Together we can drive change

Monday, February 15, 2021

Annemarie Buitelaar, CEO for Marktplaats (NL) and 2dehands (BE), is on a mission to show the world that with hard work and determination, it is possible for career women to have the best of both worlds. While managing a team of 250 people who serve close to 11 million unique users on her platforms every month, she is also a mentor to young and upcoming talent, a role model to her nieces, and the proud mother of three boys.

Lean in to understand

“When Annemarie joined Marktplaats as the Head of Marketing in 2009, her first weeks were particularly challenging: “It was primarily a tech oriented company at the time, and coming from a marketing background, I found it quite difficult to understand how the company worked.” Eager to learn, she began attending weekly demo meetings with the aim of gaining a better understanding, but found them to be extremely technical and often inaccessible for her and her non-tech colleagues. Determined to improve the situation, she teamed up with a “tech buddy” who taught her the ropes: “He became my teacher, educating me in technology and infrastructure. He taught me the basics that I needed to know in order to speak the same language and connect with the developers.”

This determination, paired with Annemarie’s inquiring spirit, made all the difference: “I was very vocal about the importance for all of us to join the weekly demos, and that the company needed to make them more accessible.” Their demo meetings evolved to a weekly gathering for everyone, where relevant business, tech, product and marketing updates are shared with a focus on customer impact and what it means for their users: “One of the key lessons here is that you really have to lean in to understand. I think it’s still a domain that people, and definitely also women who don’t have a tech background, sometimes find a bit intimidating.”

Being resilient, not letting go, focusing on connecting and understanding and just asking questions not only helped her advance career, but also shaped her into the leader that she is today: “It’s about going through that steep learning curve, embracing and getting your hands dirty. It’s so important to first understand before you can be understood, and then you can set a clear strategy.”

Diversity transcends physical boundaries

For Annemarie, diversity in the workforce is crucial for the success of any organisation. And although gender and cultural diversity strengthens an organisation, she believes that diversity extends to being inclusive and giving a voice to those employees who don’t necessarily have the confidence to speak out: “When you talk about diversity and inclusion, it’s important to ask for input. For example, engineers are generally more introverted, but they often have the most brilliant ideas. If you don’t get them involved from the beginning, it’s hard to capture their input and build on what they can contribute. And it’s not just about connecting with the engineers and leveraging their knowledge, but also about involving them.” For this reason the management style that she and her team have implemented focuses on cross-functional collaboration where tech, marketing and sales don’t work in isolation: “I really try to make sure that we get the voices from various functions, but also from the individuals, heard.”

Balancing work and family life is possible

As with many other career women, Annemarie was faced with the question whether it was possible to balance a work and family life many times: “When eBay acquired 2dehands/2ememain in Belgium I was asked to lead the acquisition and became the general manager. During that time I had to ask myself: ‘Am I really ready for this?’ The same happened two and a half years ago when I was asked to become the general manager for Benelux business. At the time I was pregnant with my third child, and wondered whether it was the right moment.”

In the global leadership team that consisted of only men, she saw an opportunity to bring about the transformation that was needed from the top: “The best way to drive change was to become part of the management team.” With her two sons (aged one and three years old at the time) at home and a new baby on the way, she stood fast in her resolution to drive change and being a role model, not only to other women, but also to her sons, and accepted the position: “We need more role models to show that it is possible to balance family life with work. It’s not always easy, but just by doing, you can make a big difference.”

Work together to create impact

Since accepting the position of CEO two years ago, Annemarie has been working tirelessly to implement her transformation vision: “In the last six months I changed my whole management team, and over the past couple of weeks we introduced our new mission, purpose, and strategic framework, as well as the ways of working that go with our new operating model.”

At the moment she is focussed on taking Marktplaats and 2dehands to the next level, ensuring that they form part of a future generation of classifieds platforms that not only increase their impact on small to medium businesses, but also increase their impact on climate change: “We are contributing to the lives of people who can now afford things that they couldn’t afford before, while also contributing to economic opportunity where in 2020 close to 90 thousand small to medium businesses used our platform to make a living. Furthermore, by enabling trade on our platform, we are contributing to the reduction of the environmental footprint and 1.5% of the total climate goals for the Netherlands. There is so much impact that we’re making, and I am focussed on creating even more.”

Her goal of taking care of the environment has become all the more important since Annemarie became a mom: “I’ve become really conscious about the world that we live in and the world that we will leave for our children. Of course we cannot change the world by ourselves – it takes the actions of millions of users to really make a huge difference in impact. It is almost like millions of drops of water that come together and become the mighty ocean.”

And this idea of working together to create impact also applies to her mission to do her part in transforming the digital industry: “I really want to help and inspire as many women as possible to advance their careers. We need to be supportive of each other, and it’s not about doing only one thing. Various initiatives are needed in order to drive change, and I find the mentoring initiatives especially important: building a network and building a platform to connect mentors and mentees is so powerful. Like the drops of water making the ocean, everything, when added together, can drive change. That is how you make impact.”

If you are interested in becoming a mentor to emerging digital talent, or to be mentored by inspiring women like Annemarie, be sure to sign up to the RightBrains platform and become part of the change! Sign up here.