Mediahuis Netherlands’ Fred Wempe leads his team through post-COVID challenges

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Editor’s note: In an ongoing series, INMA is profiling our most engaged members — our super fans. At a time when we have less face-to-face time, we hope this gives members a chance to learn more about each other. Today we profile Fred Wempe, head of subscriptions for Mediahuis Netherlands in Amsterdam. 

Creating an organisation of giants begins with recruiting A-list players. That’s what Fred Wempe, head of subscriptions for Mediahuis Netherlands in Amsterdam, has learned over the years. 

“Recruit employees who are better than you,” he advised. “And it’s important to hire for DNA not for NDA — because the right attitude prevails above skills.” 

His A-team is now focused on challenges created by the bump in new subscribers during COVID-19, and they are learning to change the focus from acquisition to retention. As a result, Wempe’s team members are learning their core activities to better understand and thus better serve (and ultimately retain) those subscribers. 

INMA caught up with Wempe recently to learn what else is on his mind. 

Fred Wempe of Mediahuis Netherlands has focused on recruiting A-list team members to build his team.
Fred Wempe of Mediahuis Netherlands has focused on recruiting A-list team members to build his team.

INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning? 

Wempe: Learning is also work. The drive to continuously learn from the market in a changing media environment is more important than ticking off tasks and constantly being in the “do mode.” 

INMA: What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?

Wempe: Ask yourself: Is this just one day or is this day one? Try to look at yourself and organisation like it’s your first day. Keep on wondering and allow yourself to be vulnerable. That is the way to find out more, to empower colleagues, and to get to know the true strengths and weaknesses of the company. 

INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it? 

Wempe: The new owners of our publishing company wanted to know what kind of company they had bought. In a presentation, I let them know in all their vulnerability what was wrong with it. In terms of culture (a lot of fear), objectives (far removed from our core), systems (outdated), and processes (uncharted). It felt very embarrassing, but it turned out to be a bullseye and formed the right starting point for an improvement plan. What I learned: Always face the brutal facts. 

INMA: What success within your company are you most proud of right now?

Wempe: That we have been working on a culture where change is central. Learning what the end user needs through continuous iterations. An environment where the preconditions for success are met. Setting the right objectives, creating autonomy, and really paying attention to your people. 

INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career? 

Wempe: Sometimes you have to wait to make changes. For example, because the problem has not yet been sufficiently recognised, the priorities have not yet been properly set, or people simply need time to get used to a new situation. Then wait until you feel that the support is there. There is a nice Tao saying about this: “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

INMA: What do you do to relax? 

Wempe: Making a good distinction between work and leisure is synonymous with a good work/rest ratio. What you do in that free time is secondary. 

INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your back-up plan? 

Wempe: I would focus on organisations where I can empower people. To find out what their real intrinsic motives are and to work with them. That may mean not being in the right place or working in the right company. It can also mean that there are opportunities within the company. Whatever the outcome, a good insight into intrinsic values helps both the person and the company. I would fit in each organisation with that kind of environment.

About Paula Felps

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