Trained as an electronics engineer, like his father, he has worked at Philips all his life. From 1981 to 1986 he was General Manager of Philips' Professional Audio Product Group. Kleisterlee joined Philips Components in 1986. After becoming General Manager of Philips Display Components for Europe. He was appointed Managing Director of Philips Display Components Worldwide in 1994. He became President of Philips Taiwan and Regional Manager for Philips Components in Asia-Pacific in 1996. From September 1997 through June 1998 he was also responsible for all the activities of the Philips Group in China. He served on the Hong Kong Chief Executive's Council of International Advisers from 1998 to 2005.
He was determined not only to transform Philips' image with consumers but also turn it into a high-growth, high-tech company, something that more than 10 years of restructuring, under two predecessors, failed to do. As CEO he:
Replaced all of the top executives at Philips' American consumer-electronics division
Outsourced the production of mobile phone handsets and VCRs
Forced divisions to share services to achieve cost savings
Spun off the volatile semiconductors business into a separate entity NXP Semiconductors, and then sold a controlling 80.1% stake to a consortium of private equity investors