Jacqueline van den Ende: Life of a female expat CEO
In our newest interview, we bring you the words of Jacqueline van den Ende, founder/managing director of Lamudi Philippines. In our talk, she shared her story from the very beginnings as a student-entrepreneur, to being an only female in a private equity company, to moving across half the world to become an entrepreneur again. We were curious to ask her about how it is to be a woman in her job, as well as what were the most important lessons she learned that she’d like to share with young entrepreneurs worldwide.
Can we start by you telling us something about yourself – how did you get where you are now and what were some major milestones that brought you there?
Jacqueline: Well, I grew up abroad in many different countries – in Australia, Syria, Peru, Norway, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands and now I live in the Philippines, so in that sense travelling and living in different countries is second nature to me. You could say I was an entrepreneur from the early days, since I started my first company when I was a student in the Netherlands, which is called De Kleine Consultant (The Young Consultant). It’s a non-profit, student-run strategy consultancy, basically something like “mini-McKinsey”. It has 250 students across 13 offices in three countries, who act as strategy consultants for small companies, non-profits, startups – anyone who needs strategy consultancy but can’t afford to pay for McKinsey, BCG, etc. The company still exists, it’s a big organization now, but as it’s non-profit and it didn’t bring any income, I eventually found a job in private equity. I worked for three years as an investor, but I really missed entrepreneurship, I missed that feeling of building something new; so when guys from Rocket Internet Group said “Why don’t you go to the Philippines to start an online real estate business for us?” I decided to go back to entrepreneurship life. Now, Philippines wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when it comes to entrepreneurship, but I thought “Well, why not to give it a chance and learn a bit about Asia and Asian market?” So I packed my bags and came to Philippines where I’ve been running Lamudi for the past three years.
Can you tell us what’s it like to be a woman in business from your point of view, especially as an expat in a country like Philippines?
Jacqueline: I think that a remarkable thing about the Philippines is that it’s the most emancipated country I’ve ever lived in; in fact, according to official rankings it’s very high up on list of the most emancipated countries globally. Honestly, it was something that I did not expect to see – I’ve never been in a country with such high participation of women, not only in the workforce, but in top management; there are a lot of female business owners, a lot of female CEOs and managers, and that’s really a big difference compared to the Netherlands. The first couple of weeks when I came here, I remember my team talking about their former boss who turned out to be a woman, and I was surprised to realize that my first association with the word boss or manager was that it was male. In Philippines there are no such automatic associations, a boss can equally well be a woman or a man. Here no one ever asked me “What it’s like to be a female entrepreneur?” because it’s almost irrelevant. What I could say is that in startups here there are very few women, but in general business and management layers the situation is much better.
That is great news indeed. However, back in Netherlands, did you ever feel that you’ve been discriminated by your gender? Was there any situation when you were looked upon in a different way because you are female, and how did you handle that situation?
Jacqueline: Yes [laugh], there were multiple situations but I remember one specific situation which turned out to be quite funny. In my previous company, HAL Investments, the associates are treated very equally, so from the day one you go to meetings with the CEOs. Once I joined the CEO of our company to a meeting with the CEOs of another company, and there was this one guy who probably thought that I was a secretary or an assistant of our CEO – because everyone else there were men – so he asked me to hang his coat [laugh]. Of course I have no problem with hanging other people’s coats or making coffee, but it was very interesting to see his face when subsequently I joined them at the table with the other investors and was asked to lead the meeting.
Many women dream of becoming somewhat successful in business, but a lot of them feel like they don’t have the courage or whatever it takes to succeed. What is it that makes you different? What is it that you have, that made you not just survive, but stand out and thrive at your job?
Jacqueline: I guess I am not that different from any other woman. In general I think women at times doubt themselves too much and are too self-critical. This is particularly true in comparison to men – who tend to communicate the opposite. Whereas most women understate their capacities (e.g. in job interviews) men often over-state. Pursuing your goals – whether they are applying for a certain job or starting your own company – has a lot to do with having the balls so to say, the courage to make that choice. I think we should stop comparing ourselves to others – confide in your own strengths – and be slightly more willing to take a risk. I always think about the worst case outcome. If the worst case outcome is not too bad I go for it. I learned a valuable lesson from my teacher at the age of 4 – “If you don’t have a go, you’ll never know”. This lesson has always inspired me to take a chance and pursue what I really want to do at the risk of failing.
One last question for you – what would be your advice to both men and women, who are young and on their way to entrepreneurship? A general advice on something that you’ve learned over the course of your carrier?
Jacqueline: For men and women on their way to entrepreneurship I think step 1 is to have a vision. Step 2 is to execute that vision. Step 1 is about having a vision on the problem that you want to solve. The bigger the problem is that you want to solve the more relevant your solution potentially is. What is the impact you want to have? What value do you want to create? Once you know what you want to do – the rest will follow.
Step 2 is about execution. Success is 10% idea and 90% execution. Execution for most businesses is a lot about sales. If you can not sell your product – there is something wrong with it and you have to change it. Through client interaction you learn the most about your product and how to fix it. Put yourself out there and be receptive to whatever (critical) feedback you get.
A last important thing that I’ve learned as a CEO of Lamudi is the importance of people. It is incredibly important to hire the right people, and I definitely made some big mistakes in my first year here for hiring people to basically just fill up the seats. As a consequence we had fraud cases, we had situations where people suddenly just wouldn’t show up for work anymore, people would disappear, we had all kinds of disasters because we didn’t properly go through really thorough screening. The point is that your company is only as good as the people who make up your team, so you should understand as soon as possible how incredibly important it is to learn how to hire A-players and to fire the bad apples.
We’d like to thank Jacqueline for sharing her interesting story with us and we hope her determination and courage will inspire many.