She wanted to be a teacher. In front of the class, just like her mom and dad. As a teenager, that changed to “college professor”. I excelled in all science subjects, which is quite remarkable having a Dutch teacher and a German teacher as parents.
“My dad was so proud of that,” says Francine van Derendonk, looking back on her youth. “He always said, Francine, if you choose a science subject, you can do whatever you want.” He will be right about that.
Young people in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen
She grew up in Hulst, a village in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, with a sister who was two years her junior. “Very responsible and very independent” is how she describes herself at the time. I was able to study well, and I did my best too. And I was very curious. Of course there wasn’t much to do in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, and there was no internet yet. So by the time I was fourteen I had read all the books in the library.
I found the idea that you could manipulate DNA incredibly interesting
Her curiosity led her to disassemble and reassemble all kinds of devices. When I was a kid I turned on the radio in the back. And coffee machine, toilet. I even secretly looked inside the washing machine. I didn’t tell my parents that, by the way, I screwed everything up again. I wanted to know how things work.
I played with Lego at a time when it was still for boys. I did everything boys did. Playing with cars, climbing trees, hide and seek. “Besides playing war, I didn’t participate in that.”
From technical study to business
When asked if she was encouraged to develop her artistic side in high school, the answer is clear: No. On the contrary. I can still see my mother standing by the dishes with my hands in them. I told her that the dean said I couldn’t deal with the technical university. I threw that washbrush, turned around and said, “What? Francine, you only have nine, how is that even possible?” No, girls were not encouraged to do art studies. I hear often that this is still the case.
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After high school, she chose to study Bioprocess Technology at the Agricultural University, now Wageningen University & Research (WUR). Biotechnology was still very new at that time. I liked that. I found the idea that you could manipulate DNA incredibly interesting.
After graduating, she is no longer as sure of her academic career as she envisioned it as a teenager. I decided to go to Delft for a year, where I graduated in biotechnology for the second time. I caught fire there for the first time, so I eventually chose to go into business. There were many ambitious boys and girls who wanted to work for Shell, McKinsey or Unilever.
Make a broad impact
After a stint in America, where she worked briefly for a large engineering firm, she had to make a choice. “I had three paths in mind. Either I would pursue an academic career, or I would work for an engineering firm, or I would go more towards the business world.
The latter became out of curiosity. “I had little contact with the corporate world because of my background; They grew up in a Hulst, parents who were teachers, research environment in Wageningen.
In consulting, she saw her knowledge as an engineer, academic opinion and interest in business come together. Zo applied to the Boston Consulting Group in 2000. She was able to work in a laboratory, which was very interesting and interesting. But to make an impact, I didn’t have to. I was looking for a way to make a broader impact. The business community challenges you in all areas, as a person too.
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Leadership in eBay
At eBay, where I started in 2003, I’ve managed to pioneer the untapped field of e-commerce. She was lucky because the company had just bought Marktplaats at that time. She rose to become Director of Marketing and Customer Support and was part of the team that led the company through its growth curve from loss to profit.
Hardcore restructuring, at a relatively young age. I can tell you: I didn’t really like it.
At the time, she benefited greatly from the mentorship given to her by her then manager at eBay, Bob Van Dyck, now CEO of Prosus Media Group.
But fun also played a major role. “I’ve never laughed so much in my life as I did in those seven years on eBay. Seriously, I still laugh when I think of some of the jokes.
Specialized in e-commerce
That didn’t stop her from switching to Philips. “I wanted to put myself in a position where I could learn new things and meet new people.” She was tasked with doing “something with e-commerce”. Van Dierendonk laughs. This was a completely different context, but I could make an impact with my knowledge. I can show you what e-commerce is and what it isn’t.
As director of e-commerce at the Etam Group and later as CEO of Xenos, Van Dierendonck entered a very different formative phase as a director between 2013 and 2018. Both retail enterprises were in dire straits when she took over. Scandalous restructuring, at a relatively young age. I can tell you: I didn’t really like it. I found it difficult from a human perspective.
At the same time, it was an exciting period. It was about corporate innovation. If you are jointly or ultimately responsible in such an operation, I would venture to say that you really learn how a company is put together, on an administrative, legal, technical and human level. It was an exceptionally good learning experience.
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in the chain way to the top We ask top executives about the path they took — from elementary school to the boardroom. Find lessons, mistakes and tips that shaped them. Read all conversations in the series »
Innovation in the world of pensions
Her first reaction was, “No, of course not!” When she was asked to become a member of the APG Board of Directors in 2018. She didn’t know what she was looking for in the world of pensions, until she got into a conversation with CEO Gerard van Olven about introducing a new pension scheme.
I thought at the time: maybe this will suit me after all. If there is one sector that needs empathy and innovation, it is the financial sector in the Netherlands. Moreover, the Dutch pension system is very relevant and the impact of what we do is huge.
You need a godfather or godmother every now and then in your career
There are clear parallels with the work she has done in e-commerce and retail. The common denominator: bringing innovation where it’s needed. Making an impact, as van derendonk calls it.
This has been an important topic in all the jobs I’ve had. I always looked for positions and momentum where I felt I could improve and move people. If you’re looking for someone to take care of the status quo for the next five years, you got the fault in me.
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Support from a good mentor
Just as I benefited greatly from Bob Van Dyck’s coaching during her time at eBay, she found a mentor in Jolanda Poots, CFO at Van Oord, after she joined APG. “I thought it was a little exciting, after my experience in consumer businesses, to take a senior position in an industry I wasn’t really familiar with. When I called her to ask if she wanted to help me out for the first year.
In your career, you need a godfather or godmother who believes in you when you’re totally stuck. Someone who takes the trouble to lovingly point out their blind spots.
These experiences gave her an important insight. These people didn’t say what I wanted to hear, but they did. I also dared to tell them if I had done something wrong. This shows such a foundation of trust. And I really want to spread that to the company: confidence.