This is Carien van der Laan
My Dutch family emigrated to the United States when I was 5, and I spent my early years in Syracuse New York.
I was all set to attend an east coast women’s college, when at the last moment I was given the chance to move back to Holland, which seemed like the more exciting choice. I studied law and worked some years as a Dutch lawyer, and then decided that I wanted to go to Harvard Business School for an MBA. I didn’t even apply to any other school.
After graduation, I went to work for McKinsey In Amsterdam and then spent a long time in various executive jobs in corporations and smaller companies and as a consultant. I worked hard, was not unsuccessful, but found the going hard and advancement slow. I didn’t quite understand why.
When I eventually wound up with two friends in a small consultancy practice, I was rendered somehow invisible to the broader Dutch business community.
All this became crystal clear one day when I read an article in the newspaper; an interview with Kleisterlee, then CEO of Philips. He was cited to have said: “ there are no capable ambitious Dutch women” . This hit home; apparently it wasn’t just me; evidently no Dutch women were being considered for top positions. This was a turning point. Within a year I set up an executive search firm for women. The mission of this executive search firm was to promote the appointment of women to top executive positions for which they are eminently qualified.
It was astoundingly successful in a crowded field.
In 2011 I left the company because there was no other way to ‘divorce’ from a partnership that was no longer working. I never looked back. but started a new company, and this one bears my own name: Van der Laan & Company. An ex- competitor recently said to me “It stands for quality and content: your name is the brand.”