Désirée van Gorp, Nyenrode Business University

desiree-van-gorp-portretProfessor of International Business and Chairman of the International Advisory Board, Nyenrode Business Universiteit (University)

Désirée van Gorp holds the position of Professor of International Business and also is Chairman of the International Advisory Board at Nyenrode Business Universiteit. She is visiting professor at Renmin University in Beijing. Désirée teaches in the field of Global Sourcing, Offshoring, Outsourcing, New technologies & Innovation, Sustainable Globalization and International Business & Diplomacy and was elected several times as Professor of the Year by her students. Additionally, she is a member of among others the following (supervisory) boards: Atradius, the World Trade Organization Joint Program, the Missing Chapter Foundation and ECP.NL (the platform for e-Netherlands). In addition to her research and teaching, Désirée is advising governments and businesses on issues related to her fields of expertise.


Name something that guides both your professional and personal development and helps you regain focus during challenging times?

Challenging times can be tough but as a person I usually require very short periods or moments to recharge. Another thing that helps me is remembering small happy moments, for example, a smile from someone or a positive memory can help me recharge and face challenging moments.

Another thing that helps me in navigating challenges is my innate ability to multi-task. Since I can think in compartments, it enables me to plan and execute multiple things at the same time. Lastly I would like to mention that ‘passion’ is what I believe to be the most important factor. All the above factors I mentioned are only ‘hygiene factors’. However, with passion, I can face challenges and move mountains.

But how do you know what you’re passionate about or how do you have passion for things? Or you only do the things that you’re passionate about?

That would be great; if life would be about doing only the things that you are passionate about. But that’s not always the case, sometimes you have to do things that you like less, but in general I want to do things that boost my energy and do as less as possible things that drain it.

Striking the right balance between the two allows me to deal with things in a more stabilized manner.

Because life is not always about doing the things that you like only, at times less desirable tasks have to be fulfilled as well. In such activities, there may be things that might have less of your passion but as long as you have passion for the rest of the things and you do them well, it will give you enough energy to cope with the things that are really an energy drain.

Did you always know what you like and what gives you energy or it just happened with time?

The knowledge of identifying passions comes through experience; you discover throughout life what gives you energy and what drains it. It’s also an intuitive thing. I was once offered a job at Unilever, and being a vegetarian at the time, I thought that going to the sausage factory wasn’t going to give me energy. The moment I was driving there, my intuition was reaffirmed that this would not be my cup of tea. This was just the first step; the next step was actually acting on it. I decided I’m not going to take this job because already driving there didn’t give me the energy. But it’s one thing to refuse a job at a reputable company when you’re young and another to be aware that the environment and where I was going wouldn’t give me the energy to start with.

The single biggest learning from this was to “follow my intuition”, take the steps towards what I want, live with the consequences, and be confident about that. Once you have taken your decision, you have to live with the consequences that follow. Some people would perhaps like to take decisions but don’t do so because they don’t like the potential consequences. You have to always take these into account because sometimes the consequences can be tough and don’t immediately unfold after the decision has been taken. It may be years later for them to occur and if you are not prepared with the knowledge of what you had signed up for, things get complicated.

But how do you live with the consequences?

You live with the consequences by accepting what they are, facing them and not trying to hide away from them.

There’s this comparison between the chicken and the pig for breakfast – so where the chicken only gives the eggs and gets to walk away, the pig stays. It is right there in your breakfast; it cannot walk out.

I’m the ‘pig type’; I have to go through everything, there’s no way I can escape and you can only sustain if you have passion, because otherwise you are a sad pig and you have given up yourself for a breakfast that isn’t worth eating.

I realized that this is the way I am. For me every choice I make, small or big, needs to be driven by passion at the core. It’s not a choice, when I’m teaching, I cannot be just teaching and seeing it as a job that I just do. Rather when I am teaching, I need to be there with my full conviction, commitment and unconditionally. So for that I need to have the passion because otherwise you can see it on my face, I can’t fake it.

What do you believe is at the core of women’s hesitation to step out and pursue leadership role where they are?

I see a lot of strong women in high positions that are out there, but at the same time and realistically speaking, there are far less women than men taking up leadership roles and for me it’s difficult to understand.

I could say it may have to do with other responsibilities that they have; for example, taking care of their children but I know from research, because I have been involved in that, that that’s not the whole story. I think that there are a lot of opportunities for women and I think that the barriers are sometimes also in our own heads than necessarily out there.

I’m not underplaying the difficulties that are out there for women, because I know that there has been a time when it was very difficult. But I think in this time and age we live in a society where there are these opportunities and I think that what we need to do as women is remove the barriers from our minds. I think that these are the worst that we can have.

But what is it that women fear, what’s the hesitation that they have?

It is not just in their minds, it is out there as well, research clearly shows that. Fact is that women have a different way of dealing with issues in many cases, you can see it in the way we talk and the way we think. It is different and that’s ok, that’s an added value. But you have to be quite self confident to dare to speak up and do things. So I think we have to build on our confidence and our willingness to actually do that and make things happen.

Therefore, if we wait till the world changes things for us women, we may lose valuable years, that’s why I say its better if we remove the barriers in our own minds and just build up the confidence needed even if we don’t feel it at times. And I can speak for myself that sometimes I’ve been just waiting so much for things to happen that acknowledgement will just come, no it will not come if you don’t stand for it. So that is perhaps the most important thing that I see now. We are only able to remove the barriers that are out there if we first remove them from our heads and have the confidence to go out there and speak up.

Tell us one of your greatest professional accomplishments and why it means so much to you?

Being elected as ‘Professor of the Year’ by the MBA students at Nyenrode Business University for four years in a row. As teaching is one of the things that I take care and pride in doing, having the students speak from the heart when they elect the professor of the year means a lot to me, that’s the most beautiful thing that can happen in my job.

But I’m also moved on a daily basis by the smile of people I love and care for. So making them smile and seeing a smile on their face is for me also an accomplishment.

The world is a scary place, how do you manage fear and anxiety in your personal and professional life?

Well, I don’t let anxiety and fear dominate; I tend to look at the positive side. But sometimes this can be difficult because there are a lot of things that are happening around us that are beyond our control, and in life things happen that are not necessarily positive.

But to keep dreaming and keep seeing the positive side helps. And as I mentioned, these little rewards that you get are the things that can actually help you keep going, and if you get charged and inspired by these little things everyday then there is a lot to smile about and a lot more than if you wait till you become whatever you aspire to be in life. To some people these are just small things, but if they are giving you enough inspiration to focus on positive things then you can deal with the other scary things that happen and give you anxiety.

So you focus on the small daily accomplishments?

Yes, and the things that I can do to put a smile on someone’s face. Small daily acts of kindness will add up into a fantastic day even if some moments of the day are less good. Of course, you cannot always influence things, but you can decide to do many of these nice little acts of kindness that eventually add up to something positive. If you do a lot of these, chances are that people will take over and do the same in their own environment. So that’s what I think keep the positive things dominating. Otherwise if you keep looking at the scary things you will feel anchored down or depressed.

You are a very busy person, but you always give time to people and help them whenever you can. Why do you do this?

It’s because of what I just said. We are not in this world to become rich and better ourselves, that’s why I believe very much in sharing, I feel that I have a sort of obligation in a positive way that I should give back from the things that I’ve been receiving. Whether its love, money, or what I have in my profession. So this is the first reason.

Secondly, I love to see people grow and I took on this profession to be able to give back to young people and try to help them, it’s my passion. I want to help and time is not an issue then, because I can perhaps make a small difference in their lives by being there for them. I feel and hope that it spreads a positive vibe.

And did you have someone who helped you when you were younger?

Yes of course, that’s why I’m always grateful to people who were there and that’s why I will always be loyal to them even in difficult times, because I know that at that moment of time they were there for me and they supported me. That’s why it is very important for me to take care of my mother now because she is one of those people who have always been there for me. That’s why I’m loyal to these people to the deepest level, because I know that without them I would not have been where I am today. No one can do everything on their own, you need people and that’s a beautiful thing. So giving back to others is a very nice thing in life.

And I think that you are creating better people with what you are doing because most of the people that you’ve helped will want to help other people and pay it forward.

That’s what I hope. That by doing these things, people would take over and help others as well.

What do you believe would be the greatest benefit having more women as leaders in the world?

Well, I think it’s the balance. I think it’s like raising children; there’s a mother and a father and each of them have their distinct role. I think in life it’s always best to have this balance, it’s not always there but when it’s there and, you actually can have it, it’s the best thing that can happen to a company, to a family, and to individuals.

You know when you have yin yang it’s always better than when you have just yin or just yang or too much of anything. So I think it’s not just a matter of rightfulness that women should have, which I think they should, there’s no reason why they should be underpaid or not given high positions, but it’s even a pity for these organizations who don’t strive to have this equality in terms of having opportunities for both women and men because there’s so much added value in having a balance.

For this matter of fact, I don’t believe that it’s good to have a society or an organization of only women or with only men because you are creating an imbalance which is never good in whatever you are doing. Moreover, it’s not that there are no good women to find, I mean there are lots of talented women, so you don’t do yourself a favor as a society or an organization not to have these talents in.

Tell us what your greatest personal challenge is and how you’ve achieved success in spite of it?

That’s a good one! I think oversensitivity was my major issue which I knew at a very young age that I had to deal with and tackle. I couldn’t let go, I wanted to save the whole world, I wanted to save everything and I had to realize that this is not possible. This has been the hardest thing. I’m still sensitive but I’ve tried to cope with it and to live with it to the extent that it doesn’t bring me down anymore.

But how?

By realizing it and being aware. I was very young when I became aware that I was overly sensitive. I’ve tried to train myself, yes letting things in, I don’t want to lose on sensitivity because it’s also a beautiful thing that you feel things and that’s also where your passion is, but I’ve learned to let go and that was very difficult.

Is it also the balance as you said before; because you were saying that being sensitive is a beautiful thing but it affects you and it makes you sad sometimes. So is it also that you found the balance?

Yes, that’s exactly it. That’s what it is; a better balance. I can still go there and I know when I go there but I can take myself out of it again and pick myself up.

What role should men play in supporting more gender diversity?

Just support it. I mean if you are a sensible logical man and you want to succeed, you need men and you need women. If you think you can be successful without women then I think that you are just misguided and you’re giving up on being more successful if you would’ve worked together with women, in a balanced way again.

If you could know the answer to only one of the following questions, which one would you choose and why? What happens after death? Or what is the meaning of life?

I think what happens after death is based on a belief that I have so I’m ok with it, I don’t have to know, it’s not that I expect anything or that without knowing I wouldn’t believe. I’m just trying to live in a way that wherever there’s a mirror I can still look into it and feel good about myself. Sometimes I feel I can do better, so I try harder. I think that is the most important thing, because that will determine how you go from this earth to whatever you believe is the next stage or when it all stops. The answer to the question of the meaning of life takes perhaps a lifetime to find out.

What do you think of gender diversity in the Netherlands and how do you see the role of women in the country?

I’m a little bit disappointed with gender diversity here in the Netherlands; I think we can do much better. I think again we depend so much on whether the government and others are going to do something. I really think women should start with removing the barriers themselves and that is the strongest thing they can do because we are in a prison that is not ours. I know there are barriers but you can also see that in the Netherlands we can do much more in removing some of the barriers in our minds and support each other in doing this.

What advice would you give to young women around the world?

Be confident, dare to take your chance in doing things and just live with the consequences. And live your own agenda and not somebody else’s. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do it, if you want to do it then just go ahead. It might not be easy; you may fall twenty times but just pick yourself up and keep going because the path you will take will determine the path of your successors. You will be an inspiration; you will pave the way for others. So never give up and just live your own agenda and go for what you want. Take that path you always wanted and live with the consequences. It’s not always easy but it’s a worthwhile trip that you make, not only for yourself but also for other young women who will follow in your footsteps because once you take that path to what you want, more women will follow.

Spotlight written by Yasmeen Smadi

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