Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Mashad Bani-Aman and inspires him on a daily basis? How has Laura van den Hurk's life, career, ambitions and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Berend de Jong made in his 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.
Introducing Savitri Groag, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager BeNeLux-France at Accenture the Netherlands.
‘My name is of Indian origin and literally means ‘daughter of the sun’. I was born in Arnhem, but spent most of my childhood in Lelystad; one of the least inspiring places in the Netherlands if you ask me. My parents divorced when I was younger and my mom was left on social welfare with three daughters. Lelystad was the place where she could immediately get a house. For me, the depressing surroundings sparked a desire to “break out” and aim for something better. It probably also explains my urge to prove myself and to try to live a meaningful life.’
‘When I was 17, I embarked on a trip around the world. I spent two months in Indonesia, of which one was in the jungle. I lived in a hut with a local tribe that didn’t speak any English. My meals consisted of sago - the inside of a palm tree - three times a day. The trip and overall experience was life-changing in many ways. I was all by myself, living in and from nature at all times. Moreover, it also triggered my fascination with other cultures, which informed my decision to study Anthropology.’
‘During my studies I lived in Florence and Cape Town for a while. After graduating, I worked for several non-profit organizations and governments. After having worked in this sector for over six years, I became terribly frustrated. With funding becoming increasingly scarce, many organizations were struggling - resulting in them terminating all programs. To me, that was unthinkable: if an organization truly believes in what it stands for, funding or the lack thereof, should never be a reason to call it quits. That, and the (slow) pace in which things in these organizations typically move - or actually, don’t move - was reason enough to explore a new path: I was going to make a drastic career change. Or at least an unusual one.’
How Many Ping-Pong Balls Fit into a Boeing 737?
‘My ultimate goal is to make a positive impact in the world. I try to do that by being a good person, live a conscious life and be curious to people around me. I came across a job listing for a Strategy Consultant at Accenture. A big commercial corporate multinational on the Zuidas - that felt like the antithesis of what I was looking for. But, that is also exactly why I applied. I wanted to test and challenge my own assumptions about the corporate world. The recruiter’s reply was interesting: “You’re not suitable for the role you applied for, but your CV intrigued us and we’d like to meet and see if there’s perhaps another, more suitable position for you at Accenture in our change management practice.” I was positively surprised - not often do you come across a recruiter that looks beyond the role he’s recruiting for.’
"I never expected to be able to make so much more of an impact here than I had in the non-profit sector."
‘I was still somewhat skeptical when I went for my first interview. Me, a consultant on the Zuidas, really? Yet after that first, very pleasant interview, three more equally pleasant interviews followed. All meetings were with women, which surprised me, as did the actual interviews. I was expecting questions like: ‘How many ping-pong balls fit into a Boeing 737?’ but instead I was asked about my experience, my dreams and my beliefs. Bit by bit, my perception about this big corporate changed. It felt like the right fit, and I was hired as a Change Management Consultant.’
‘Half a year later, the opportunity came along to apply for the position of Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for Accenture Netherlands, a role that had my name written all over it. My role puts me in the position where I can use the best of what Accenture has to offer for the purpose of making a positive impact in the world. I can tap into the support of a company with ample resources and access to 400.000 incredibly intelligent people and their smart solutions and services. I never expected to be able to make so much more of an impact here than I had in the non-profit sector.’
Refugee Talent Hub
‘One of the things I’m most proud of, is launching the Refugee Talent Hub last year. It was around the time when all those images of refugees trying to make their way to Europe dominated news headlines. These images struck me, but I also thought of all the potential talent amongst these people. If that could somehow be recognized, there is the chance of them rebuilding their lives. In January 2017, I initiated a trip to Lesbos, where a few of my colleagues and I volunteered in a refugee camp for a week. I wanted to hear people’s stories and get to know more about their lives to understand a little more of the journey some of the talents I met in the Netherlands had been through. To experience and see with my own eyes that the work I do is relevant, is the fuel that keeps me going.’
‘While partnerships between commercial and non-profit organizations are a good start, I realized that in order to truly make a difference in this refugee crisis, we needed a partnership that comprised more than just two parties. As soon as we started approaching other organizations, we received the commitment of twenty CEOs in no time. To date, seventy companies have joined the Refugee Talent Hub movement - and counting. The ripple effect is amazing; we have even made it onto Obama’s “Call to Action List”. It still gives me goosebumps when I think about what we pulled off in such a short period of time. And I feel proud to work for an organization that puts in the funds and effort to make this happen.’
The Rebel in Me
‘I am now with the company for almost six years. Who would have thought so after making such a drastic career change? Some people start looking for a job in a more purpose-driven organization after working in a corporate. It is quite unusual to do it the other way around. Also within Accenture, I followed my own career path. I started in business and after half a year, transferred to corporate. To many people, that seems like an unusual step. I was working on a project for one of Accenture’s largest clients when I decided to move to corporate. Colleagues asked me: ‘Are you crazy? Do you not want to make a promotion?’ Of course, but rather in a job that I am truly passionate about. Thankfully, I got promoted last year, and moved from manager in the Netherlands to manager for Benelux and France. Although in the corporate world I still feel like an anthropologist on Mars every now and then, this is truly the most fantastic job: I get the opportunity to excel in the work I do, maintain a healthy life/work balance and at the same time contribute to making a difference in the world.’
Savitri Groag (1980)
Studied: MA Political Anthropology, University of Amsterdam (2004)
Started working at Accenture: August 2011
Relationship status: Living with Stephan and our sons Tobi (3) and Boas (1)
Loves: Festivals, nature, dancing, a good conversation, being outdoors, laughing, people
Gets annoyed by: Injustice and indifference
Favorite food: Heksenkrijtdropjes (a specific type of liquorice)
On my nightstand: Pen and paper in case inspiration hits me in the middle of the night
Listens to: Rock bands like Pearl Jam, The Cure and The Rolling Stones
Last purchase: A beer in the bar (last night)
Would like to sit next to in the plane: Aung San Suu Kyi - I am extremely curious to learn how she navigates the Burmese political system as a strong and at the same time vulnerable and authentic woman
Life-changing event(s): Traveling to new cultures when I was 17; cycling with my race bike and a single-person tent in Sweden on my own for four weeks; the birth of my two sons
The best lesson life has taught me: If you are persistent and determined, you’ll get there
What I learned last week: I was on a Learning Journey in the Philippines. It was fantastic to be with people that were likewise open to learn and be touched. I learned once again that we should invite ourselves to that state of mind more often
Most beautiful place on earth: Lake Maninjau, Sumatra - I would move there tomorrow to start my own eco-lodge
Hobbies/passions: Portrait photography, improv theatre, race biking, soccer (I initiated a ladies’ soccer team over 10 years ago)
What nobody knows about me: That I lived in the Indonesian jungle for a month when I was 17 years’ old
Life motto: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room” – Dalai Lama