Podcast Digital Leadership: Erik-Jan Gelink (CarNext.com)

28 May 2021

Newpeople has interviewed a number of digital leaders in a series of podcasts, in search of the true meaning of this. In every podcast, the unique story of a digital leader is at the forefront.

Erik-Jan Gelink – CCO & CMO at CarNext.com


Sidenotes

  • Book “Uit het transformatiemoeras” by Menno Lanting
  • Book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

 

Podcast

From the REM Island in Amsterdam, Newpeople is on the hunt for digital leadership, my name is Hanneke Rinkes.

The digital world demands a different kind of leadership. We live in turbulent times and the coronavirus pandemic has only served to increase the pressure. Just waiting around is not an option. Why is digital leadership so different to leadership as we know it? Why give it a special name? Make no mistake, it is not because everything is going online now. If that were the case, every leader would be classified as a digital leader.

As a step in Newpeople’s journey to find digital leadership, I am talking to Erik-Jan Gelink. Erik-Jan Gelink was interim manager and advisor, has led various commercial teams and has been Chief Commercial and Marketing Officer at CarNext.com since January.

Hanneke: “Erik-Jan, great to have you here in our REM Island studio. We always start the podcast with a set of digital dilemmas. I will give you 10 dilemmas and you have to choose as quickly as possible.”

Erik: “Nice.”

Hanneke: “Let’s begin. Verstappen or Hamilton?”

Erik-Jan: “Verstappen of course”

Hanneke: “New car or second-hand car?”

Erik-Jan: “Second-hand car.”

Hanneke: “Transforming digitally or starting out digitally?”

Erik-Jan: “Transforming digitally.”

Hanneke: “Owning or using?”

Erik-Jan: “For now, owning.”

Hanneke: “Giving or receiving feedback?”

Erik-Jan: “I prefer to receive it.”

Hanneke: “A sabbatical or having too many days off left?”

Erik-Jan: “Taking a sabbatical.”

Hanneke: “Connector or facilitator?”

Erik-Jan: “I am a connector.”

Hanneke: “Interim or permanent?”

Erik-Jan: “Interim.”

Hanneke: “Swapfiets or CarNext?”

Erik-Jan: “CarNext.”

Hanneke: “Making yourself redundant or making yourself necessary?”

Erik-Jan: “Making myself redundant wherever possible.”

Hanneke: “Great. Of course I understand choosing Max Verstappen over Hamilton. Is the challenge facing you at CarNext right now a childhood dream come true?”

Erik-Jan: “The funny thing is that the work at CarNext, selling second-hand cars, in other words solving consumers’ mobility problem with a second-hand car, does coincide with my passion for cars. I am a huge car lover and occasionally visit car museums, last year I went to Mercedes and Porsche, and I am also an avid Formula 1 fan. At home I have a racing simulator and I try to improve my time on that. It’s not quite as quick as when Max does it. It’s nice when you go to work somewhere and you’re also passionate about the product being sold, but that is not why I work at CarNext.”

Hanneke: “That’s not the reason?”

Erik-Jan: “No.”

Hanneke: “Okay. So who do you think it will be this year? Verstappen or Hamilton?”

Erik-Jan: “I think that Verstappen is very close, but to be honest I don’t actually know that much about it. I love watching Formula 1, I enjoy the fight and in the end Hamilton always gets lucky. I hope that Max will make it this year, he has definitely earned it judging by all the effort that goes into being a Formula 1 racer, that’s not something that just gets handed to you.”

Hanneke: “No, you definitely have to work for that. The challenge at CarNext, like you said, the reason you joined is not your passion for cars, but what is the challenge at CarNext?”

Erik-Jan: “The challenge is that we’re an extremely fast-growing company. We’re currently located in 22 countries, 7 core countries that we’re really focussing on, so my work is mostly outside of the Netherlands. Ensuring this organisation grows quickly is the main challenge. Making sure that people buy a car completely online, so offering an e-commerce flow that seamlessly fits the clients’ needs. And, one where you can buy a car with no difficulty whatsoever, that gets delivered to your home, that you can try out, and that you can return within two weeks if you’re not happy with it. That seems really easy, but if you think about it for yourself, what has your biggest fully online expenditure been in e-commerce? Mine was a watch one time. It was quite nerve-wracking waiting to see if it was going to arrive because I had paid a lot of money for it. A car is an even bigger investment. For many people, it’s the second highest investment they do. I think it’s a big challenge to get people to trust your brand and that you truly deliver what you promised you would. Setting up the organisation for that, making the technology for that a reality, the vision behind it, making strategic choices, I think that’s why they asked me to join CarNext and also why I said yes to it because it’s exciting yet scary to be allowed to help such an amazing company in this important phase of rapid growth.”

Hanneke: “Yes I can totally understand the feeling. And why exactly did you take on the challenge?”

Erik-Jan: “I have been active in the sector for a number of years now, I started out in the online world in the 90s. I’ve seen a lot of different companies, I largely have an interim background and a consulting background, so I’ve been able to see many different fields and learn from them. I’ve mostly spoken to a lot of people that taught me a lot. That’s experience you take with you in a role like that. The digital side and how that will develop is very important I think. Besides that, I think personality has something to do with it. In a very hectic environment, where we’re doing a lot of things at the same time, it helps when you have someone with a bit more experience, that is able to keep the calm because there is a tendency, with all the hectic things going on, to start running en masse, and I enjoy making sure that we’re all running in the right direction. I can offer some structure and some vistas, and make sure everything stays calm. I also think I know pretty well which people can help me realise this, so the way a team is composed etc. It’s a job that many people could have done, and of course I needed some luck, to eventually get the chance to start an interim job like this.”

Hanneke: “Yes, great. And what kind of people do you need for that? Because you said you know what kind of people you need to make this challenge a reality, can you elaborate on that?”

Erik-Jan: “It’s a very broad range if you’re looking at the commercial side of a company, you need to make sure the proposition is well-developed, data analytics also come into play because we’re all about a data-driven execution of strategy so data analysis and data science are very important to us. The whole design of the website and the technical flow of it and everything that is needed to attract people to the website, to make them feel at home there and also customer care, what you’re seeing is that I’m talking about the whole customer journey. I need people that I can use in the whole customer journey, and besides that that they understand and enjoy working in an environment where everything is not fixed yet, where there is a lot of growth, and so is very hectic, and where every time, you want to be a bit better and a bit bigger. There is a lot of pressure on that because we are a private equity driven company, which comes with a certain dynamic that you either love or hate and if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t work there because then that bothers you. I think a mix is important. By now, I have become quite skillful at which people are good at that, who has potential to improve and for whom it’s just maybe not quite the right fit.”

Hanneke: “Before this you were in the plane business, you went from planes to cars, and you’ve said, “I’m an advocate of transformative leadership,” but you’ve also said “I’m an advocate of servant leadership.” How do the two work together?”

Erik-Jan: “They go together very well. I’m an advocate of leadership in general, and the situation dictates which style I use. I have developed a preference for a certain style, as my career developed, and that’s servant leadership so empowering teams, which means that in the end I make sure they’re capable of realising the goals meaning that I have some space to work on my own projects. Servant leadership. But sometimes the situation changes and a different style is needed. Sometimes I have to be a bit more directive because a stressful situation develops, or sometimes a team can’t be empowered because they’re not quite sure yet how that goes. I need to give these cases a bit more attention. In the leadership world, you usually have the chameleon, so I adapt to my environment and I apply what is necessary and transformation is a part of that and making sure the company moves on to the next phase. Transformation and digital transformation are great container terms but I also think they get misused often. Many of the examples of digital transformation I see are actually digitalisation. That sentiment is described very nicely in the book “Leading Digital”, recently Menno Lanting talked about his book “het Tranformatiemoeras” again. It means you go from a caterpillar to a faster caterpillar. That’s not transformation that’s digitalisation. If you actually evolve into a butterfly, into a new situation, into a new physical form, that’s when one can truly speak of transformation. That is something that I have a lot of experience in and that I guide companies in.”

Hanneke: “How do you go about that? Because big corporates are often the caterpillar, you yourself have also worked at a big corporate, at Unilever, that was a while ago but still, if that company wanted to transform into a butterfly, how would that go?”

Erik-Jan: “Starting with the basics, everything starts with the right strategy and making the right strategic choices in the end. What are we going to do as a company? How are we going to win in our market? There are a lot of very useful methods to define that, they can be fairly short processes. The most important part of that strategy trajectory is the way the strategy execution is composed. That should actually be 90% of the work and that is what I focus on the most as well. It starts with making choices: what are we going to do, how are we going to win? And then you look at what is the transformation we define here, and often you see that the ingredients are technology, and the processes that a company has, but if you’re just tackling those two, you’re talking about digitalisation. But, that transformation, that digital transformation, is when you also bring the human side into it and go towards a different way of working and towards a different structure. Within CarNext we call that the way we work and at Transavia we also developed a programme that really looks at an agile way of working, being more flexible as an organisation, having a different structure. An example of this is applying agile scrum. A different way of working requires transformation, that’s truly groundbreaking and different to what people have been doing up to now. It goes beyond simply updating your technology or your process.”

Hanneke: “That all sounds really nice and indeed, it’s the people that have to do it in the end, but how do you make sure that people that have always worked in a company with a legacy, move in the direction you want them to? And then with an agile mindset.”

Erik-Jan: “It starts with showing them why that is necessary. Too often, changes are immediately implemented in companies because a decision was made somewhere: “we are going to change and you’re coming with us”, and that doesn’t sell well. I start with the strategy and the choices you make within that and making a strategy story out of that, what is our winning story? And why are certain choices needed for that? One of those choices could be, working in a different way, becoming more flexible, allowing us to adapt more easily to changing surroundings. If you explain that to people they think “that sounds pretty” good, and then we can go to a new model of working, a multidisciplinary one, we will remove the silos in a company. That’s what I’m doing at CarNext in my team and that’s what i did at Transavia where we looked at silo departments, all very functional. It’s logical to break through that and to create multifunctional teams. That’s how your job becomes fun, sitting next to your colleague that you’re doing a certain trajectory with. You’re really selling the story to colleagues before they embark on the journey and the structure becomes operational. They understand why something is like that, how it is going to work and the role they play in that. And then, your question, is that something I do? Definitely, a large part of the people says “I don’t want to work like this. I want to have a manager that tells me on monday, this is what I need to do and then I will go and do that.” In the case of Transavia, we helped those people find a different role. They were not a part of the new way of working. That’s fine too because there is no right or wrong, there is only what fits well with the people in your workforce, your colleagues. As an employer, you also have the responsibility to help them find a different role in a company where they can work according to the classic formula.”

Hanneke: “You did that really well at Transavia because at some point you made yourself redundant. Why?”

Erik-Jan: “Yes, that was a great end result. You should know the context, Transavia is a low-cost airline, and a lot of attention was paid to the costs. Under tight leadership from the CFO, who did that very well, we looked at, in the 3.5 years that I was there, a record number of revenue records, but the costs didn’t go away, so every year we kept on making the cost index below 100, excluding the kerosine index because that was beyond our control. This meant our costs had to go down. We really look at how we can save costs. As a board member, there were four of us, I had built a really good leadership team of seven people who were all new, I had changed that in 3.5 years and we had struck a good balance of four ladies and three gentlemen. We had an extremely strong team. It had become so self-sufficient, based on the principles I mentioned earlier, that they were perfectly capable of doing my job with the seven of them. As managing board, you have to be able to say at some point, “okay, we can save costs, we can reduce a role and set the right example.” That meant the managing board went from four to three again. When I arrived, it went from three to four, so there was a temporary expansion, those seven people now had to report to the general director and partly to the operational director, and that is working well now. The end of my work at Transavia coincided very nicely with the (redundancy) of my role, but actually my role was contained in the seven people that took over. In the past year when I had time off, I spoke to almost all seven of them again, went on walks with them. I still have a good click with them and a good connection so it’s nice to hear how they are faring without me there. That’s when you reach the conclusion that helps to ground you from time to time, namely, that everyone is expendable, definitely including myself, and that the company can function just fine without my specific position in the managing board.”

Hanneke: “You just indicated that already in the digital dilemmas when asked to choose between making yourself redundant and making yourself necessary, would it be fair to say that you first made yourself necessary and after that, redundant, when you look at the whole process? Because the way you talk about it at Transavia and how you made it happen there, it sounds very easy, but I can imagine that it was quite a process.”

Erik-Jan: “I think necessary is not the right word here, I’m never really necessary, I think that I’m replaceable, just like anyone else in a company. But, my skills were simply needed at that moment.”

Hanneke: “Exactly, those were necessary.”

Erik-Jan: “Those were needed to take certain steps and in this case that was all about a transformation because Transavia’s very commercial side is structured differently and works in a fundamentally different way, that’s where we made a good combination of the ingredients that I mentioned earlier. It so happened that that coincided very nicely with being able to finish everything nicely. I don’t finish every role in this way because there are many companies that don’t deem it necessary to trim down their managing boards. I do actually think that it is a good example to look at it in this way, because a lot of managing boards are overpopulated, let’s put it that way. I think that you can really empower the tiers under the board and have less people at the proverbial top. It differs per case though.”

Hanneke: “What we see when looking at companies that need to transform digitally is roughly three phases. The first phase where you’re still building up the digital capabilities in a silo, the second phase where you start to integrate online and offline and thus move towards omnichannel, and the last phase which many companies long for, transforming into that data-driven, customer-centric organisation. What are the critical factors needed for success to achieve that? In your view, what’s the most important there?”

Erik-Jan: “You say data-driven, that’s the basis, that entails having a good overview of the data which is often fragmented within companies, so having a good data management platform that contains all your data is one thing. Data is not that much. There is a capability on that, that’s needed, to gain insights from that. A good team that can distill insights from data is very important. But even then you’re not there yet. Those insights are nice, but what’s the actual action you take that connects to that? I see a lot of companies with a lot of data, that’s amazing, best of luck with it. I see a lot of dashboarding, also great, it all gets visualised. People work on insights, that’s a lot better already. But in the end, formulating action plans based on that, that you can use to improve your business, and you can do that based on the test & learn principle, so making small improvements, testing if it works and making it bigger if it’s good and stopping if it’s not good. Setting up that capability is a requirement to get things done. The second is, being customer-centric really means embracing the philosophy of putting the client at the core of your company operations. That’s not happening everywhere yet. You often see that companies, particularly if they’re growing really quickly, either they’re just starting and trying to juggle everything and are very focussed on themselves, on their own processes, on their own platforms that they’re building, or the own teams that they’re putting together and with that also look to themselves a lot. This means you forget what to do outside of the company. So I encourage companies in that phase to look outwards more and to ensure they understand what is happening in the market, what the needs are, this is where the classic Unilever education comes in, but it’s one that’s still valid. Starting out with client insights and translating these to the way you make your propositions and the structure surrounding these, in order to serve the client. The guideline that I mentioned earlier as design principle, customer journey, is a really nice one I think, to make it very logical and clear for everyone, how to put the client first, because the client process is central. The client themselves, starting with good knowledge, data insights and action plans, in all those different stages of the customer journey. And that is empowered and driven by technology that helps you to deliver the propositions, because in a digital context, these are increasingly delivered online.”

Hanneke: “Nice. This all sounds great and I think that there are a lot of companies thinking “I would love this to happen, but it’s all still quite difficult.””

Erik-Jan: “It’s easy for me to explain because I have done it often, but that still doesn’t mean that I find it easy to make it happen. You should realise that. I understand how it should be done very well and I’ve done it but every situation is different. That’s an obvious one but it always holds and sometimes it just takes a bit longer before it happens, because in the end it’s people work. That’s why, I think it all starts with, at every company, aside from needing to know a lot about the customer and the customer being central, the right set-up regarding people. It’s all about people, and the war on talent that is currently raging outside, because we’re all looking for the same kind of people, that’s a very tough one. I was talking about this with a friend of mine, who is in a pinch in her data analytics team, because she really needs data analysts but everyone is fishing from the same pond of data analysts and data scientists, I am in need of them myself.”

Hanneke: “I know all about that.”

Erik-Jan: “Currently there is a struggle to find the right people and that’s where it all starts. We can make strategies, we can make structures, we can define processes, but without the right people we are nothing.”

Hanneke: “And can you say something about the mindset of the right people, without using terms like agile?”

Erik-Jan: “I would not use that term anyway. The mindset of the right people is that there are no pre-made instructions for how things should be done. I think being curious is a really important one, being open to learning things. Understanding that everything isn’t always perfectly organised when you come and work somewhere. Being creative, having ideas about how to improve things, understanding that if you make things better yourself, that it has an effect on the bigger picture. Being able to zoom out and look at the bigger picture and understanding that you’re in the right place to do the right thing and having the context clear for yourself. Being collegial, looking to connect with other departments. It takes quite a lot, and besides, because these are all character traits, that you really know what you’re talking about. In a world where you’re working with agile scrum for example, where you’re working with stand-ups, where you’re working to plan events, where you’re working with sprints, and where you have it all very clear in your head, sometimes even graphically on signs, what needs to happen, there is no place to hide. But you can’t hide anymore, everything that you do is insightful because it is presented in such a transparent manner and in the stand-ups they just look at what you’re doing. You simply have to deliver, so having the mentality to deliver and to contribute, I think that’s very important.”

Hanneke: “Yes, great. What has shaped your leadership style? If you look back at the start of your career and where you are now, how have you developed in that regard?”

Erik-Jan: “Falling down and getting up again. At the start of my career, my leadership style was very different, I think that also has to do with being certain of your ability at some point, in the beginning you view everything a bit more functionally and you’re really proud when you can call yourself manager for the first time. In the past, there was quite a big difference between business Erik-Jan and private Erik-Jan. Business Erik-Jan was infallible, he didn’t want feedback or criticism or anything like that. Well no help especially, maybe some feedback yes, maar I would never ask help because I could do it all. I was being hired as a professional, as an interimmer, so I had the solution. Some years ago, with the help of a good coach, of whom I have become a big fan, I discovered that it is a lot more convenient to just unite the two. So, I have since learnt that there is just one Erik-Jan, he’s the same everywhere but that’s a very convenient thing. Servant leadership suits me best, empowering people, helping them develop. I have a genuine interest in people, in the broadest sense actually, also in the people around me in the private sphere and in helping them get further. But I have to say that I have a very strong focus on results, I am not building a scouting club, people have to deliver. If we don’t deliver I tackle the problem in an even stronger manner. Not that it becomes unpleasant, but I do keep a closer eye on things. Because, in the end, as an organisation we’re trying to reach a result so that is a comment that has to be made. That is how my style of leadership has evolved and now it has become more situational like I mentioned before and the situation decides which aspects of my style I will use more.”

Hanneke: “And who has been your biggest source of inspiration, if you have that, besides the coach you mentioned earlier?”

Erik-Jan: “I have seen a lot of examples around me, from colleagues, how it should be done, how it shouldn’t be done. I don’t like to mention specific names but some people will know when they hear this. Some people have been a tremendous help, they have helped me to reflect and for that I am grateful. Others I am grateful for because they have shown me how not to do something and what is very poor leadership in an organisation and the destructive effect it can have on the people in an organisation. From them I learned lessons and took these to heart, and I have made my own mix of that. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong when it comes to leadership, but what suits you? The first thing is, does what you’re doing come naturally? The second thing is, does what you’re doing fit with the environment that you have been placed in? In the business I am in now that is backed by private equity and where results have to be achieved, it helps to be result-oriented, but in the end it’s always a group of people that have to work together. So, the connecting side, and the side that is meant to empower people, it helps to achieve results. So, I’m steering without really steering, I’m very focussed on achieving results but I do it in a way that goes through people, that goes with people, rather than being extremely directive, which sometimes comes at the expense of people. That is not my style.”

Hanneke: “You just chose for connector and not for facilitator, so the human side, the connecting side…”

Erik-Jan: “Even though it’s not really a dilemma, because I can facilitate in a connecting manner, maybe I facilitate the connection if you look at my work. Those are the dilemmas that you respond to and it’s closer to me but it’s actually facilitative leadership.”

Hanneke: “So actually the two go hand in hand?”

Erik-Jan: “Yes. Situational Leadership, facilitative leadership, what’s in a name? It’s just looking at what the situation needs.”

Hanneke: “The situation at Transavia, meant that you made yourself redundant. At the time you really transformed into a data-driven, customer-centric organisation. Is that what you plan on doing at CarNext, making yourself redundant?”

Erik-Jan: “Well I’m not sure, what I try and do is look at how I can break through the silos.”

Hanneke: “Are there silos already?”

Erik-Jan: “Yes, of course. It’s a company that has emerged from a much bigger company that has a lot of silos. Optimisation is always possible and it always helps to get a pair of fresh eyes that have experience in other branches. That’s something I firmly believe in, fresh blood coming in that has a fresh perspective. That’s a logical thing by the way, something that has been happening for a long time, making sure you get rid of silos. My first project in which I started to work in a multidisciplinary perspective and applied that to the organisation was in 2000 or something, so it really has been happening for a long time. It has a different name now, it’s old wine with a new label, there are new terms for it but it’s still the same in essence. Look at the processes in a company or look at a customer journey and make sure that people organise themselves based on the guiding principle, so based on a way of organising like a journey or a process, and that they nicely follow on from one another. This means you also understand in the chain that people come before and after you, which is something you should look at once in a while if you’re delivering something within a company. So zooming out, and looking at the bigger picture, that is what I would like my teams to do. So yes, I’m going into a similar trajectory again but there’s so much other work to do so sometimes it’s a matter of choosing where to begin because it’s more hectic than I’m used to.”

Hanneke: “Even more hectic than what you’re used to?”

Erik-Jan: “Yes, but that is also what attracts me.”

Hanneke: “Yes exactly, when asked interim or permanent, you very clearly chose interim.”

Erik-Jan: “You made me choose.”

Hanneke: “Yes I did, but why the choice for interim?”

Erik-Jan: “Because in the end it doesn’t really matter to me. All my positions at companies have been interim because I’m never there for a long time. The longest was 5 years at Unilever and 3.5 years at Transavia, so in that sense I’m not someone doing a corporate career at one company. You could consider all my work as temporary assignments, these days I do like to do them for longer than a year, but it doesn’t matter that much to me, it’s all about added value at a certain point, and then the question becomes is there enough to do still to make it worth staying? That’s something both parties examine. I regard every assignment as having a degree of reciprocity. I always think, what can I bring here? Is there a good match between what I can do and what the situation needs? And what can I gain? Gaining for me is learning, I’m very eager to learn and curious too. So, preferably it’s a new sector, preferably something very complex or something that has not been organised very well yet and what I can learn is being effective in that setting. With a new type of people, with a new context. In this case at CarNext it’s the international world because I spend the largest chunk of my time working with other countries. Right now, from a distance of course, but France and Germany are my most important countries. Private equity driven is also a new dynamic for me. A totally new sector, that’s what I gain. I find that reciprocity very important. You do that for a while as long as the balance between gaining and giving is good.”

Hanneke: “That has been the common thread in your career it seems. Starting something, achieving results with others and then making yourself redundant.”

Erik-Jan: “Well making redundant or just deciding together, “you’ve contributed enough now Erik-Jan, thank you, you can move on now.” I always love those moments because it means I can go and focus on something new. That could be 3.5 or 5 years but also 1 year and it does not really matter to me. At some point you feel a natural moment where that happens. I think that’s a healthy attitude. I encourage people that have been somewhere for a longer period of time, to look beyond that, because there are still so many beautiful things to learn.”

Hanneke: “That natural point, you just indicated it already, the sabbatical is really important for you, you’ve taken a sabbatical a number of times already, what does that bring you?”

Erik-Jan: “It’s a conscious choice. For this, it also goes that it’s my choice. I definitely don’t think that everyone should take sabbaticals but it helps me to find the balance in a very busy career and my private life which I also find extremely important. I don’t believe in only starting to enjoy life when I retire, I can name too many examples, maybe that’s driven me partially actually, of people that have died prematurely, also in my family, and people that retired and passed away a year later. So, I’m very much about living in the here and now and I need to enjoy my pre-retirement period from time to time. My first sabbatical was in 2002, when I just crossed a whole year from my diary. I had just sold some stocks in a start-up so I could afford to do it. In that time you reflect. Not all the sabbaticals were a year long, some were 3 months or half a year. I’ve done that about 5 or 6 times now. What that brings me is that I can, as Steven Covey so nicely phrased it in his book 7 habits, keep the blade sharp. Being in a good physical state, because the work I do is tough and demanding so I would like to stay sharp in my fitness. And also, connection, I have colleagues, but I also have a girlfriend, children, my parents and friends around me that I find very important and in whom I want to invest a lot of time. I do that very consciously. A sabbatical, I’ve said it before in another interview, it’s not just about myself but also about my surroundings. I really like these periods and what it has brought me is that I’m very happy in my work and have a good balance between my work and private life. I have a very solid foundation with my daughters, I think that’s the most important thing that’s come out of this, I was able to spend a lot of time with them when they were young because I crossed whole summers out of my diary and said “after the summer, I’ll be available again, now for a couple of months I’m just going to focus on the girls.” Maybe that’s the most important of everything. Aside from that, I have managed to satisfy my curiosity by picking up very different things during that sabbatical than I would normally do. You do need some daring to do it though.”

Hanneke: “I was just going to say, not everyone is brave enough to do this.”

Erik-Jan: “No, that’s why I said, it’s not a lifestyle I would recommend to everyone, it comes with a certain conditionality I think. You need to have a buffer even when it fails and it takes you a really long time to find a new position. You need to have a certain bravado because you think “people will need me somewhere, I’ll find something.” You have to be patient. Especially when you start to enter the level of the kinds of roles that I do, you know that like no other, they don’t just fall into your lap.”

Hanneke: “They don’t just fall into your lap.”

Erik-Jan: “So what you do, and I noticed that last year as well, at some point I send a signal to my network and I say, “ladies and gentlemen, I am nearing the end of my sabbatical, I’m back in the market.” Then nothing happens for a really long time, then suddenly something comes along and before you know it you’re sitting at CarNext.”

Hanneke: “Do you have to explain it often?”

Erik-Jan: “No. Often I see a look of recognition, “I would like that too.” Then I say, “what’s stopping you?” It’s not something that works for everyone and that is also why I’m not advocating that everyone should do it, I don’t think that at all. There are a lot of ways in which you can strike a balance between your work and your private life. I also talk to people who say, “my weekends are enough, sometimes a couple of days off and my evenings too”, others say “I’m working part-time, that’s my solution”, “I’ll take an extra long summer break”, it doesn’t matter to me, there is no right or wrong, it’s a matter of what suits you. I really like this and the past year was certainly not my last sabbatical.”

Hanneke: “Will there be more?”

Erik-Jan: “Oh absolutely. For the time being I don’t really need a holiday or that kind of thing, I’ve had enough of it. Then I’ll focus completely on my work. But, I definitely wouldn’t rule out the possibility of taking another break from everything in a couple of years if a natural point for it arises again. Then you need even more bravado because the pickings are even slimmer.”

Hanneke: “Erik-Jan, I think you’ve given us and our listeners a lot of great insights, is there any last advice you would like listeners to know?”

Erik-Jan: “If I have any last advice? That’s a difficult one, I’ve already given so much advice. By the way, I’m not pretending like I know everything. My girlfriend has a coaching business next to her job where curiosity is very important, ‘stay curious’, curiosity in general, I just indicated it when I described employees, I think staying curious is extremely important. It’s refreshing, both in your private life and in your work life, because it helps in a business context. But definitely stay curious outside of your job too because there are so many beautiful things to learn in life and being curious helps with that.”

Hanneke: “Fantastic, we’ll end with that. Thank you for coming.”

Erik-Jan: “You’re welcome.”

Hanneke: “And see you soon.”

Thank you for listening to an episode of the podcast series ‘looking for digital leadership.’ Next month we’ll have a different guest here in the studio. Do you want to know more? Go to www.newpeople.nl.

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