Verwaayen is the fifth of six children born to a family who owned a chemicals business in Driebergen. At school, he organised the first student parliament, and after graduating from Utrecht University with a degree in law and international relations in 1975, wanted to be a journalist or politician.
On graduation, he decided to immediately undertake his National Service with the Royal Netherlands Army, where he founded the Algemene Vereniging Nederlandse Militairen (General Association of Dutch soldiers), a union that existed until 1996.
On leaving the army, to enable him to continue his work with the trade union, he joined a subsidiary of ITT Corporation because it gave him time to sit on a Dutch state committee to reform the army. His first promotion came after he headed to the European Union Parliament in Brussels to protest about the company's alleged role in the overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in Chile - ITT responded by making him its Netherlands public relations chief.
In 1988, Verwaayen became a director of PTT Telecom, the state-owned Dutch telecoms group that was a forerunner of today's KPN; and then appointed a board member of Lucent Technologies in 1997, moving to the United States. A committed Anglophile, he was CEO of BT. During his time there, he was also a board member for Dutch television production company Endemol, and chaired the Confederation of British Industry committee on climate change. There was controversy over his management style at BT with accusations that BT Global Services had to write down substantial losses and that Verwaayen was to blame.
After standing down from BT on 1 June 2008 when Ian Livingston took over, there was speculation that he would pursue a career in Dutch politics. On September 2, 2008, the Alcatel-Lucent board of directors appointed Verwaayen as the company’s chief executive officer, succeeding Patricia Russo. In March 2009, he forwent a €520,000 cash bonus after a pay freeze had been imposed on staff and a loss-making 2008. He has been less restrained in more recent years; his salary increased by 30% between 2010 and 2012, even as losses continued at the company.
On February 22, 2013, the Alcatel-Lucent board of directors appointed Michel Combes as the company’s CEO, succeeding Verwaayen, effective April 1. He joined Akamai Technologies as a director in November 2013.
During his military service, Verwaayen founded the Algemene Vereniging Nederlandse Militairen (General Association of Dutch soldiers), a union that existed until 1996.
Verwaayen has been a longtime member of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. He sat in its executive for ten years, and also contributed to its election programme for the 2006 Dutch elections. At various times, he was linked with a Cabinet position. The current Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has named him as one of his closest advisors.
Verwaayen has received various honorary awards and has been made Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau (Netherlands), Honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire KBE (United Kingdom) and Chevalier de la Légion d 'Honneur (France).
Married to Helena, the couple have two children. They currently reside in Paris, but had a family home in Haslemere, Surrey where Verwaayen hosted a party in summer 2008, attended by 1,300 guests including former Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin, UK government ministers Stephen Twigg and John Denham. Verwaayen, a tennis player himself, put on a celebrity tennis match between John Lloyd and Ilie Năstase, and is also a fan of Arsenal F.C..