Claudia Mennen didn't let that little voice stop her
Tilburg alumni have interesting careers. What difference did studying at Tilburg make for alumna Claudia Mennen? After working at accountancy firm PwC and marine transport company Dockwise (now Boskalis), Claudia became the CFO at Brand Loyalty. She has been CEO there since 2019. She compiled the ‘20-‘25 strategic plan with the help of forty staff members.
As an 18-year-old, Claudia was eager to study something that combined technology with economics. “I wanted to explore my scientific side.” Information Management offered the combination she was looking for. She had the choice of studying in Rotterdam and Tilburg. “I thought I’d feel more at home in Tilburg and that turned out to be right.” She initially lived in a student room in Prunusstraat next to the water tower, then in Rosmolenplein and finally with her now husband in Schoolstraat. “At the time, Guus Meeuwis also lived there and his musical career was just taking off – it was a fun and enjoyable time.”
Learning to believe in myself
Claudia’s first year at university proved a struggle. “I was used to achieving a lot by doing very little, but that was no longer possible at university. I hardly achieved any study credits in that first year. I needed to learn how to study and learn to believe in myself.” She sailed through the years after that. “I focused on developing my leadership skills, for example by chairing the ISABEST study association, the predecessor of FST (now ASSET Accounting & Finance).” During seminars, it was Claudia who got everyone working together. “At that time, Information Management still focused on problem-based learning, mostly working in groups. If no one takes the lead, nothing is ever achieved.”
Resilience and perseverance
Claudia still benefits greatly from the specialist knowledge she acquired at Tilburg University. “Learning subjects like discrete mathematics and programming really helped. That taught me resilience and perseverance, because when I typed in RUN and nothing happened, I had to start all over again. It makes you really good at working with precision. I also learnt to work using processes and to think in steps. It enables me to analyze any problem and get to the bottom of processes.”
I deliberately opted to provide leadership in my own way, keeping all the good things from the past
“One of the most pivotal moments in my career so far was becoming CEO at Brand Loyalty.” Before her appointment, Brand Loyalty had undergone a three-year transition process from founder-led to corporate. “The founder had left, his successors failed and morale was terrible. I deliberately offered not to copy the founder but to provide leadership in my own way, keeping all the good things from the past. It worked well.” She made the move to CEO despite hearing a voice in her head telling her: you can’t do this. “I don’t see that as a weakness, but rather as a motivator, although lots of women can allow themselves to be held back by it. I’m sure it reduces their visibility and they miss out on promotions as a result. It can and should be different.” This is why, wherever she works, she gathers women around her, nudging them in the right direction. “Only by doing that can we ensure that more women achieve leadership positions. Women should say to themselves: I’ve never done it, so I think I can.”
Women should say to themselves: I’ve never done it, so I think I can
Her first job as CEO involved setting up a strategic plan for the years 2020-2025. “When I started in 2019, staff said they had no idea what the plan was. I had no idea myself either.” Claudia loves being innovative and decided to use crowdsourcing. “I said: ‘anyone who wants to join us is welcome’.” Forty staff members put themselves forward to work with their new director Claudia in developing a strategy for the company. “We ventured out to seek inspiration, to see what the trends were, what innovations were on the horizon, in other words: we looked at what’s happening in the world.” Based on all the information, she and a small team developed a strategy. “Now every staff member knows what we’re working towards.” Morale in the company is now much more positive. “I try out lots of things and that always involves mistakes. It’s a huge culture change for lots of staff, but it’s the only way of moving forward.”
I give more direct feedback and take people on board in the process
She herself also makes occasional mistakes. “I still haven’t totally gotten over some of the mistakes I made at the start of my career. I’ve dismissed people without having made it sufficiently clear that I was unhappy with their work. I’ve learned from that. I now give more direct feedback and take people on board in the process.”
I always carefully observe people and their qualities and try to adopt some of them myself.
Every problem is an opportunity to reach a new agreement.
Seize opportunities, try things out, set yourself targets, look ahead and keep learning.
Source of inspiration
Claudia has numerous sources of inspiration. “I always carefully observe people and their good qualities and try to adopt some of them myself. Even from people that I don’t know personally. Neelie Kroes is an inspiration to me and the same applies to my female colleagues on the De Efteling supervisory board. I always observe what’s going on around me, and am always learning new things.” She would love to go to Silicon Valley and to the Singularity University. “To see for myself what innovations are on the horizon and work out how we can apply them in the company and also to develop myself even further.”
Best advice ever received?
In answer to the question of the best advice she has received, she replies that every problem with a customer, supplier or other business contact is an opportunity to get around the table and come up with another agreement. “Friction exists to be resolved. It can result in better partnerships, so shouldn’t be avoided.” Another piece of advice that she has often received is one that she is yet to follow. “It’s the advice I'd give to the Claudia of twenty years ago. Despite that, not taking that advice has proved very beneficial for me.” She’s talking about being less impatient. “I was keen to have career success quickly, but now I think: I could have taken it a little more slowly. But, if I had, I wouldn’t be where I am now. My impatience helps me to seize opportunities.”
1985-1991 – Atheneum (pre-university education), Sint Willibrord College, Goes
1991-1996 – Information Management, Tilburg University
1996-1999 – Post-doctoral program in Accountancy, Tilburg University
1996-2005 – Manager, Assurance and Business Advisory, PwC
2005-2010 – Vice President, Finance and CFO, Dockwise
2010-2012 – CFO, Green Gas International
2012 – CEO (since 2019) and CFO (until 2019), Brand Loyalty
Claudia is from the Dutch province of Zeeland. She relocated to Tilburg to study and later moved to ’s-Hertogenbosch. She lives there with her husband and their twin daughter and son (age 17).
What have your studies in Tilburg brought you?
Tilburg University keeps a close eye on the quality of its programs. In addition to the high academic level, we also pay a lot of attention to the transition to the job market. We do so by looking at the careers of our alumni. You as a graduate can help your program enormously by providing information about your career.