Batenborch International talks with Lysander Oerlemans

We had the pleasure of meeting Lysander Oerlemans, former Head of International Retail Operations at Rituals. As an experienced leader, Lysander will share his insights on the industry, market developments and his personal growth throughout the years.

Which aspects of your job give you the most energy?

For me the most exciting part of any job is to be out there, at what we call the front line: where the magic happens. In retail, it is about being on the shopfloor, with the teams; the shop managers and also the Saturday help. Working together, not just visiting, not just looking at how things are going but really being embedded in the workplace. This also means having contact with the customers and finding ways to improve the business, commercially and operationally. At Rituals, my role was very operational, therefore ways to improve could be anything: it can be just changing a little form, routing in the store, coming up with those ideas in the store and then scaling them for the organization and getting the full benefit from it. To me, that is extremely rewarding and that gives me a lot of energy. In any job I visited the stores a lot, in perfumes and cosmetics it was about going out there, to the perfumeries, talking to the ladies on the shopfloor; what do they need?

What are the main factors that contributed to your success as a professional?

The first factor that helped me becoming successful is having different mentors. At any point in your career there will be a mentor, caring for you, mentoring you, supporting you. This person helps you to get the best out of yourself, by challenging you, by being brutally honest and by being genuinely involved by showing real heart. I had the privilege to have several good mentors, to whom I am forever grateful. People who can make you into a better person & professional.

Next to this, working hard & delivering on your promises is important. I will fight for what I think is the right way. I try to get everybody on board with that. However, there comes a point that you find out that your way is not the right way. When that happens, it is important that you can be adaptable. I do not like the colleagues who seem to be okay with any direction, that are supportive of any idea. To me, I like people with a sense for direction and stand for that. Even if the direction changes, the vision does not. The good visionary has the ability to create the right team to work on this vision. Knowledge of your own qualities and competences, and also knowledge of your own weaknesses is crucial for your success. Next to this, daring to take a calculated risk every now and then is a factor for success. Not everything will be successful, but if you do not take a risk sometimes, you will never stand out.

The last factor is kindness, the most underestimated value. Be kind to people. If you were starting your careers in the 80’s- 90’s, this might not seem as logical as it is today. Back then there was more a “bright lights big city mentality”. Hiring & firing. With maturity comes the realization that in the end, human beings, are striving for happiness. Try to make each other feel good, feel happy and be kind.

"With maturity comes the realization that in the end, human beings, are striving for happiness. Try to make each other feel good, feel happy and be kind"

Lysander Oerlemans

Which mistakes did you make along the way?

In a very  general sense, one thing I did not always do right is being perceptive enough to the opinions and emotions of others. Early on in my career I did not always notice this and I was not always sensitive enough about this. During my career I had to learn to be more sensitive to other people’s interest, opinions and emotions. When I was younger, I found that in bigger meetings, especially when I am hosting them or it was my presentation, the atmosphere sometimes was a little bit too tense. When you’re young, you think they do not understand you, but when you get older you think it may be because of the way I am responding to people. I had the tendency to always think I am right, so people did not feel heard. This is obviously the case when they said something and you are only explaining why their opinion is not right. I talked about this a lot with my trainers/coach. I tried to change it. Nowadays, I am still a bit stubborn, “I am the always right kind of guy”, this is in my character, but I know how to balance it a little bit more and give the floor to other people. To me it was a big development area, so I had to invest there.

How did your management style change during your career?

For me, it was about developing from this young go getter, aiming for results, to a more emphatic style, with much more eye for wellbeing. It is really about asking how do you feel? I did not ask this when I was younger, but now I ask this all the time. How do you feel is such an important question. If your team, your colleagues, your peers, even your manager, if they feel well and feel heard, the results will come. That was the evolution of my style.

Which challenges are you currently facing?

I think there is a general challenge nowadays, it is about inclusive leadership. One of the challenges regarding inclusivity is about generations. Millennials and post millennials have a different approach to work and work-life balance and what is important in life. When I started working, it was normal to take a sabbatical after twenty-five years of working. If you were taking time off before that, you would not get promoted. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to take a sabbatical after five years of working. My personal challenge is to not be against that, because I have experienced something else in the past. Now I try to see it from a more holistic point of view and I see the benefits of this way of working.

How do you find a balance between your professional and private life?

During my career, I also had a largely traditional family situation. I had the freedom to work late. Before we had kids, there was no clear distinction. When I was working in the spirits business, I took my wife to the events I was attending. Therefore the balance was a bit more fluid in a good way, even though I was still away a lot. The last years I started to consider closing the office door a bit earlier. For a very long time, leaving the office at six o’clock to me was ridiculous. This actually really is an old school mentality. Development of technology nowadays helps me a lot in finding the right balance. When I was younger there was no option to work from home, you had to get things done in the office and that meant staying late. What I always appreciated was, that when I left the office, the work was finished. Now I am trying to be a bit more conscious about my private time, for me this means the importance of having dinner with my kids, which I did not do for many years.

Which (new) key marketing/sales competencies will be crucial to succeed in the future?

The biggest challenge is to understand the customers’ needs in this world, and adjusting your strategy according to that. The demand of the customer, that is what we need to satisfy. Important is to make a true connection with your customer and focus on how to do that, both online or off-line.

What competences and what key factors make a successful team?

To me it is about why are we doing what we are doing. Is there a common understanding about the why? It starts with full clarity on ownership within the team. To ownership comes objectives, but it starts with what is your share in the process versus mine? Where does it overlap and if it overlaps, how do we handle that? Ownership is important and obviously it is about complementary skills, competences and to be able to add to each other’s skills. If it is not clear what you contributed versus someone else, then you find that people are contra productive. People will get involved in certain tasks, that they should not be involved in. This happens with the best intentions, but with bad results.

What is your general piece of advice for young marketers/sales professionals?

Within my own team, I always try to coach young professionals on being concise and on that less is more. One simple example is, try to get all the information of a presentation on five slides instead of ten. I know it is nearly impossible, but try it anyway. See how that works out for you. Next to this, as I mentioned before, find your different mentors and seek out people who can coach you.

What makes Rituals so attractive as an employer?

I loved working at Rituals. It is a fantastic company. What made it  attractive for me is the fast pace, the way they take a good idea and just go with it. At Rituals it was not about all kinds of DMU’s and big meetings. When you have a good idea you can bring it to practice quite quickly. It comes back to taking a calculated risk, which means in this case that you can do something just because we think that it is a good idea. The fast pace is really attractive if you like that kind of environment.