‘During my secondary education, topics like sustainability or climate change weren’t exactly making headlines the way they are today. For me, they became a priority right after my eye-opening travels post-high school. That gap year changed my life: next to up-close-and-personal experiences with manta rays and whale sharks that simply made me fall in love with the amazing underwater world, I was also amazed by the enormous environmental damage I encountered. Yet, I struggled to get what I had seen across to family and friends; apparently, there’s only so much words can do. And so, it sparked my interest in photography; I figured pictures might actually do as they claim - tell a thousand words. I started capturing the underwater world in photographs - hoping to catch its beauty, as well as the enormous threats it faces.’
‘The world’s oceans are truly in a state of emergency, and there’s little time left to waste: that’s the message I want to convey. Direct threats like overfishing, ocean-acidification and the tons of plastic floating in the oceans - they are all directly related to the way in which humans are destroying our natural world. So how can we change the way we live in order to have a positive impact? After completing my bachelor studies, I decided to take another year to explore the underwater world a little more. This time I went to Latin America to dive a little deeper, so to speak. I worked for a Mexican aquaculture startup that focused on sustainable fishing in the ocean; followed by an internship in Costa Rica at the Dutch Embassy, where I researched the background of illegal finning of sharks. My four final months were spent in the Galapágos Islands investigating protected marine reserves and the impact of overfishing and mass tourism.’
More Sense of Direction
‘That trip proved to be yet another fantastic and fascinating experience, but moreover, it gave my passion more “direction” - I got a better insight into how NGOs operate, which challenges we really face and, if anything, how I could personally spend my time and energy to contribute to the solution. But above all, my true calling in life became crystal clear to me.’
‘I came back from my travels in 2008 and decided to pursue a Master’s degree at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, where I found a part-time job at the university’s research institute. I had the privilege of working closely with professor Jan Rotmans, one of the leading experts and gurus in the field of sustainability. During that time, I met my future wife, Anjeni - she is originally from Trinidad & Tobago and was doing her MBA in Rotterdam.’
World Ocean Day
‘One of the highlights during my studies was an event I organized in 2009: World Ocean Day. I teamed up with a few partners, including NGOs like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to try to get as much attention as I possibly could for the situation in the world’s oceans. The event got a significant amount of press coverage, and ultimately managed to spark a debate in the Dutch government. Moreover, it was a great opportunity for me to meet my “ocean heroes” in real life, since I had invited the likes of Fabien Cousteau, Captain Paul Watson and David Doubilet as keynote speakers.’
I felt I could have a bigger impact consulting with large, multinational companies that reach billions of consumers
‘Asking me why I didn’t apply for a job at an NGO is a fair question, but I realized that if I truly wanted to have an impact on things that are near and dear to me, I felt I could have a bigger impact consulting with large, multinational companies that reach billions of consumers. And when it came to strategy consulting firms, Accenture stood out because at the time they were one of the few that had a dedicated global practice specializing in Sustainability Strategy, specifically aimed at issues like renewable energy and the circular economy - which made me realize this was the right fit for me. In 2011, I was hired as a business analyst in Amsterdam.’
A journey across Canada
‘I could’ve never predicted life’s subsequent twists and turns. A year into my job at Accenture, Anjeni got a job offer in Toronto, which she was keen to accept. Personally, having only worked at Accenture for a year, getting an international transfer seemed unlikely - but I asked for it anyway. If it wasn’t for the support and encouragement of Manon (van Beek), I don’t think I would have ever been able to get my transfer to the Sustainability Practice of Accenture Canada in Toronto. Only a year later, I ended up working on a project with the Accenture Energy Consumer Services group in Vancouver, who then asked me to join their team. This time it was Anjeni who had to adapt to my career move: we packed our bags and moved to Vancouver.’
An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
‘We absolutely loved living in Vancouver: the city is beautiful, the sea was just a five minute-bicycle ride away and the lifestyle is super appealing. We never imagined leaving Vancouver. That is, until I was contacted by the United Nations Global Compact in New York, who ended up offering me a job. It was 2015, and negotiations for the Paris Climate Agreement were in full swing and the Sustainable Development Goals were in the making; I simply couldn’t refuse an offer to be a part of those initiatives. I asked Accenture if I could take an LOA (Leave Of Absence) to seize this opportunity of a lifetime. Shortly after that, we relocated to New York.’
I realized I wasn’t going to have a lasting impact if I continued with the UN
‘Working at the United Nations at such a pivotal time in history was nothing short of amazing. In my second week, the annual General Assembly took place, meaning I found myself in the same room as Mark Rutte, François Hollande, and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name a few. It felt like being at the epicenter of the sustainable development movement where real change is a possibility. All in all, it was a fantastic year, even though I must admit I was slightly disappointed about the level of bureaucracy and politics I encountered. Ultimately, I realized I wasn’t going to have a lasting impact if I continued with the UN. I decided my next step was going to be working in and for large energy companies, and helping them make the transition to sustainable energy. I re-joined Accenture’s Utility practice, this time based out of West Palm Beach, Florida.’
A Book in the Making
‘Meanwhile, there was another thing on the to-do list; in fact, it’s been on there since 2010. It was not long after organizing the World Ocean Day that I found myself in search of a new personal project. I leaned strongly towards doing something with my passion for underwater photography, but a concrete plan or mission failed to present itself. It was when I went to a summit in Miami in April 2010 that was attended by entrepreneurs, NGOs and activists, when the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico struck. I realized I wanted to compile a book with photographs of beautiful, endangered species affected by this tragedy, in order to raise awareness with the inspiration that something has to change drastically and through sustainable energy, real changes can be made. The idea was to compile ten different chapters each showcasing an endangered marine species in the Caribbean.’
‘While the first pictures for that book-to-be were already shot in 2011 when I photographed manatees in Florida and, in 2012, when I traveled to the Cayman Islands to capture the stingrays, things only started coming to fruition in 2014. Not in the least because getting funding proved to be very challenging, nearly impossible, really. However, one day I decided to be bold and contact Manon to see if she wanted to consider my idea as a gift as part of Accenture’s annual Winterconcert, an annual c-level client event. Much to my surprise, she was enthusiastic right away and offered me the chance - and funds - to finish what I had started.’
I had succeeded in my mission to make the message I wanted to convey more tangible
‘When my book was finally published in 2015, I was filled with a profound sense of pride and fulfillment. I had succeeded in my mission to make the message I wanted to convey more tangible. Moreover, copies of my book are now on coffee tables in houses of CEOs who are possibly - hopefully! - provoked or challenged by what they see and read. I feel that through my book I have managed to give those beautiful, threatened creatures that can’t speak for themselves, a voice. Even though it’s only heard by a relatively small group of people, these are potentially the people who can have a big positive impact. My next goal is to reach a much bigger and younger audience by setting up ‘The Blue Planet Foundation’, a new organization focused on Ocean education. Together with my friend Michael Patrick O’Neill, we want to make our (e-)books and presentations available to 1 million school children around the world.’
‘In September of last year, Anjeni and I moved back to Amsterdam. There was a great job opportunity for me to play an important role in helping to grow the Dutch Sustainability Strategy practice and supporting the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition, led by Jan-Peter Balkenende. Coming back to the Netherlands, after five years in North America, and both of us working at the Zuidas again, it feels like we have come full circle. While we occasionally miss the Florida sunshine, we are really enjoying our new lives in the Jordaan. And, instead of taking an airplane at 6 a.m. to get to the client in Los Angeles on Monday morning, I very much enjoy riding my bicycle to the office nowadays.’
Vincent Kneefel (1984)
Studied: MSc Business Administration, Rotterdam School of Management (2011)
Started working at Accenture: September 2011 (left from 2014-2015 to work for the United Nations in New York)
Relationship status: Married to Anjeni Ramtahal (Senior Manager Digital Analytics)
Loves: The ocean
Gets annoyed by: Whenever it is windy and I am unable to go kiteboarding
Favorite food: Authentic Italian food, Gado Gado
On my nightstand: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
Listens to: Thievery Corporation, Bob Marley, Eros Ramazzotti, Kenny Burrell, Steve Getz and Euge Groove
Last purchase: Plants for our balcony garden
Would like to sit next to on the plane: Anthony Bourdain
Life-changing event: Coming eye-to-eye with a 20-meter long bull sperm whale
The best lesson life has taught me: Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.
What I learned last week: My Indonesian grandfather recently passed away; he was a brilliant mathematician and radar engineer. Sometimes we keep waiting for that amazing thing to happen in the future that will unlock our happiness. He taught me it is right here and now.
Most beautiful place on earth: It’s impossible to pick just one! My top five: 1. Mo’orea, French Polynesia. 2. Vancouver, Canada. 3. Palm Beach, Florida. 4. Val D’Orcia, Tuscany, 5. Azores, Portugal.
Hobbies/passions: Wildlife photography, kiteboarding, traveling the world, food, H.C. Bloemendaal.
What nobody knows about me: I hold an FAA private pilot license and once aspired to become a commercial pilot.
Life motto: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Ruurd Feitsma and inspires him on a daily basis? How have Judith Blenken Blijdenstein's life, career, ambitions, and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Max Smidt 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.