It’s the people who make the company

Our former colleague Annemarieke Hendriks-Venema reflects on her remarkable 38-year career with AkzoNobel.

What brought you to AkzoNobel?

On the advice of a tennis partner who worked for the company, I sent an open application, denied the first offer, and ended up working for the Board of Management (back then the HQ was in Arnhem) 


What memories do you have of your first day at work?

Not many – although I was rather impressed to start as the Management Assistant to the Deputy Secretary to the Secretary to the Board of Management. The environment was quite impressive.


What message would you give yourself if you could go back to that first day?

Perhaps not the first day, but I would say it’s good that I took my second manager’s advice to start a study. I have always studied next to working.


How would you describe the company at that time?

Big (85,000 employees), diverse (seven divisions, ranging from pharmaceuticals, to fibers, to consumer products, to chemicals and, oh yes, also paint). Corporate advertising campaigns ran in 17 or 18 languages. 


How has the company changed over the years, since then?

No surprise to see the company is a lot smaller and more focused. I’ve seen it change from a fleet of very diverse ships, to a well-equipped ship with a clear course and a broader range of cultures to help navigate it.


You’ve had various roles, how much have you enjoyed that variety in your work?

People I met from other companies during the studies, trainings and courses I took never failed to ask why I stayed at AkzoNobel. The answer is in the variety – in roles, in teams and where I was based. And, of course, the constant changes and transitions ensured that the job was never the same, even in the same role.


Do any particular characters stand out from all the people you’ve worked with?

One of my first managers, who encouraged me to study communications. And certainly the team I worked with in Industrial Chemicals – great team, all great characters. 

Annemarieke AkzoNobel

Any anecdotes or funny stories that stick in the memory?

Certainly the first couple of years in Corporate Communications, back in Arnhem. The fun we had as a team, the jokes we played on people. The terrific farewell parties. The flamingos that featured in one of the first series of worldwide advertisements. A couple were auctioned off for a good cause (they were fake, not real ones), and one went with me to whatever office I worked in. That stopped when offices became flex offices, so I let him go.


What have been the best things about working for AkzoNobel?

The people. They make the company and also determine the fun, your learning curve, your successes. After all, you spend quite some time with them.


It might be a difficult question, but could you pick out any highlights?

There are so many highlights. What I especially liked was organizing major multi-day conferences. From finding a theme to organizing every little detail (the topics, the presenters, the dinners, music and entertainment). Events and conferences build up to a certain peak – if it’s not working, you need to improvise. And especially in the earlier days there was great freedom in terms of trying new things, being entrepreneurial. We experimented with webcasting when the studio still had to be built up on site. Another highlight was working with a comms team in the business. Close to where it happens.


What are your plans? How will you be spending your time post-AkzoNobel?

One thing I’ve already started is volunteering for Natuurmonumenten as a “Boswachter Publiek”, which means I’m a sort of spokesperson for this nature preserving organization on site. I’ll also take up a study on how people’s brains work technically. Time will be mine. 


How would you sum up your career with AkzoNobel?

Moving from the corporate environment to the business and back has given me the opportunity to get to know many aspects of the company. And that was very valuable in my last job, as communications manager for the Benelux, both for internal and external comms. And I did everything from a solid base: my family. That will continue to my foundation moving forward, for whatever the future brings. 

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