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“I often listen to my inner Pippi Longstocking”

Karin de Koning loves nature and music – and high heels. Karin, who hails from the Netherlands, has been part of the Beiersdorf family for eight-and-a-half years now and has rapidly risen through the ranks over this time. The 38-year-old is now Country Manager, Benelux. We spoke to her about her fondness of strategic negotiations, the courage to tackle challenges, and her personal tips for career starters and managers.  

Karin, you joined Beiersdorf eight-and-a-half years ago and have gone from Category Manager to Country Manager, Benelux, in that time – what a great career development! Can you give us a brief summary of your career path?

I joined Beiersdorf the Netherlands in the area of category management in 2012. Beiersdorf was absolutely my employer of choice at the time, so after several positions with a global food company, I accepted my first managerial job with Beiersdorf. I learned an incredible amount back then and then moved to the Hamburg headquarters to join Global Shopper & Customer Marketing, where I was responsible for development of the NIVEA category, including launch activation promotions and revenue growth management.

After three exciting years, I moved back to the Netherlands as a sales manager, where I discovered my love of strategic negotiations and then ultimately assumed the position of Head of Sales. Soon after, I was offered the position of Country Manager, Benelux, and I naturally jumped at the opportunity! This is typical of me – I have always seized opportunities, rather than mulling things over for too long. Even when I received offers for jobs that I wouldn’t have expected.

Sounds like a career in the fast lane. What, would you say, was the key to your career success? What drives you?

I think it’s important to always be yourself, be authentic, and not to be doubtful about whether your way of working lives up to standard type of behaviour. I have always done things in the way I thought was best for the company, my team, and me. I often listened to my inner Pippi Longstocking and boldly seized opportunities even though I wasn’t 100 percent sure I was ready. I think this is the major difference between men and women – we often think too much about whether we are ready for the job. Men tend not to have these self-doubts. I always had the ambition and desire to one day become a country manager and seized every opportunity to develop. I never would have imagined I would secure my dream job so quickly. I would say my courage and commitment totally paid off!

Karin assumed her first management responsibility in category management for NIVEA. She now manages about 160 employees.

Category management and sales are two areas that are generally dominated by men. How did you assert yourself in these fields as a woman? And what advice do you have for other young women and men who aspire to having a similar career?

I never think in terms of men against women. I think the best teams are always mixed: in terms of gender, age, background, etc. I appreciate that young women can be intimidated by male-dominated areas, but it’s worth persevering. During an internship at a Dutch dairy company, I shared an office with three big guys who really had a lot to say. I was a little in awe at first, but I soon overcame this. Don’t be afraid to be feminine, even in a male-dominated culture! I don’t own any jeans, for example, and almost always wear a dress or a skirt. And I have a wide array of colorful pumps – they are part of my own signature look that enables me to step out with confidence.

You were born in the Netherlands, but have worked in Germany for a number of years. How important is international experience to you?

I think international experience is the key to success. It really helped me to see things from other people’s perspective and understand others better. I studied in Australia for a while, traveled around Latin America for a year, and spent three years working at our headquarters as part of an international team. Looking back, I can say those were the best experiences of my life, because they truly enriched my life. I grew up on a farm and succeeded in getting a university degree as a girl from the countryside. But on my travels, I realized this wasn’t necessarily the case in many other countries. I am grateful for the opportunities I had. And this insight influences my actions to this day – including when hiring new employees. I endeavor to deal with prejudices very consciously and to give everyone a fair chance, no matter what their background.

What were your best career experiences to date?

Basically, all the events that were likewise attended by great colleagues, be it international meetings in Hamburg, the events we held in the past in the Netherlands to celebrate our results, or the online pub quiz with the entire Belgian organization we played recently. It’s people that make the job what it is. And the greatest successes are best celebrated as a strong team.

Does your work leave you with any time for hobbies or other interests?

Yes, absolutely – it’s important to me that I strike the right balance between work and relaxation. I have been playing the saxophone since I was eight years old. I love to attend music festivals and concerts – something which has obviously not been possible with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, though, my partner has some DJ skills from back in the days and has thrown some small parties at home from time to time – just for him and me. Because I love music, I was torn between studying business administration and music.

Now it’s obvious what I chose... Apart from music, I also enjoy peace and quiet a lot. We live on a very lively street in Amsterdam and on weekends I need a break from the city. So me, my partner, and our dog head out into nature. During the week, I often engage in sport or take my dog for a long walk before work. These breaks are an important way for me to recharge my batteries for the day.

Work and high heels in harmony: Karin’s desk at home is in her shoe cupboard.

What else characterizes you as a person and as a manager?

As I already mentioned before, I love high heels! At home, my desk is even set up in my shoe cupboard – it was the only place where there was enough space. I always try to look on the bright side of life and enjoy every moment. Others often describe me as enthusiastic, creative, and pragmatic – I’d say that’s about right. I like to keep things simple and I always try not to overwhelm my team with too many ideas, as this is my watch-out.

And as a manager, I always relate my personal story – how I grew up, the moments that changed my life. After all these years, I even have a short PowerPoint presentation about my personal journey, and my teams appreciate my transparency and openness. So the advice I would absolutely give everyone is to be open – it will pay off!

Karin, many thanks for the friendly and interesting chat.

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Diana Lühmann

About the editor: Diana Lühmann

Since autumn 2019, Diana has been responsible for corporate communication related to HR and inspiring people at Beiersdorf. These include the areas of Diversity, Learning & Development, Career, Leadership, and Health. Previously, she was in charge of R&D Communications and explored the exciting world of our research and development.