involved in the IEC for a number of years, I could see the importance of the organization in the world. When the position was announced, my first reaction was that it was too soon for me. Then people around me started to ask whether I would apply. So I reconsidered and finally thought "why not, why shouldn’t I?" Such an opportunity doesn’t come along when you feel you are ready for it, so you have to seize it when it happens. Of course I discussed it extensively at home, with my family, and we all decided to give it a try. This is how the process started.

What do you think you can bring to the IEC?

I come from industry and recognize that industry can benefit from everything we do in the IEC, a very good organization that brings real value to the marketplace. The orientation and close link to industry is so evident, so clear, much more so than with other organizations. That was what drove me in the first place.

I felt that my years in industry are a major advantage for the job because we are here to serve the needs of industry. Industry is the backbone, the platform on which we work. We have to ensure that the value and the linkage remain and even get stronger, specifically in areas where we are not yet well recognized. There is always room for improvement. As such I think my background will make a difference, facilitate dialogue and be an asset for future high-level discussions with industry.

I am very much looking forward to working not only with the IEC management and staff, but also with the IEC community at large. I want to make sure I have a broad set of contacts and can mobilize as many people as possible to help face the challenges of the future.

I do enjoy working with people. I am passionate about my work and want to ensure that everyone has a common goal to which end all devote their efforts and their drive. I am deeply convinced that together we can all make a difference.

Frans Vreeswijk Frans Vreeswijk
In the late 1990s, Vreeswijk was responsible for the development of plasma screens (Photo: Philips) In the late 1990s, Vreeswijk was responsible for the development of plasma screens (Photo: Philips)
In 2008, Vreeswijk became responsible for the Intellectual Property and Standards for the Healthcare Unit In 2008, Vreeswijk became responsible for the Intellectual Property and Standards for the Healthcare Unit