Leonór Orbán Leonór Orbán Hugo Thomassen

Human resource navigator

In Alumni
Written by  Hans van Vinkeveen Tuesday, 07 June 2016 14:42

The informal culture took some getting used to, but it wasn’t long before she swapped her smart trousers for jeans and sneakers. A graduate of psychology at Maastricht University, Leonór Orbán de Lengyelfalva is now Head of Learning and Development at TomTom – a role in which she still draws on skills she acquired during her studies: "I know how to take the sting out of a conversation with an angry employee."


"A patient threatens you with a knife. How do you, as the therapist, turn this into a safe situation?" This example of Problem-Based Learning struck Orbán during her studies in Psychology at the Faculty of Health Sciences. "I’ve never experienced a threatening situation like that at work. But it’s comparable with a discussion with angry employees; I’ve learnt how to take the sting out of it and help them release their anger in a respectful way."

Orbán chose the programme for what she calls its ‘human aspect’. She specialised in Clinical Psychology, but discovered that treating patients wasn’t for her. "After a few sessions I’d get impatient and think, come on, get it together." What stayed with her, however, were the lessons on conversation techniques. "How do you build up trust such that people are willing to talk about difficult things? How do you bring them around to a certain understanding? These techniques have helped me a lot in my career."  

A tin of tomato soup
It was also the desire to be independent that brought Orbán from Oss to Maastricht in 1997. For her, the city is synonymous with freedom and autonomy. "I learnt very quickly to stand on my own two feet. Figuring things out on minimal funding: cooking, finding out what makes you happy, managing your studies. Learning from your mistakes and clumsiness. The first year was a huge learning curve."

Fortunately, she had a fantastic click with her flatmates, and the four ‘girls’, all Health Sciences students, became friends for life. Although they have since spread out all over the world, they still get together at least once a year. "We went to lectures together, shut ourselves away together before exams with a tin of tomato soup." She recalls one time when they were so busy chatting away on the bus that they missed their stop and ended up in the depot in Gulpen. Other times, they’d come home from a night out and sit around playing Risk until the sun came up.

Jeans and sneakers
After a brief stint in which she aspired to be an air traffic controller at Schiphol, even sitting a series of tough tests for the job, she took her first steps in the field of Human Resources. This turned out to have much in common with her studies. As a training consultant at Philips, Orbán served as a mediator between staff members and assisted managers and employees in their professional development. Later she became a recruiter in the same firm. "I was fascinated by job interviews, trying to uncover what drove people. What were their ambitions, and did they fit in with the team?"

At TomTom – a place for creative people who are passionate about their work, according to Orbán – she seems to have found her dream job. The informal culture took a bit of getting used to, she says, "but it didn’t take me long to trade in my trousers for jeans and sneakers." On being greeted by TomTom founder Harold Goddijn for the first time, she turned around, thinking he must be greeting an acquaintance behind her. This illustrates the company’s sense of openness and freedom: "You can drop in on anyone, and have all the space you need to run with your ideas. That said, everyone, right down to the interns, is given real responsibility from day one. There’s no micro-manager above you."

Test driver
It’s the kind of work environment that poses a challenge for HR professionals. Dealing with such clever, stubborn people calls for a different approach. "They know a lot more than I do about their field, especially the engineers. It’s about asking the right questions and having them figure things out for themselves." The same holds for coaching teams. "I give them the objective, but they decide how to go about achieving it. Then I just keep on asking questions throughout the process, and point in them in the right direction when needed."

Orbán’s loyalty to TomTom extends beyond business hours. An avid motorcyclist, she was asked to serve as a test driver in the development of Rider, a navigation system specially designed for motorcyclists. Touring around on her motorbike, she identifies teething problems and, together with the other test drivers, gives feedback via the internal forum. TomTom also has internal ‘communities’ for navigation systems aimed at runners and truck drivers. "So in addition to the job I am hired for, I am helping in the development of the actual product. It may only be a small contribution, but that doesn’t make me any less proud."

Leonór Orbán de Lengyelfalva (1979) studied Psychology at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Maastricht University from 1997 to 2003. She has held various positions in human resources, including as a training consultant and talent recruiter at Philips. Since 2014 she has been Head of Learning & Development and Organisation Development at TomTom.

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