From Rotterdam to Dubai, via Maastricht
Asked what she misses most about the Netherlands and she mentions her mother and her two dogs. Then there’s the clean air, cycling to work and proper bread with cheese. Otherwise, Eloise le Conge Kleyn’s life in Dubai looks a lot like her old life here. She studied Psychology at UM and has lived since 2015 in the Middle East, where she works for Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company. “If you want to climb the ladder quickly, you have to make a disproportionate investment in your career.”
Raised by her mother in the centre of Rotterdam, Le Conge Kleyn was keen to go to university elsewhere. “I wanted to experience a completely new environment and Maastricht seemed to be – and indeed was – very internationally oriented. Initially I chose European Studies, which at the time you could only do in Maastricht. After a year I switched to Psychology because I wanted to go deeper into the things that motivate people: why they do what they do.”
Work and Organisational Psychology turned out to be the ideal stepping stone to a career in human resources at various international companies. “During my master’s I did an internship at ING, and I’ve been fully immersed in the business world ever since.” Next she did a management traineeship at ING Insurance (now Nationale Nederlanden), including a stint in Hong Kong. After several years at Philips she joined Maersk Line in Dubai, where she heads the HR department.
Eloise le Conge Kleyn (1984) studied Work and Organisational Psychology at UM. She then spent several years working for ING in the Netherlands before pursuing an international career with various employers. She has been head of human resources at the Dubai office of Maersk Line since 2015.
The Danish multinational Maersk Line is the largest container shipping company in the world. “We facilitate international trade”, Le Conge Kleyn explains. “To give you an idea of the size of the company: I have 33,000 colleagues, and we have 630 ships and 306 offices in 114 different countries.” As HR manager of the UAE cluster, which covers the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Iran, as well as interim HR manager for India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Le Conge Kleyn is responsible for HR policy and leads the team that handles personnel matters. “I’m part of the ‘leadership team’, and it’s my job to make sure our HR approach enables us to do business while at the same time complying with all applicable laws and regulations. In India, for instance, you’re obliged to provide a crèche for offices with 50 or more employees. Maersk Line is still expanding. In November 2016 we opened an office in Iran, where I was involved in recruiting local talent.”
Challenging work climate
“The most challenging part of my work is the constantly changing world around us and the question of how we as a company can respond. We’re always alert. Changes in the political climate or developments concerning the environment and nature have a direct impact on shipping and therefore on our business. For example, in the past few years both El Niño and deep-sea fishing have affected the seafood catch in India. And during elections there can be less cargo, because if the political situation in a country is uncertain, smaller companies tend to hold off on shipping freight. All this results in a challenging work climate in which I have to make strategic decisions quickly.” Another plus in her current job is the chance to travel widely and often. “I’m on the road a lot. These days I travel regularly to India, Pakistan, Oman, Qatar and Iran, but also Denmark, Jordan and Nepal.”
Good home base
Because she is away so much, she likes having a good home base in Dubai. “I love it here. Dubai is an interesting city to live in. In my experience it’s one of the most modern cities in the Middle East, where people from all over the world come together.” She also finds it luxurious, culturally diverse and extremely safe. “Dubai has a beautiful beach and borders on the desert. I’ve made many international friends here and in contrast to what many people think, I’m just as free here as I am in the Netherlands. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful apartment complex with a nice pool. The nightlife is good too, and in the winter you can swim in the sea.”
What advice would Le Conge Kleyn give to ambitious students? “If you’re interested in a career in business, I’d say think pragmatically and act fast. As I see it, if you want to climb the ladder quickly, you have to make a disproportionate investment in your career. I don’t see that as a sacrifice. That said, it does mean I’m very flexible when it comes to my working hours, travelling and moving. You can’t expect to make quick strides in your career if you’re not flexible and willing to take the opportunities that come your way.”