Listen. I believe that in truly listening to and understanding the stories and experiences of individuals within a company, from bottom to top, we can harness the potential of our collective passions, achieve business goals and impact the bottom line, person by person.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Simone van Bijsterveldt. Simone van Bijsterveldt is CFO at MediaMonks, where she lends her expertise and vision to propel S4Capital’s content practice forward, delivering on Sir Martin Sorrell’s vision to disrupt a billion-dollar marketplace made up of holding companies and consultancies. Van Bijsterveldt started her career at KPMG, where she specialized in media and non-profit NGOs. After that, she joined Novamedia/Charity Lotteries, where she worked her way up from a controller to her first position in the boardroom as CFO. Simone is chair of the audit committee of the Dutch Film Fund. She lives in the Netherlands and enjoys spending time with her husband and three children when she’s not navigating numbers for the world’s largest and most awarded creative and production partner.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Thanks for having me! I started my career as a controller at Novamedia and worked my way up, eventually taking my first C-level job there. Today, I’m the CFO at MediaMonks, S4Capital’s content practice, which has achieved exponential growth in recent years with an aggressive growth and M&A strategy. I love what I do because of the entrepreneurial spirit within the company, and the fact that we’re determined to disrupt a billion-dollar marketplace made up of holding companies and consultancies. A through-line through every inflection point in my career, and what’s led me here today, is that I always follow my heart and do the things I like.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Five weeks after I started at MediaMonks, the COVID19-pandemic hit, and we all started to work from home. Beyond this disruption in day-to-day work, a crisis of this magnitude is quite a challenge and not really a thing you can prepare for. As CFO, I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to guide the company through it with a strong sense of focus. I’m proud of what we achieved — amid a backdrop of industry landscape analysts declaring, it’s “A tough gig for advertising agencies beyond the pandemic,” S4Capital was cited among the most likely to experience long-term financial success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is a really difficult one because a few cross my mind. The one that I would like to share here is when I bumped into a famous Dutch actor in the office (he was an ambassador) and I really enthusiastically greeted him saying, “Hi! How are you?” He looked at me strangely and replied, “Very well, thank you.” Afterward, I thought, “Well I know you, but you did not know me.” I think it’s a testament to the importance of putting yourself out there, and seizing the opportunity to do things that might intimidate you. Whether it’s striking up a conversation with a new person at the office, or a famous actor 🙂
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I never had the “intrinsic” goal to be a CFO. But when I got the opportunity — initially at Novamedia — I seized it. Later when I took on another role that wasn’t in the C-Suite, I found I missed that great sense of responsibility. I’m so happy to be back in the CFO role at MediaMonks, leading the organization’s broad financial portfolio.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
What I really hope to achieve is to inspire people by leading them, not by directing them. So I give my colleagues the responsibility I know they can ‘handle’ and the room they need to flourish and grow. As each employee is given the opportunity to develop independently, so too with the organization in the end.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love thinking about what it will take to get MediaMonks to the next level — and then being a decision-maker in actually making it happen.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
I mentioned I love my role because of the great sense of responsibility that comes with it. So it’s not really a downside, but the fact that I’m responsible for maintaining the jobs of all my colleagues — that’s quite weighty when I stop to think about it.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
That it’s impossible to have a life next to your job as a high-power executive. Throughout my career, I have always (except now during the pandemic) maintained a strong social life, and I am married and have three children of 12, 11, and 9 growing up.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Every leader is an individual with different perspectives and challenges, so there’s no straightforward answer here. What I did find a bit striking across the board was that I’m frequently asked how I manage my role with three children. Nobody ever asks male executives this question.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There’s not actually a striking difference between expectation and reality for me. At MediaMonks, there’s so much passion for digital creativity and production — more than I expected. So I guess in that regard, MediaMonks exceeds my enthusiasm expectations.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
To be successful in this role it is important to look at the individuals in the organization and make sure they are put in the best position to grow their strengths. But of course, it is not always possible to please everyone. On the other side of the coin, it’s important for each and every employee to be willing to self-motivate and grow into their full potential. I find that lifelong learners make the best leaders. As a leader, you can learn something new from your colleagues at every level, every day. Understanding that no one is bigger than the whole team is key.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Listen to your colleagues. Try to give them as much room as possible to flourish.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
A number of people come to mind, and I’m grateful for that! First of all my Dad was always there for me, and always reinforced the importance of achieving my personal best — not always the easiest! During my career, there was one specific person who always believed in me and that was Ruud Esser (the former CFO at Novamedia/Charity Lotteries) who I succeeded when he partly retired. I’m still so grateful for him. And lastly, two power ladies Laetitia Griffith and Jacobina Brinkman.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
For 14 years I worked for Novamedia, a Dutch-based organization that raises funds for charities by organizing lotteries. That beautiful mission kept me at that organization for 14 years. I’ve always felt an intrinsic drive to make the world a better place in any way I can. Today, at MediaMonks, I’m proud to be engaged with sustainability and driving further change from within. Further, I drive D&I initiatives. I am proud of our diverse team and confident that we will continue to achieve more.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
That COVID-19 was coming in 😉
- Trust your gut. I truly believe this one has guided me every step of the way in my career. From my first C-level position to my current role at MediaMonks managing finances for the world’s largest global creative and production partner, which employs 2,500+ people working across every time zone as one team under a single P&L.
- Focus, don’t panic. During the pandemic, and particularly in my first months on the job, this one became extremely important. Amid a backdrop of industry landscape analysts declaring, it’s “A tough gig for advertising agencies beyond the pandemic,” I’m proud to lead the charge, with many citing Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4Capital most likely to experience long-term financial success.
- Understand the difference between a job and a responsibility. When you get to a certain level, I think it’s key to understand this difference. For me, it was in my first CFO role. Some are inspired by it, as I am. For others, less so.
- Surround yourself with an empowering support network. Faced with growing demands and new challenges with each new day, it’s so important to maintain perspective and balance by drawing upon a network of fellow female C-suite members like those in Top Vrouwen.
- Listen. I believe that in truly listening to and understanding the stories and experiences of individuals within a company, from bottom to top, we can harness the potential of our collective passions, achieve business goals and impact the bottom line, person by person.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If there was one movement that I wish I could inspire, it would be combat poverty in Africa. My hope would be that everyone understands the importance and impact of any donation — whether it be time, talent or treasure — no matter how small. I think that collectively, we could all make a difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is a journey, not a destination. Learn to enjoy the ride.”
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have breakfast with Michelle Obama. She is a real power lady and inspires a lot of women around the world, including me.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.