As a young girl, she always felt pressured to perform. Today, HR director Judith Blenken Blijdenstein knows it’s not about being the best, but it’s about being who you are. ‘A down-to-earth Dutch girl from the countryside as HR director of a large American corporate? Who would’ve guessed?’

Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Max Smidt and inspires him on a daily basis? How have Stefan Rouwen's life, career, ambitions, and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Joelle Mpinganzima made in her life? Through a series of portraits, we answer these questions and introduce you to our people: those who make Accenture the thriving company that it is.

‘I grew up amongst the green pastures of the Dutch countryside of Twente. It was a great childhood: I loved growing up around cows, but still close to the city. I was able to cycle anywhere, from school to my hockey club and (much) later in life, the bar. My brother and I were raised with the notion of making the most of our lives firmly planted in our minds. This meant that I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel; I always felt I needed to do my best. 

‘I must say that my brother had an easier time in high school than I did. Studying was almost second nature to him, but I had to really work hard to pass tests and achieve high grades. It is not necessarily because our parents pushed us very hard or were disappointed if we receive average marks, but they certainly applied the bottom-up approach. They definitely nudged us in the right direction, and it taught me to always apply myself to the best of my ability and never slack. I think this is why Accenture and I are a match made in heaven. Our personalities and work ethic go hand in hand.’

‘A down-to-earth Dutch girl from the countryside as HR director of such a large American corporate? Who would’ve guessed it? That said, I think it’s those two extremes that give me the edge. I am convinced that if I ended up working for a different organization, I wouldn’t be the HR professional I am today.’

It’s All about TLC

‘TLC - tender loving care - is the basis of my work, and what I wish to contribute to the organization. And I think that is crucial in a high-performance organization like Accenture where shareholder value and efficiency are just two of the main focal points, because maintaining the human aspect in any business is essential. The ‘C’ is particularly important because while it can refer to a salary and/or other benefits, it's also vital to care about the communication and connection needed to motivate employees. Remember, investing in employees will give you a loyal and productive workforce. I often compare it to a marriage: you want to be on the same page as your partner and know they have your back no matter what. Ultimately, it is about investing time, energy and effort to ensure the marriage/partnership is healthy and thriving.’

TLC - tender loving care - is the basis of my work, and what I wish to contribute to the organization

‘Balance is definitely the key word when it comes to how I keep my life, and more specifically my roles as wife, mother and HR director in check. Even before I had my two sons, I realized there were three prime sources of energy I was never going to sacrifice: food, sleep and sport. I will never skip a meal, always sleep 7-8 hours a day and work out twice a week: that’s just how I maintain my sanity.’

“Why do you still work here?”

‘When I speak to employees, I often ask them “why do you choose to still work here?”  Understandably, that question makes people uncomfortable because they think I am implying that it is their time to leave the company. That couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact, on the contrary, I want to find out what motivates them to come to work every day. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer; even it is “purely for the money”. If I were to ask myself the same question, I would say it’s the continuous challenge of maintaining that open relationship and the sense of fulfillment when I succeed in doing my job properly. The fact that I can add a personal, human touch to this corporate, high-performing machine keeps me motivated, on my toes and happy in my role.’

‘That cannot be said about my first year at Accenture, though. I applied at the company in 2005, after moving from Groningen to Amsterdam. I figured I had drunk enough beer and experienced enough of student life, and that I was ready for the next chapter in my life. My first job was as a junior consultant, and my first client was one of the company’s first outsourcing clients. It was a typical case of me biting off more than I could chew - I found the job extremely intense and didn’t enjoy it at all. I stuck it out for a year, and just as I was about to submit my resignation letter, I had a chat with one of the HR managers during Friday afternoon drinks. I told her I wasn’t happy in my role, and she suggested I should join her team. The rest, as they say, is history.’

Welcome to Our Irish Twin

‘I met my husband Michiel in 2009 when we both played for the Accenture hockey team. A year into us dating, he left Accenture - not only purely because of our relationship, but it certainly played a part. Our two sons were born in 2014 and 2015. They’re what people call “Irish twins” - a pair of siblings born less than twelve months apart. Although officially there’s twelve months and two weeks between them; our youngest, Duuk, was born two weeks late. Having kids so shortly after one another wasn’t necessarily the plan, but that’s just how it turned out.’

 I never compromise on showing up for my children

‘I’m a mother, through and through: my children are my top priority. Whether it is a playdate or a dentist appointment, I never compromise on showing up for my children. Michiel and I work our schedules around the children’s diaries. As unromantic as it is, every Sunday night, Michiel and I put our diaries next to each other and see how we can logistically make everything happen. The key to our success? A high level of efficiency, and the fact that we both always stick to our promises.’

A Hormonal Zombie

‘Our oldest son, Krijn, was born in April 2014. My maternity leave ended in September, but a week before I was due back at work, I found out I was pregnant again. In the same week that I found out I was pregnant again, my boss called me in and said there is a promotion of a lifetime on offer. And if my world wasn’t already turned upside down when I found out about my second pregnancy, this offer also threw a spanner in the works. I told my boss and Manon (van Beek) about my pregnancy straight away, yet they didn’t see it as a valid reason to turn down the promotion. Their unwavering trust and support pushed me through, because looking back, I was a hormonal zombie those months.’

‘When I came back after my second maternity leave, I think I was actually worse. I wanted to bounce back immediately, but it actually took at least six months for me to fully get into the swing of things. After that, things fell into place nicely and I felt unstoppable in my role as HR Director. I must take a moment to thank Manon because she was my rock and knew how to motivate me.’

‘I have struck a great balance in my roles as mother, wife, and director. However, there’s one challenge I have yet to conquer: when I have to travel abroad for work and say goodbye to my children. It really breaks my heart. However, I wish I could say that tucking my children into bed is non-negotiable because it is sacred to me, but my schedule sometimes simply doesn’t allow it.’    

No Need to Apologize

‘When I’m with my family, I have no trouble switching off anything work-related. I genuinely do not feel guilty when I don’t answer my phone, nor do I ever apologize when I have to leave work to be with my children. I know this is somewhat rare because mothers often feel a sense of guilt when they have to step out of the office for personal reasons, but I don’t. I feel as though I have no choice - if it was possible for me to make alternative arrangements to avoid leaving working, I would do that. But since it is out of my control, I don’t apologize for putting my children first. I don’t mind catching up with work at night when the children are in bed; on the contrary, I love it.’

‘I want to raise Krijn and Duuk without them thinking they are in any way better than anyone else, regardless of their privileged upbringing. I want them to have a good work ethic because I realized how beneficial it was my brother and me to have parents who pushed us to do a weekly “krantenwijk” on Friday afternoons. It’s an experience that made me who I am today. Also, I hope my boys will see their mother as a fierce, but loving mother who leads a meaningful life, personally and professionally. Status has nothing to do with that; it’s about personal development. But above all, I want to cultivate a nurturing environment, and as long as there is a loving and safe nest, mom is allowed to drop the ball every now and then - which I absolutely do.’  

 

Judith Blenken Blijdenstein (1980)

Studied: BA Human Resources Management and Services, Hanzehogeschool Groningen (2004); MSc Human Resources Strategy, University of Groningen (graduated first half, 2014)

Started working at Accenture: January 2005

Relationship status: Married to Michiel, mother to Krijn (4) and Duuk (3)

Loves: Snow - it has an extremely calming effect on me. As soon as the first snowflakes fall, I make a plan to make the most of it and go for a walk in the snow

Gets annoyed by: Impatience

Favorite food: Sauerkraut with pheasant

On my nightstand: Copies of Linda. and ManagementScope

Listens to: Generally, American blues, singer-songwriters, and I particularly love Mercedes Sosa (Argentinian folk singer), Huub van der Lubbe, Kiteman (connected to special memories)

Last purchase: Sleep trainers for the boys

Would like to sit next to on the plane: Maxima; I am royalty lover and simply envy her

Life-changing event: The birth of Krijn and Duuk

The best lesson life has taught me: Having a (safe) home is a privilege

What I learned last week: It was International Women’s Day recently, and I was once again convinced that employing more women is important because not only is it the right thing to do, but women, in general, contribute more to the development of a company

Most beautiful place on earth: Home (preferably with sea- or mountain view)

Hobbies/passions: Exercise in nature (running, skiing, cycling, sports)

What nobody knows about me: That I have no depth perception

Life motto: Be confident!