It is our pleasure to introduce Willem Pennings, a highly energetic and positive go-getter who believes in the power of people and teams. He hails from the Netherlands, but has been working at BTS Europe in London for the last 13 years. Willem is grateful for the opportunities and tough lessons he received throughout his career. Currently a Vice President, Willem truly feels part of the team at BTS. It is the place where he developed as a professional and where he had mentors who helped mould him into the person he is today.
Were you always yourself? Even when you first entered the workforce?
Always! Although I am well aware, there are people who have to edit themselves to fit the workplace culture. I never numbed myself, but it got me in trouble at the start of my career. During one of my internships, people told me I was loud, different and basically needed to dim my light. But, I quickly realised it was not something that I was willing to change, as this was not going to impact my performance or make me a better person. See, I come from a mixed family and was raised between different worlds. My parents taught me from a very young age to never compromise on being my true self. So, I knew I was not going to apologise for my background or personal characteristics. Most importantly, I knew what I wanted out of my career and my life. This made me realise that I needed to find a place that would appreciate and respect who I am fully – and I found that when I got hired at BTS. The workplace culture is all about enabling people to bring their unique qualities and strengths to work, we are interested in the whole person and getting people to be at their best. If we can’t do that, we can’t live our purpose. I knew I was in the right place the minute I got hired.
What is the best career lesson you have learned so far?
One valuable lesson that was essential for me to learn was that a leader needs to set direction and inspire; but also hire smart people – and engage the whole person. Do all of this and things will work themselves out. In order to accomplish this, a leader must look at the needs of the team; no matter how great the pressure. I used to say yes to everything a client asked. Therefore, I made the team work long hours; including weekends. My then manager and mentor – who had a real nose for setting me straight – told me I couldn’t keep doing this. He made me aware that a leader needs people who want to work for them; not run in the opposite direction. Fortunately, he saw that I had the best intentions; which is why he had the patience to coach me on how to be a better leader – and where I needed to improve. The funny thing is that people were already naturally engaging with the work I was doing and with me as a leader, which I was actually putting at risk by overdoing it.
How do you encourage great teamwork with so much pressure?
We are in the business of clients, and they expect great outcomes – and as a company, we are measured by our last result. So, reputation is everything, and I expect every team member to operate with integrity and bring their very best to work. You are only as good as your team. Therefore, I like to empower every single member by prioritising their needs. I can only do this because we have built a foundation of trust and communication. It is a two-way street, however. I hold each and every team member to the highest standards; again, we are dealing with clients and I take that very seriously. Consistency and doing your very best every day are the ingredients for a job well done. If you live by this, I guarantee you that no one can deny you anything in life.
What advice would you offer an aspiring manager about climbing the corporate ladder?
The most valuable lesson you can teach a person is for them to tap into who they are. People who dim their light, try to fit the mould, or mimic others are missing out on their purpose in life – and aren’t probably living authentically. We often fail to realise that we already have everything we need inside us. If I look at my story, I have spent my entire life trying to improve myself and develop my skills to perfection. The truth is, I already am what I have been chasing: an energizer! A people person! I am a great public speaker, love networking, and I naturally gravitate towards people. So, heading the Sales and Marketing team for BTS Europe is something I was meant to do. I know I am living my life purposefully, because I feel at peace and fulfilled. All this to say, do not try to be someone you cannot be or bend yourself too much. Instead, grow and develop from your strengths; from who you are and embrace your essence. That is what you bring to the work environment and should be known for.
Gen Z is transforming the workplace everywhere. What is your take on this?
I must say, I quite like their rebellious and righteous spirit. I am impressed by the fact that they are very intolerant of injustices and do not take any of the nonsense past generations have normalised. They will stand up and protest – and are the ones actively driving conversations on climate change and diversity & inclusion. I truly appreciate the dynamic they bring in the workforce. What scares me a little is the fact that they move on to other things really quickly. I get this notion from Gen Z that they expect good things to come fast; but they don’t. Good things come when they come and are the result of determination and hard work. Nothing happens overnight and when you fail, you get up, you learn and go again; but this generation tends to get discouraged quickly. Do not get me wrong, I have also had many moments in my career where I got very impatient waiting for a promotion or wanted to climb through the ranks faster. The truth is, it takes years of effort, and the occasional disappointment, to get there.
How do you know if your workplace isn’t the right fit for you or if you need to see it through and apply yourself more?
This is most certainly not straight forward or easy. Fundamentally, you should always be respected for who you are and appreciated for what you bring to the table; never compromise on that! Never be afraid of the truth, you should always be realistic enough to understand why something is not working out for you. Most importantly, be willing to have open and honest conversations to identify what needs to be learned; and ultimately changed to achieve your objectives – and live a good life.