Interview with Elske: students Public Administration University Groningen
What has been your career path so far?
Elske Doets studied law, however, she decided that she wanted to become an entrepreneur because she didn’t want to facilitate and solve other people’s problems. She has been an entrepreneur for
nearly 19 years, being the CEO of Doets Reizen, a travel organization. They are specialized in leisure travel to the USA, Canada, Iceland, and for a couple of weeks China. The company is a very dynamic
company since it is sensitive to sudden changes in the world. When she just became CEO, 9/11 happened, which gave her the right mindset to deal with dynamics in the world.
Two years ago, she became Businesswoman of the year 2017, and afterwards, she started doing a lot of other things besides her ‘regular’ job. Because of this title could she had to be a role model. Therefore, she started a nonprofit initiative, the Young Lady Business Academy. This academy is meant to help young girls take key positions in business or politics. Besides that, she gives lectures at schools, companies, etc., one day a week.
What does the title ‘Business woman of the year 2017’ mean to you?
The title is a big recognition within the business world in The Netherlands. To be able to receive the award you need to have a company of a certain size, you need to have at least 25 million Euros of
turnover, the company, and the profit has to grow, you need to have the vision to push females in your company, and lastly, you have to be socially responsible.
Therefore, it meant a lot to her. After she received the award, she was able to do other things, such as write a book.
Could you talk a little bit about the Young Lady Business Academy that you have found?
For Elske it is very important that doers and thinkers are put together. The idea of the academy is that it is very wide. This means wide in the level of education, background, and idea. This makes the academy very diverse. The academy is one weeklong were you go through a ‘car wash’. Twenty (female) role models will help/speak during this week, and the role models who attend are also very diverse. The good thing about the academy is, is that the girls need to go out of their comfort zone, and they have to learn a lot endearing.
“The doers influence the thinkers and the thinkers influence the doers”
Thinkers often think about a lot of hurdles on the road, and to become a successful entrepreneur you just need to start and then fight the hurdles along the way. It is very interactive week where you will learn how to network, negotiate, etc. Skills that you do not necessarily learn in school. All the girls need to pitch their ambitions toward the role models who come along and thus need to be convincing. Some girls say that the week is life changing.
You are someone who wants to celebrate diversity, why is this impartant to you?
Some industries, such as the travel industry, seem like they are a female business, however, if you look at the top there are not many females. If you accept different opinions and profiles, you will make your company more future proof. Since the future world is becoming more complicated. If you will do something the way you are used to, this is not the way to survive in the future world. And you can only do this as a company if you embrace different people. That is why Elske embraces rough diamonds. For example, the girls within the academy, do not necessarily tick off all the boxes of perfection, they are rough diamonds. And if you embrace that you can make a difference with diversity.
Elske often sees that companies just want a quick solution to the problems they have regarding diversity. When Elske was giving a lecture the head office of ABN AMRO about diversity. The ABN AMRO saw diversity as something on the side for them. However, you cannot solve the issue with diversity by fast giving the recipe to a Cup a Soup, you have to out which problem you are solving and what people do we need to do that job.
During your career, have you experienced any challenges regarding the fact that you are a woman? If so how did you overcome these challenges?
Elske says that she had some challenges, however, that she does not feel it in the same way as to how other people feel it. She never wants a victim. Neelie Kroes taught her that you always have to be proud to be a woman and you can even benefit from that.
“Use your female power to make a difference”
Elske does mostly business with men and it is very liberating to do so. What Elske likes about working with men is that men have the drive to move forward and are not sensitive. Sometimes she had problems regarding the fact that some men tried to put her down, however, you can also use it as a negotiating point and trust your capabilities.
Are there any patterns you have noticed over the years about women on the work floor, and thing they could have done better to advance their career?
She says it is very important to never downplay yourself, even though you have males that downplay you. Stay calm and if you can speak up, speak up. When she is with both males and females, she sees that females are shyer to speak up. Show that you are there and who you are.
“If you are able to take your moment, take your moment.”
What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?
Regarding leadership, her main goal is to have happy employees, because if you have happy employees, you have happy clients. Her ego is thus not important. That is a problem you see often with male leaders, that their ego is more important. Then, it will be difficult to inspire people. Even though she did not want to become a facilitator, as mentioned before, her leadership style is very facilitating. She gives them the tools and some boarders and then they can do their job. She especially needs to trust her employees since, currently, she can only run the company two days a week.
Regarding entrepreneurship, she finds it very important to have the pace. For example, if there is a recession, many entrepreneurs go into sleep modus because they believe they need to be careful. She believes you need to do it in reverse and invest in bad times. Because then when times turn you can harvest again. You always must look forward, and always have to keep investing in the future. As an entrepreneur, you thus need to take risks.
Regarding mentorship, in the beginning, she had no idea she could be a mentor or a role model. Currently, she has three ambassador roles. She, e.g., helps companies in The Netherlands grow. While talking to these companies, she often recognizes leadership as the growth challenge. Often within one hour of posing questions to them, the problem can often we fixed quite easy. Additionally, the Young Lady Business Academy is also a way for Elske to mentor those girls. Often, two of those girls attend the lectures Elske gives to universities or companies as well and talk a little bit about their experience. This way they can meet prominent people at a young age, which they otherwise would not be able to meet.
What is your view on the importance of a work-life balance and how do you achieve this?
Elske has three priorities in life; her business, her family, and her body. If you want to be successful you need to make choices and you have to prioritize. She introduced a word, which a lot of Dutch women do not like, ‘balance bitch’. Since she noticed that a lot of Dutch women want to have it all. However, if you do everything you cannot thrive in one thing. For some people family and job can be difficult to combine, even if you prioritize. Elske tries to live as hassle-free as possible. This means, for example, groceries you can do them online or you can hire someone to help you with household chores. This way the time she gains she can spend time with her kids. Additionally, she does not see her friends every week but maybe every six weeks. This is a different mindset to what is most important. She always tries to do things she really likes, so you should always question whether you still like what you do.
Her husband also has his own company and he gives her total freedom to do what she likes. He is not limiting her in her career, and that is where it starts. If he would have been limiting it would not work because then she would not be happy. Additionally, kids, you have together. This means that if they are awake at night, it is not the job of the mother to go out of bed, but for both of them. She gave the advice, that if you have a boyfriend and you want to make a career for yourself ask him if he can deal with the fact that you can make more money than he does.
Who is an inspiring person for you?
Madeleine Albright, former minister of states in the US, and she did a lot of negotiations in Israel. She finds her very interesting and very powerful. She finds it very inspiring that Madeleine, as a Jewish woman, went to Israel to negotiate peace. She was gentle and tough at the same time and very persistent.
What is the best advice you have gotten and is there any advice you have for us as future women in business?
She says you just need to say in it and continue, whether that is a success or bad luck. Just start every day neutral again. As for advice to us, she mentioned that we are obviously talented and ambitious. Therefore, do not start working part-time when you finish university because then you already put yourself in a lower position. Additionally, do not feel pushed down by other people when they doubt yourself. You need to believe in yourself and your own goal. If you do so you will be very successful. And do it all with a smile.
Do you think there is an ideal leadership characteristic?
Within leadership there is no difference between a female or a male, however, every person has male and female power in them. Thus, sometimes you need to use more of the female power, whereas other times you need to use more of the male power. A lot of males could make more room for their female powers since those are also important. She gives as an example, Mark Rutte, who in her opinion is very good at using his female power.
Is there something you are currently doing in your company to stay relevant as a company?
You must invest in technology, however, that does not make you successful. Her company’s job is to make sure the clients have a unique experience. A challenge in the world, however, is that the world is becoming smaller and the group of middle-class people is constantly growing. These people will travel, and thus every beautiful spot in the world gets pressured. Her company tries to access these beautiful spots and thus her clients have the proper experience. These unique experiences combined with technology will make her company future proof.
How important is networking for you an how do you do it?
Networking is very important. You should spend fifty percent of your time meeting new people. Because if you meet new people you have new opportunities. When she was younger, Elske believed she was too busy to do so. However, later on, she discovered how important it was. If you start talking to people new, also have an intention while talking to them. That way you will catch their attention and then they will remember you. Making the first impression is very important. And shake hands properly.