In this interview, we spoke with our new board member, Nathalie Nijhuis-Lam, who is the Head of Global Sponsorship and Lead Inclusion & Diversity Marketing Transformation at Philips. With over a decade of experience in brand marketing strategy and management, Nathalie Lam has won multiple industry awards, including two Cannes Lions and two WOMMY awards. She has also been recognised by the Dutch advertising jury foundation, SAN, and has won the Gold SponsorRing Award. She was ranked 49th on the list of the 100 Most Impactful Marketers in The Netherlands and was listed in “de Kleurrijke 50,” a list of 50 people of colour who have made a significant impact in the global marketing industry.
We sat down with Nathalie to talk about her insights on leadership, how she defines success, and the journey that brought her to her current role.
Hi Nathalie. What did you want to become as a kid?
I wanted to become a classical ballet dancer. My ballet teacher suggested having me attend the auditions at the National Ballet School in The Hague when I was in primary school. Unfortunately, they already could tell at that young age that my body would not fit the criteria to be a professional dancer. I was deeply disappointed. These days the criteria are a bit more lenient, and the selection of dancers is approached with a more body-positive mindset.
What is your biggest strength and what is your biggest weakness?
I always have a positive mindset to believe that anything can be done and that there is a solution to any problem. Mostly, it was proven that indeed there is always a solution to any given problem. My weakness is that I want to go fast, love deadlines and have a hard time when people around me are relatively slower to complete a task or find a solution.
However, the best-performing teams with the most excellent results tend to be made up of people with diverse ways of working. I, therefore, came to the conclusion and believe, that it’s good when people are different in their approach to a task, and I need to respect that people have a different way of working in comparison to me.
What does a regular workday look like for you?
I love working from different locations. Currently, I go to the office three days a week and work two days from home. I am not good at sitting still behind a desk. Therefore, I tend to organise meetings at more inspiring locations, like the lobby of a museum or a nice cafe whenever possible and suitable. I go from meeting place to meeting place in my Biro and often take calls in the Biro as well – almost like a mobile office. Also, I love working outside when the weather allows it.
What was the biggest challenge you have overcome so far in your career?
The biggest challenge I have faced so far in my career is running our internal marketing transformation program to improve our inclusion and diversity representation in our end-to-end marketing activities. The discussions around the topic often hit me in a personal way and, at times, have become quite emotional because it is such a sensitive topic and you never do it right. Although everyone is open to change, it takes a lot of perseverance and energy to implement change and make it sustainable.
The programme has run for 3 years now. I am so proud that I am no longer the only ambassador about the topic but that people throughout the organisation have come to embrace the topic and lead by example as well.
When was the last time you changed your mind about something important?
Last week, the direction for a strategic concept direction of a major campaign we are developing, it’s good to speak with many stakeholders to acquire insights to base your direction and always stay open to change when needed.
How do you define success?
This is a tough answer for me. I always used to think that success is measured by a vertical career path. That’s also how I have always approached my career. “The only way is up” I have a winner’s mentality and going up represents winning to me. But I have now realised that it’s also of interest and potential growth to approach your career from a horizontal growth path perspective. I am currently in that situation and have accepted that by broadening my current status quo I am also growing. Vertical is not always better, nor does vertical always represent growth.
How do you approach decision-making in your role, and what factors do you consider when weighing different options?
First I define my own perspective on the situation, and then I reach out to stakeholders to get their perspective, when needed I have conversations with a focus group to get even better objective insight and based on all information provided, I reflect and make my decision. You can never build your decision solitary. You need insights and perspectives from others.
What inspired you to pursue a leadership role in the corporate world, and how did you get to where you are today?
When I look back on my life journey, my determination to pursue where I am now, already started at a young age, I always was determined to grow and become better in whatever I did. It came naturally to me and did not even really think about it. Somehow, I always wanted to succeed and that feeling has always pushed me to take that next step in my career. Work to me feels like a wonderful way of living, something pleasant. I really love to work and in case there comes a moment in which I find myself unhappy and feel the position is not a good fit with what I aspire to do, I take the decision to step into a new journey and pursue my career on a different path.
How do you manage to balance your professional responsibilities with your personal life?
Honestly, since my work and private life are intertwined, I don’t have a work versus personal life type of mindset. For me, the day consists of 24 hrs, and I tend to mix work and private life consistently. Having this flexible mindset and way of working allows me to have flexibility as a mom, daughter, friend, and partner. For me it does not feel like a burden to work at night and on weekends if it allows me to be at a hockey practice for my child during the day or be a class mom at school on a Tuesday morning, bring groceries to my parents or have a nice walk with a friend. I have always told my managers; I will finish the task as requested but don’t ask me how and you may always reach me at any time of the day or during my holidays. I always advise people: Make sure you give your superior the confidence that you will deliver so he or she feels comfortable about what you bring to the table and can trust you, that you do your work as promised.
And to close the interview: What makes you truly happy?
I need to be surrounded by a clean, organised and beautiful-looking environment, I am very sensitive to that, I like to have dinner and laughs with people, and I love finding unique gems such as dresses, jewellery, and furniture. Work also really makes me happy especially when I succeeded in a challenging task, win a prize based on the efforts of team work, or do something positive to improve society.
But most of all, I am most happy when I am surrounded by my two lovely kids and my loved ones. Love does not cost anything and is foremost the most precious thing in life.