Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau is a tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Renard Group. She leads a team of 15 people based in five countries, who are united in their pursuit of a legacy-worthy goal – to build a platform making mental wellbeing support easily and freely accessible and bringing people together to empower socially worthy causes and initiatives.
What defines you as an entrepreneur and as a leader?
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: Entrepreneurship is about having a vision – sometimes just a distant dream – and believing that you can turn it into reality. Some people will say no, and they may even laugh, others will support you and join you on your journey. Either way, you have to keep that true North and be confident that you are on the right track, on the right journey. And if the track isn’t always right, you build it.
As a leader, you have to, well, lead. People often shy away from that. Yes, being a leader means being decisive and factoring in that you have to make the difficult calls. Those decisions can sometimes be unpopular, and they can be difficult. But you have to stay true to the bigger picture and be transparent on the hows and the whys. People who see a clear path to follow and believe in your vision will be happy to join in that journey with you.
And this leads me to an essential aspect of leadership – your team. You can have all the diplomas and experience in the world. You’re not a leader until a team has committed to you long term. Not because they have to, but because they believe in you and what you are trying to accomplish. Managing people becomes central to your journey, and that’s when you have to figure out the type of leader you are.
I believe in helping people identify their strengths – as I do with myself – and work toward achieving fantastic results. So I find it valuable to always remind my team that I trust them, that I thoroughly appreciate their work, and that my door is always open for any and all questions they have. People also need constant and constructive feedback in order to grow on a professional level. In short: empower them to grow and thrive. Give them the tools they need to build their own journey towards success and make themselves proud. Train them, share your experience, trust them to do the job.
I wholeheartedly believe in surrounding myself with smart people. Ego should not play a part in building a team. I thrive on great ideas from my people, and I work tirelessly to pass on my knowledge and experience. You need patience and a clear view of the bigger picture in order to achieve true unity within a team. But when you do, it’s like acquiring a superpower. You can, with their support, do anything.
Communication within the team is key. People need to know who’s doing what, who bears responsibility for different projects, and who they need to go see when they need support. This is especially important during challenging times or a crisis, and your traits as a leader are all the more important and visible in such a time. Being calm and able to steer the boat in the right direction is what your people will be looking for.
Your network is worth its weight in gold. I have always been a firm believer in building relationships, and I count myself fortunate to have met and nurtured authentic connections with people from all over the world and all walks of life. I am there for them when they need me, and I have yet to run into a crisis that I can’t get help from someone I know to overcome.
So here’s my list of ‘commandments’ I stick to, and, therefore, the company does too:
- Your team is your best asset. Really. Surround yourself with smart people.
- Transparency – open communication and the flow of information will build trust within a company.
- Respect – commend it from others through always being fair, honourable, and humble – and offer it to those you come in contact with.
- Authenticity – what a buzzword – but let’s break it down. Say what you mean and do what you say.
- Responsibility – as a leader, the buck stops with you.
- Network – you are what you do, but also who you know.
- Patience – entrepreneurship is a long journey. Focus on the endgame.
- Share your experience, teach others and watch them grow.
We are living in unprecedented times – what does the ‘new world’ look like to you, and how are you working on changing the future?
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: The era of the corporate giant making money at any cost is quickly coming to an end. The pressure from all sides of the spectrum of stakeholders is and will continue to be huge. Companies that don’t immediately recognise that will be left behind. Now, more than ever, care for employees, customers, and stakeholders in general, has to be at the core of everything, especially business strategies.
Change has to happen on all levels and in all types of companies. Of course, it is much easier in a startup to create a certain type of culture from the beginning, especially if values are aligned with this new world. So we are practising what we are preaching – we have a very mixed team, and we pride ourselves on that. To us, diversity is not just a buzzword or a way to ride the wave. We believe in empowering talented individuals, no matter who they are or where they come from. For example, we have an all-female team at Workplace Today, our magazine. With the magazine, we are working incessantly to educate companies on topics such as employee engagement and wellbeing and equality, diversity, and inclusion. I am a true believer that the media can lead the way to positive change, through its dual role – informing and educating.
We are working on being a catalyst for people’s mental wellbeing and their ability to do good, through our soon to be launched app and platform, connecting individuals to counsellors and with charities to volunteer and raise funds for the causes they believe in.
Your biggest mistakes and your most significant success: what have you learned?
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: I grew up in an emerging economy, where schooling was not calibrated to the realities of the modern workplace or the world economy. So, you learn on the job. When I joined the workforce, it was like being thrown in the deep end, and it also put me in the position to make oh, so many mistakes. My biggest learning point was that you have to prioritise and choose the things you take on very carefully. You can very easily work yourself into the ground – and don’t get me wrong, I will not shy away from work – but you have to make sure what you do is worth the effort.
Biggest success? I am quite proud of the team I’ve managed to build this year and the fantastic board of advisors we’ve attracted. I believe that with them and the great people we have yet to meet and have joined us, we can turn our dream into reality. So while I believe my ‘biggest success’ is yet to come, I feel very confident that I have the people and tools to get there.
What do you want your legacy to be and how are you working towards it?
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: I say to my team that nobody can promise them success. What I will promise is an extraordinary journey – one that will make all of us proud. We are now working on something that will essentially make the world better. Change how people feel about themselves, how they interact, how they look at the world. We dream big. I want my legacy to be not only this change we want to bring to the world but also the personal and professional growth of everyone on my team – and beyond that – as we’re on this path. The team has been growing over the last few months, and I am proud to say we have attracted great talent and – so important today – kind human beings.
What was the most difficult day/challenge/situation you’ve ever been in and how did you overcome it?
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: On a personal level, the day my best friend died changed everything for me and spawned the idea for one of the features of the app we are working on launching. Ideally, I would never again hear of people needing support when bereft, lonely, anxious or depressed and not having access to it. I leaned on my support network, but that’s not something everyone has available. In a way, I used this event to guide my way towards helping others in their time of need.
We often ignore the toll a significant personal loss can take on someone’s career – from the ability to actually do the work to the fact that your priorities may very well shift after a life-changing event such as this one. So society – and, indeed, companies – need to have support systems in place to handle this often ignored, but growing pandemic – people’s inner wellbeing.
On a professional level, being an entrepreneur means having a vision, but also bringing together many different people to make that vision become a reality. Right now, we are building the app with a very mixed team – in five different time zones, speaking three different languages. I’m the meeting point. I start my day in one language, go through a second one and definitely end in a third in the evening. This is done remotely – and I have to ensure everyone is productive, engaged, proud of the work they are doing, and safe. So is it challenging? Of course – nothing of value comes easy. But I consider this a part of the journey and fully expect that challenges will keep coming. But I trust my team completely, so there is always a way to navigate the tough times and come out on the other side stronger and wiser.
The most memorable words anyone has ever said to you.
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: My brother loves quoting Eminem to me. ‘You can do anything you set your mind to, man.’ These are words I live by.
Words you’ve said and that you will always stand by.
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: ‘I have your back.’ I always say that to my team, and there’s nothing that will ever change my pledge.
Something you will never give up (and why).
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: Building a startup from scratch is like working five full-time jobs. So I have had to carefully trim down and prioritise everything I do and spend my time on. I already do a number of things. I am the CEO of Renard Group, my own company; I run comms and partnerships for Astriid, a UK charity putting people with long-term health issues into employment; I advise on comms for Asociatia Telefonul Copilului – the entity that operates the Childline in Romania; and I write the daily Business Chronicle, a newsletter meant to give people the tools they need to understand businesses on a daily basis.
To juggle all of it, I want to be able to say that everything I do makes a real contribution. So I have kept one ‘hobby’ that is very close to my heart – and an older love – book editing. I am working now with a promising writer on his debut novel, and it’s a brilliant journey. Book editing is very different from newspaper or magazine work. Because it is simply being a catalyst for someone else’s story – there’s no cookie cutter, there’s no template or format. It’s both an all-consuming and completely selfless process. It’s an incredibly empowering feeling.
What is the day in your life you are most proud of?
Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau: Tomorrow.
This article first appeared in the Elite Business Women magazine.
Read the full magazine here.
(Photographer – Shivani Mehra. Production crew/lighting – Roger Spencer.)