Lidwien Suur Lidwien Suur Rafaël Philippen

“Strive to excel at your strengths”

In Alumni
Written by  Graziella Runchina Thursday, 15 October 2015 14:53

During her ING days she was named in the Goudhaantjes 100*, a list of rising management stars. In 2012, at the age of just 36, she became CEO of Unigarant, the insurance arm of the roadside assistance agency ANWB. In this capacity she has sat on the board of directors of the ANWB since 2014. The roots of Lidwien Suur’s meteoric rise can be traced to Maastricht, where she studied International Business.

 

Most of the Netherlands is in holiday mode, but for Suur, July and August are the busiest months of the year. After a few relaxing weeks with her family, she’s hard at work again. “Summer is a hectic time for us. We specialise in travel and recreation insurance, so while the rest of the country is on leave, we’ve got our hands full with more than two million customers. Camper vans, caravans, vintage cars, boats, you name it – they’re all dusted off during the summer. And things go wrong from time to time. That’s where we come in.”

Travelling circus
Suur, who lives in The Hague, tries to cut down on her commute by spending one or two nights a week up north, near Unigarant’s head office in Hoogeveen. “I’m here four days a week and I try to put in one day a week at the ANWB headquarters in The Hague. I’m always on the road. I’m like a travelling circus, with my suitcase and a heap of shoes in the boot of my car.”

Ambition
But Suur, the daughter of a truck dealer, believes that if you want something in life you’ve got to go for it. “Sometimes my university friends think everything just fell into my lap. That’s not quite how it went. After all, I’m already 40, and I’ve been working for 17 years”, she says modestly. “I’ve put in a lot of time and energy, although I was certainly lucky to meet the right people at the right time. Everything else is a matter of choice”, she continues. “I work full time and I have two young children, identical seven-year-old twins. My husband and I have a typical modern marriage, except that I’m the one who works full time and he works four days a week. That’s how we balance out our house full of boys. To be perfectly honest, I’m sometimes disappointed by the level of ambition of the average Dutch woman. Each to their own, of course, but I see gender diversity at the top as a real asset. Less conformist thinking, more innovation.” Of the nine people on the ANWB board of directors, four are women. “Women have a different view of the world, and therefore of business issues and solutions, than men. I tend to be focused on customer service, on how we interact with customers but also with colleagues. You can achieve so much with motivated and engaged employees.”

Pioneering
Suur has fond memories of her five years in Maastricht. “I made a conscious decision to study International Business at UM. I was looking for a broad-based degree, preferably at a smaller university. That it was taught in English was a plus, as was the fact that Maastricht is a lively city. Together with about 50 other students I started the programme in 1993, the first year the degree was on offer. We were pioneers, in a way, and that made me a stronger person. Particularly in the early days of my career I noticed that I had an edge over others. In Maastricht we didn’t just acquire knowledge, but also developed practical skills. Doing a presentation in English? Piece of cake. In Maastricht we did that every week. I didn’t know any better.”

Damaged reputation
Now virtually an old hand in the insurance world, she has seen the sector undergo its fair share of change. “More and more people these days are buying their own insurance, and the recent damage to the reputation of banks and insurance companies plays a role as well. We have to regain ground. The ANWB philosophy is that we want to let our customers know we’re really here to help them when they need us. At all the important moments in their lives, we’re here for them.” 

Improving
For the younger generation of students, she sees autonomous decision-making as crucial: “Reflect on what you really want, without ifs or buts, and without letting external factors weigh in too much”, she says. “Keep improving on your weaknesses, but do also try to excel at your strong points. My strengths include my powers of analysis and strategic insight, and I’m good at advancing goals and bringing people together. That’s the foundation on which I’ve built my career.”

* The Goudhaantjes 100 is an annual list of talented Dutch managers compiled by the magazine Management Team, based on interviews with head hunters, tips from readers and their own research. Goudhaantjes are under 45 years of age but serve as senior managers or executives and have high revenue responsibility.

Lidwien Suur (1974) studied International Business at UM and recently completed the Advanced Management Programme at the Harvard Business School. She has held various managerial and executive positions at companies such as Nationale-Nederlanden, where she worked her way up to become Director of Strategy. Suur has been a board member of the ANWB since 2014 and CEO of Unigarant since 2012. Unigarant is a full subsidiary of the ANWB, focusing on travel, recreation and home insurance. 

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