In the series “Taking off with…”, we’re interviewing some of the 32,000 people who work at KLM. If this story sounds familiar, it may be because excerpts from this interview were published in January’s Holland Herald. You can now read the full story right here.
Date of birth: 17 November 1982
Place of birth: Zaanstad
Position: Unit Manager for Special Products at KLM Cargo
Personal: Liesbeth is married and has three children aged 7, 10 and 11
Career: Joined KLM in 2012
Liesbeth (37) is unit manager for Special Products at KLM Cargo. She heads four different departments, including the KLM Animal Hotel. She’s an energetic woman, with a passion for KLM operations in general and for her own teams in particular. Personal contact with each individual staff member is key to her style of leadership. She expects her staff to be honest with her if they are enthusiastic about something and if they aren’t. During our meeting on a Monday afternoon, it’s clear that she takes great pride in her job, as she discusses issues ranging from diversity at KLM to the wonderful trip she and her family took to Canada.
“It really is fantastic to see one of KLM’s combi aircraft taking off, knowing there are horses on board”
The best thing about my job
It’s very varied. I’ll be working on an animal case in the morning and then tackling a problem with a sorting machine for packages and post in the afternoon. The next day I’ll be discussing active containers, which are temperature-regulated containers we use to transport medication. I coordinate a total of six products, supplied by four departments. Each situation is different, which is what makes it such fun. All the different facets relating to each special product demand a different management approach. It’s not one-style-fits-all. My team has one-on-one engagements with customers, usually by phone. Any escalations I deal with present the challenge of seeking the perfect solution each time.
Typical of KLM
KLM has changed in recent years, but I hope that anyone returning in five years’ time will notice that further changes have been made. In the past few years, we’ve taken steps that will enable us to improve in leaps and bounds, ensuring our survival way beyond our centenary. We’re all very proud of KLM, of course, but the world around us is changing. We will, for example, need to start looking for talent outside the company. You can’t restrict yourself to home-grown stars. We’re losing some of our greatest talent to other companies, which means we have to offer them better prospects. Diversity is a key issue in this regard. I am one of the few women in the male-dominated network here, for instance. I’ve noticed that my management style is different and that we can achieve even more by bringing in more diverse styles. Everyone respects my opinion and listens to me, but I often find myself presenting my position alone. I hope this will change in the years ahead.
Most memorable workday
We transported two pandas from China in 2017. That entire period – before, during and after – was very hectic, with lots of interviews and commitments. We’d emptied out one of our operational work areas to welcome the pandas. When they arrived at the Animal Hotel, I stood eye-to-eye with them, and while they were being introduced to the press, I took a seat on the TV programme RTL Late Night. How brilliant is that! It got such a great response! It really was a big deal at home. My kids are still quite young, but they were allowed to stay up to see me on TV that night. It was truly unforgettable.
I get a lot of energy from my team members. Especially seeing things change in small steps. When I see how much respect we all have for each other in this cargo warehouse, I feel the energy streaming. I know everyone’s name and what’s going on in their lives, which means I can really be there for them. That’s why I became a manager: to work with people and to help them develop.
“Aandacht voor elkaar is voor mij het allerbelangrijkste”
I started out at Cygnific, KLM’s Customer Experience Centre, where I held various managerial posts. In 2012, a friend of mine alerted me to a position at KLM Revenue Management. I learned to analyse data there. Measurement is the key to knowledge. I spent many hours at my computer, with very little human contact. Compared to my colleagues, I was probably the most outspoken person in the department, the most extroverted, which meant I usually organised the traditional St. Nicholas party. It’s in my nature to ensure that people have fun and feel good about themselves. After that, I went in search of a job in operations and ended up at the Animal Hotel. When the department was reorganised, we all had to reapply for jobs and I ended up with the one I wanted most: Special Products, which included my beloved Animal Hotel.
A great day
I really enjoy ending a busy day with a tour of the warehouse, to have a chat with people with people and see how they’re doing. I don’t get the chance often enough, but when I do, I go home feeling very energised, because I’m glad and proud that what I see confirms my gut feeling, which is that we’re better attuned and more open to one another. That really makes me proud and ensures that I end the day on a high note.
Starting the day
When I get up, I read the reports so that I know what’s up. I always get to work around 08.00, but I’ve usually phoned most of my captains from the car on the way. At 08.45, we sit down with the teams to discuss the programme for the day.
I don’t go to bed before I’ve read the latest reports. That’s become something of a habit. If things look good, I sleep well. I also check the reports in the morning and afternoon. That really works for me. It’s not a must, but I usually read them because I want to. Every day is different, so if someone calls me and says “the sorting machine is on the blink”, then I usually head over and help. I always think I’ll be back in a jiffy, but that usually isn’t the case. But all that isn’t really a problem if your work gives you energy.
It’s a stressful job, but I try to organise everything as best I can. I have an assistant who manages my schedule. I always ensure I’m fully updated throughout the week, as well as the evenings and weekends. I check the monitoring reports and emails, which means I’m always fully informed. I prefer it if people phone me when things look like they’re taking a turn for the worse. That way I can make decisions. I tell them I’ll call in two or three hours, so that I don’t have things happening when I’m at a party.
Best day off
That’s a toss-up between going to the sauna with my friends or going for a walk with my husband. I also enjoy watching series, which is the ultimate form of relaxation for me.
I love exercising and I do power training and cardio four times a week. Exercise really helps me balance things out, clear my mind and stay fit for work. I also love theatre and musicals, having drinks with friends. There are lots of things I enjoy doing.
In the future
I want to keep developing. I believe I still have a wonderful future ahead of me at KLM. I’m not the kind of person who sits still for ten years. I tend to get bored when things just babble along peacefully. But I’d prefer to stay close to operations, even though it can get pretty stressful. In your career, you should occasionally do things that don’t expose you to continuous stress, but I think my natural inclination will always be to return to operations. That’s where my heart lies.
I look up to
Women who really make the difference in this great, big, male-dominated company. It isn’t always easy to maintain your femininity in this masculine environment. I have respect for women who manage to do so. Especially because they often combine their busy job with lots of other things. Those women are also mothers and partners, and they want to go to the sauna or shopping or to the movies or to have a fun night out. We’re all so busy and it’s quite an achievement if you manage to fit it all in.
On or off?
I’m always on. I think most women are always on. That’s a typical female trait, I think.
I’ve learned that I work to live. My father always worked very hard. I inherited his perseverance. Never give in. Less talk, more work. Very simple lessons, but I also see these traits in my sister and brother. We really are very similar in this regard. These are deeply ingrained lessons. If you don’t have this approach, life is lot more difficult. That means my glass is always half full. I start with what I’ve got and then keep going.
Stoptober – to stop smoking. I’m doing well! I’ve stopped for ten days. I started smoking when I was at high school. It used to be cool back then, you were part of the crew, but nowadays you’re an outcast. I didn’t smoke a lot, but I couldn’t say no. That’s why I decided to go cold turkey and stop for good.
Favourite holiday destination
Canada. We took a campervan cross country two years ago. It was a fantastic experience. The freedom of having the campervan and being out in the Canadian landscape – I wouldn’t mind experiencing it all over again.
In Tofino, near Vancouver Island, you get on boat that takes you whale spotting. We saw so many orcas there. That made a huge impression on me.
Make sure you have your credit card and passport. And don’t stress too much. I often hear people talking about the stress of travelling with children. Mine are 7, 10 and 11. Just relax!
I’ve seen most European countries and various other places dotted around the globe. But those places have less appeal to me. We tend to travel around Europe with our campervan. There’s so much to see here. It’s a great way to travel with kids. I’ve seen what I wanted to see and the rest will come in good time.
Best place on earth
Wherever I am with my family and loved ones is the perfect place for me.
Bungee jumping, hiking across the mudflats? There are so many things. In Canada, there’s a zipline tour in Banff that takes you all the way across the national park. I really regret not doing that when I was there. I’m sure it would be amazing to pass over all those treetops. That’s something I’d like to do.
Wake you up
My kids are always allowed to wake me up for breakfast in bed.
Aisle or window?
I prefer the aisle. I’m quite tall and the window seat isn’t ideal. Also, I have young children and they always choose the window.
Sun or snow?
Snow, definitely. My skiing holidays are the best and most important holidays of the year. I think it’s very special to spend so much time outside in that kind of weather. And I really love the extraordinary speed and control of skiing.
At my place… we always eat together at the dinner table, laugh a lot and enjoy a glass of wine.
At KLM… we keep an eye out for one another.