She knew very early on what she wanted: a top position at a large company. Ghislaine Duijmelings personifies ambition. But: ‘She is tough on business, gentle on people.’
As a young girl, Ghislaine Duijmelings already knew: If I am going to realise my dream, I cannot stay in Helmond. So, she moved to Utrecht as soon as she could, to obtain a VWO diploma from the Luzac college. She then quickly moved on to the European University in Antwerp. ‘Ghislaine had a clear goal: a top position within a large company’, says fellow former student Rutger van Londen. ‘And during our time as students, she was more disciplined than I.’
Duijmelings (51) realised her dream in 2011, when she became the CEO of Manutan in the Benelux. Manutan is the French company that acquired her Dutch employer, Overtoom. Four years later, she left to take up the position of CEO at industrial auction house Troostwijk, followed this summer by her transfer to the German Surplex, a direct competitor of TB Auctions, as Troostwijk became known after a merger.
‘With the merger there were a lot of changes, and there were two CEOs. Surplex was keen to acquire her services, so the choice was not so difficult for an ambitious person like Ghislaine’, says Richard Groenendal, who worked with Duijmelings as CFO at both Manutan and TB Auctions.
He gets why Surplex was on the phone very quickly after Duijmelings announced she was on the market: ‘In the auction business, you need to really focus on managing relationships. You need to know where potential buyers may be found, because many companies don’t immediately think of an auction house when they’re looking to sell materials. That is the game Ghislaine thrives in.’
Caption: Ghislaine Duijmelings strongly believes in the individual. ‘She’s convinced that, as an individual, you need to take every opportunity to grow.’ In that respect, sports are a means to that end. Do you want to become stronger? Do weightlifting. Do you want to take decisions faster? Play squash.
Former fellow student Rutger van Londen, now commercial director for purchasing organisation Xandrion, calls Duijmelings ‘tough on business, gentle on people’. The latter became clear during her time as top manager at Overtoom/Manutan Benelux. At the head office, she built a full in-house sports centre. Groenendal: ‘She strongly believes in the individual. She’s convinced that, as an individual, you need to take every opportunity to grow.’ In that respect, sports are a means to that end. Do you want to become stronger? Do weightlifting. Do you want to take decisions faster? Play squash. Do you want to be more goal oriented? Practice archery. ‘But it was much more than just sports’, says Léone Böck, directors’ assistant at Manutan Benelux at the time, and now job satisfaction expert. ‘We got a library, healthier food at the company restaurant, there were movie nights. I remember the Swedish film As It Is in Heaven, about a choir. The motto was: if everyone makes themselves heard, altogether it sounds amazing.’ Duijmelings herself started (kick)boxing, ‘perhaps to better control and apply her assertiveness’, according to Groenendal. Van Londen: ‘Ghislaine would really love to be a sporty, but its just not in the cards, between having a fairly young family, travelling a lot for business, lots of business dinners… you simply don’t have the time. But, all the same, she would regularly be up and out for a kickboxing session at 7:00 am.’
AVERSION TO PAMPERING
Böck says, professionally speaking, Duijmelings taught her more than anyone. ‘Working that hard and then still finding the time to be there, at home, for a husband with an international job and two children (Duijmelings has two sons, now 16 and 13, red.). Apparently, she doesn’t need any time for herself. She never goes out on her own either, except maybe to a training course.’ Duijmelings has absolutely no affinity with luxury, says Böck. She abolished virtually all secretary positions, because, she felt, most of their work could be done by the managers themselves. And when she introduced yoga in the company, she made it an explicit point to involve the warehouse employees in that as well, even if most staff felt that they didn’t really have time for it. ‘Ghislaine found and appointed a few enthusiastic yoga ambassadors and the net result was a whole line of work boots outside the yoga space.’ Sports also helped to loosen the rigidity of hierarchy, in favour of more cooperation: ‘If, in kickboxing, I am being coached by someone from the distribution centre, it helps change your view and perspective of each other’, Duijmelings herself said on this subject in the book Motivatie Binnenstebuiten; hoe krijg je jongeren in beweging? (Motivation Inside-out; how do you inspire the youth to exercise?) ‘The people-oriented approach was characteristic of Manutan, but aligned perfectly with Duijmelings’, says Böck. ‘Ghislaine’s interest in people is palpable. She’s always asking what I dream of.’
WHY ISN’T SHE IN A TALK SHOW
Outside of her own area of expertise, Duijmelings isn’t that well known, while she certainly holds the necessary qualifications to serve as a role model for ambitious women. Van Londen: ‘Ghislaine isn’t a big talker. She’s part of female top manager networks, but she stays in the background, she feels it is up to others to discover her as a female top manager.’ And then there is the, mundane though equally realistic, excuse of time. ‘Duijmelings works really hard’, says Groenendal. ‘In pursuit of her goal, she is blind to distractions, she can always be reached. She lives for the company she works for and sacrifices a lot for that.’ So, no public performance as a power woman? Böck: ‘She always shows her support for women in an organisation and in the top management. I just don’t understand why she’s never been asked to attend a talk show on that topic.’ And former fellow student Van Londen adds: ‘Ghislaine would do great, but she knows that life doesn’t necessarily become easier as a celebrity.’
- 1969 Born on July 29th in Helmond
- 1988 VWO diploma from the Luzac High School in Utrecht
- 1991 International Business Administration, European University Antwerp
- 1992 Marketing Manager Overtoom Belgium
- 1995 Overtoom becomes Manutan
- 2011 CEO Manutan Benelux
- 2015 CEO Troostwijk Auctions & Valuations
- 2020 CEO Surplex Germany, Industrial auction house