Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Stijn Schepers and inspires him on a daily basis? How has Babs van Ballegooie's life, career, ambitions and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Javier Leonor 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 Yogesh Sokhal, Managing Director Communications, Media & Technology at Accenture the Netherlands.
‘I was born in a small town in Punjab, the farming state in the north of India, where my parents were proud farmers. Besides being loving parents, they strongly believed in education and wanted to ensure I went to a good school. However, where I grew up, reputable schools were scarce, so I was sent to a boarding school in a city in the Himalayas famous for its good schools. This meant I lived away from home nearly eight months per year, and only got to spend the rest of the time at home with my parents, which, for a young boy, obviously can be hard. It was simultaneously one of the biggest sacrifices and best decisions they ever made. To this day, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity they gave me with good education and ability to stand on my own feet at an early age.’
‘After completing my Engineering degree from the University of Bangalore in 1996, I left India. My mother had just passed away and I was eager to leave the emotional struggle behind. Moreover, I had a strong desire to work abroad and experience other people, cultures and different working environments. At the same time, the Indian economy was opening up and an abundance of opportunities started popping up for young, educated Indian people. I was hired by an Indian company that was renowned for its e-learning business and IT services to execute critical projects and expand business in different countries, allowing me to work in Luxembourg, London, Singapore, the US and Japan before settling in the Netherlands.’
Is Luxembourg Even a Country?
‘Before arriving in Luxembourg, I had no idea if it was a country or a city! Back then, the Internet wasn’t anywhere near the omnipresent source of information it is today, so I didn’t really have a clue of what to expect. Although I enjoyed my time there, I realized I wanted to seize all opportunities and live in as many different places as possible. I proactively reached out within in the company and made sure people knew I was up for any interesting international challenge. This habit has ultimately resulted in the nomadic lifestyle that I have been living for the past twenty years. Having lived in and embraced so many different cultural environments has definitely defined me as a person.’
The Hardest Training One Can Get
‘That country is like a different planet’
‘Of all different countries I have lived in, I must admit my time in Japan was the biggest revelation. That country is like a different planet, really. Japanese employees make for a next-level work ethic with their high dedication towards client satisfaction. Looking back, it was the best lesson for anyone who wants to build a professional career: Japan really puts you through your paces in that respect.’
‘It certainly was the toughest and most taxing time in my career so far, but above all, I really learned to fully understand and respect the needs of your client. Japanese clients are extremely demanding, and organizations and employees truly bend over backwards to deliver whatever is required. Working as hard as I did and grasping the importance of the client’s wishes in our industry made me what I am today. At the end of the day, no matter what country or culture you find yourself in; the client’s relationship with the organization and the value they expect are all common denominators.’
The Longest We’ve Ever Been Anywhere
‘I met my wife, Seema, in 1999 while we were both working in London. Just like me, she had also worked in Japan, so we had that in common from the get-go. Luckily, she shared similar interests and ambitions, including living in different parts of the world. We have been living in Holland for over ten years now - the longest we have ever lived anywhere together.’
‘Our first Dutch hometown was Roosendaal, which was a strategic decision due to the international train connection to Brussels and Amsterdam - where both Seema and I traveled a lot to due to work. These days we live in Hoofddorp, again chosen on purpose due to its proximity to Schiphol Airport.’
Cheese Sandwich for Lunch: Who Came Up With That?
‘I often tell my Dutch friends they don’t appreciate their country enough: Holland offers such a great balance between life, work, friends and opportunities. We live a truly fulfilling life in this country. Although, the fact that you guys make grown-ups have cold cheese sandwiches with a glass of milk for lunch is just ridiculous! Over time I have made peace with it and, if there’s no other option, I’ll also have a broodje kaas and a glas melk, but if the slightest chance of having a warm meal presents itself, I’ll jump on it.’
The Greener Grass
‘I joined Accenture in 2011, after working for Capgemini. Through my network, I knew a few people who worked for Accenture, and they convinced me that this company was “where the grass is greener”. They were right. I have never before in my life worked in such a highly energetic environment where so many young, talented and driven people from all over the world collaborate and inspire each other. I often find myself in a room with people of different nationalities working together to address the needs of a client or resolve a particular issue. It’s fascinating to see what happens when so many gifted, motivated people with different life experiences come together and work towards the same goal.’
‘Moreover, it’s the fact that Accenture doesn’t only care about clients and work, but is also very society-driven. “How can we contribute to society?” is a question that holds just as much weight as, “How can we add value for clients?” Having a positive impact on society is also very important to me - it’s one of the reasons why, six years ago, I started a primary school in my hometown in India to make sure kids from the street get an education, too. When we started in 2011, we had around 40 children attending; today there are 250. This has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.’
Never Done Growing
‘I’m very passionate about mentoring and coaching, too. This year I am thrilled to be a coach representing Accenture in the Boardroom Coaching program initiated by Diversity & Inclusion Company. Having been an “outsider” in many different countries and cultures myself, I understand the struggle people can go through while adjusting to another country. At the same time, I know how incredibly important it is to have a diverse set of personalities, ideas and values within a company: it simply brings refreshing perspectives to the table.’
‘If I ever win the lottery, I will become a full-time mentor to people and help them people grow and achieve their goals. No one should ever say they “are done growing” - there is no such thing. You should strive to evolve as a person. I personally endeavor to keep learning constantly; and, as a mentor, that’s what I hope to pass on.’
Strongest Sense of Perseverance
‘To me, Canadian film producer James Cameron is the epitome of an inspirational figure. Having made billions of dollars with blockbusters like Titanic and Avatar, and having won his fair share of Oscars, he could have easily retired and lived on a tropical island, drinking cocktails all day. Instead, what did he do? He found himself a bunch of top American scientists, built a submarine and went on to realize his dream of reaching the deepest point of the ocean. To me, that’s amazing.’
‘Did you know that when Cameron told people about his plan to make the Avatar movie, they laughed in his face? “The technology you want to use doesn’t exist,” they told him. Cameron spent the next six years creating the technology that was needed. How’s that for a mindset? It took him almost twelve years to make that movie. That perseverance to reach your goal is truly inspiring.’
Yogesh Sokhal (1973)
Studied: Engineering, Bangalore University (1996), Sales Management, Wharton Business School (2009)
Started working at Accenture: March 2011
Relationship status: Married to Seema
Loves: The sight and smell of the sea; spending time with my 15-year-old nephew (my brother’s son) who lives in India - I take him on a holiday for a week every year
Gets annoyed by: People with egos that are too big or when people talk about themselves too much. Plus, at home I am a bit of a ‘neat freak’, so I get slightly annoyed when things are left around at home; things need to be neatly in place
Favorite food: As a foodie, I don’t like to discriminate when it comes to food, but sushi definitely has a soft spot in my heart!
On my nightstand: I prefer my nightstand to be neat and clean, so there’s just a bottle of water, my charger and the latest copy of Time magazine. It’s a stark contrast with Seema’s nightstand, which has an extended bookshelf containing 50 books - she reads at least one book a week
Listens to: Oldies like Louis Armstrong, Neil Young, Nat King Cole and Pink FLoyd. I am also a big fan of Andrea Bocelli; we’re hoping to get tickets for a concert in his home village in Tuscany in July next year
Last purchase: A new office backpack
Would like to sit next to in the plane: Elon Musk or Koning Willem-Alexander. I would ask His Royal Highness how he slips into the cockpit without anyone ever noticing!
Life-changing event: The overall experience of living in different countries has been life-changing. My mother’s passing brought me to a personal crossroads, forcing me to define what I wanted to do in life
The best lesson life has taught me: How extremely important education is; my horizon would have been so much more limited if it wasn’t for the education I received
What I learned last week: Setting the wrong client expectations can derail whatever good work you’re doing, so always remember to make sure you set realistic expectations with the client
Most beautiful place on earth: Whenever the family is together - regardless whether it is in the mountains, at the beach or even at home - the most beautiful place is what and where you make it to be
Hobbies/passions: Really complex jigsaw puzzles (we currently have a 5000-piece puzzle on our dining table that has been there for months), cooking and my school in India
What nobody knows about me: I try my best to conceal my OCD traits from my colleagues
Life motto: Create as many experiences and memories as possible. It might be a cliche, but it’s true. After all, what use is a Rolex in a grave?