The challenge-seeking deal junkie


Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Melissa Cheung and inspires her on a daily basis? How has Shruti Pathania's life, career, ambitions and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Youri de Koster made in his life? Through a series of portraits, we answer these questions and introduce you to our people: those who make Accenture the thriving company that it is.

Introducing Babiche Veenendaal, Senior Director in CMT Industry at Accenture.

Babiche Veenendaal was traveling in Thailand with her husband, Steven, and their three kids, then 8, 12 and 14, when she felt an intense pain in her chest. It was a heart attack. ‘Afterwards, my cardiologist told me that I needed to start prioritizing “me-time”. But I couldn’t think of how to spend that time. How does someone forget what they love doing?’   

  • Woman sitting down in a dock

‘We were on a plane when it happened. Next to the pain in my chest - like an elephant was stepping on it - at the same time, my left arm began to ache and I started sweating all over. I remember thinking to myself, “these are the typical symptoms of a heart attack; that’s what’s happening to me, right here and now.” But all I could focus on was how to downplay the severity of the situation because I didn’t want to scare the children. It was a bizarre reaction, and, interestingly enough, one that many women apparently have when they experience a heart attack. While most men scream for a doctor immediately, women tend to do everything they can to protect their loved ones from worry, even in the midst of an emergency. It’s fascinating and scary at the same time.’ 

‘What’s even more bizarre is the fact that I was actually feeling unusually relaxed earlier that day. In the morning, I had gone for a walk in nature to take some pictures, and when I got back to the hotel, I remember telling Steven that I hadn’t felt as relaxed as I did then in a very long time. Later, when I raised this with my cardiologist, he told me it is common for a heart attack to be triggered by relaxation - not in the sense of lying around doing nothing, but as in engaging in an activity that helps you to relieve stress and blow off some steam. That’s why people often have heart attacks during sports games and other physical workouts, for instance. The real problem, my cardiologist told me, was that women like me don’t have enough real me-time.’ 

The challenge-seeking deal junkie

‘What did he mean by “women like me”? Well, he meant women, who like me, are used to working hard and consistently strive to perform at a very high level. In my case, I guess you could say I was addicted to adrenaline and a certain level of stress - I wasn’t called a “deal junkie” for nothing. And then to add to this, after a long working day, “women like me” go home to another important role that’s always awaiting them: motherhood. Something else that they find important to do well.’ 

‘The heart attack, even though it was mild, radically changed my thinking. It made me realize I needed to make some fundamental changes to my life and to how I organized my priorities. I obviously didn’t expect to have a heart attack at the age of 43, but considering how I had lived my life up until that point, I can’t say it was all that surprising in retrospect.’ 

Me-time that wasn’t really me-time

‘Before the heart attack, I would gladly work 60-70 hours per week. Of course, there was this underlying need to prove myself, but I also just genuinely enjoy my job. Plus, I was under the impression I was having plenty of me-time: I went out for dinner with friends and Steven regularly and I spent a fair amount of quality time with the kids. But now I understand that wasn’t real me-time at all.’ 

  • Two people close up shot in the boat

‘Which begs another definition: what is “real me-time”? Well, I’ve since learned that it should involve doing something that you - and you alone - want to do, preferably on your own, if possible. I did a mindfulness training to help me taking things a bit easier, and decided I was going to rediscover what it is that truly makes me happy. And then I still had to go through a second round of health concerns - two years ago I suffered inexplicable pains in my intestines - before I was able to really change my life.’  

From running around with a sandwich in hand to sitting down to a salad

‘Fast forward to today. I’m still very passionate about my job, but I work significantly fewer hours. Now, weeks can go by without any spikes in adrenaline or stress and I don’t mind. In fact, I often take time to sit down and do nothing or to just reflect. What also helped with this change in lifestyle was the arrival of Jackie in our lives two years ago. Named after Jackie Kennedy by our daughter Giulia, this black labrador is my favorite companion on long walks in the Amsterdamse Bos.’  

‘Because when I finally made it a priority to consider what ideal me-time looks like for me, I remembered that when I was younger animals and nature were two of my greatest passions. Somewhere along the line I had completely forgotten that. How peculiar is that? How does someone just forget what they love doing? Bringing Jackie into our lives has been great for numerous reasons, one of the biggest ones being she serves as a spur to get me outside.’ 

Looking at a flower for twenty minutes

‘Another thing I discovered is my love for photography. These days, when I take Jackie for a walk on a nice day, I often take my camera with me. It must be a funny sight: sometimes I find myself preoccupied with a single flower, taking dozens of pictures of it for a solid 20 minutes or so. It’s something I do solely for me - I get so much enjoyment from just being in nature and trying to capture something that I consider pretty.’ 

  • Woman photographing nature

‘After my heart attack, I found myself becoming increasingly concerned about the wellbeing of other young women around me. I’d hear myself saying things like, “be careful” and “are you sure you aren’t working too hard?” Around that time, I was approached by one of the country’s leading cardiologists, professor Yolande Appelman, who occasionally does talks at corporate companies to raise awareness around the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. She asked me if I’d be interested in accompanying her at one of her workshops to share my story with 25 top female employees at a big Dutch bank. Of course, I said yes!’ 

Don’t give and get back; give and take back

‘It was a memorable event: when I wrapped up my 15-minute story, at least three of the women in the audience were crying, and the rest were clearly moved too. I think being faced with living proof that a fit, 40-year-old woman could suffer a heart attack really brought it home for them. I saw it dawn on their faces: the realization that if this happened to me, it could also happen to them. It marked the start of a partnership between me and Yolande that sees us do these talks together every now and then. For me, they are the most effective way of reaching people, women especially, to emphasize the importance of regaining control over their lives and restoring balance. Life isn’t about giving and, hopefully, one day, getting back; it’s about giving and actively taking back.’  

  • two people in a boat

‘With this in mind, I came up with the idea to start the “Old Girls’ network” - obviously a nod to the Old Boys’ concept. The idea was inspired by the talk I gave at the bank. It was attended by a group of high-performing female staff members who gather regularly to catch up, discuss relevant topics and network. It made me wonder: “Why doesn’t Accenture have a similar initiative?”’  

Leading women empowering one another

‘So I started one. I invited Accenture Netherlands’ 20 female Managing Directors and asked one of the male members of the international Board of Directors to be our executive sponsor. Our first get-together has just taken place. My goal with the network is twofold: on the one hand, it’s there as a source of support, so we can keep a close eye on each other and make sure everyone is coping fine. But then I also want it to function as a platform that empowers women in the organization and encourages networking. Why is it that I know so little about the women in this company, their roles and the things they excel at? The Old Girls’ Network aims to change that: if we’re going to be there for each other, we need to know each other much better.’ 

The remarkable story of family friend Peter

‘Speaking of getting to know someone better, three years ago, I was approached by a homeless man close to where we live. “Hello lady, you look like you’re pretty well off,” he said. “Do you perhaps have a spare cell phone I could have?”. Intrigued by the cheekiness of his question, I decided to help him out. With three kids who all have mobile phones, we have plenty of old unused models lying around the house, so I went home to get one for him. When I told Steven about this later that night, he was shocked at my naivety. “That man is going to sell the phone and use the money to buy drugs!” The next day I went to see the man again, hoping to find that Steven was wrong about him. We got to talking, and the man, Peter is his name, told me more about his life and how he used to have a decent job, but lost his way as the consequence of an alcohol addiction. He showed me where he slept - under a bridge in a park (how tragically cliche!) - and I gave him 50 euros to buy a tent.’  

‘The story doesn’t end there. Today, Peter has a house and a job and he has successfully found his way back into society. He is now a family friend who joins us for dinner about once a month - these are always special nights, albeit without alcohol, of course. It’s these kind of stories that I hope to tell my grandchildren one day while we’re all sitting on a porch somewhere, looking out over the hills. I’d rather recount special memories like this than go on about the big deals grandma once made.’ 

  • Woman sitting in the dock by the lake

Babiche Veenendaal (1971)

Studied: MBA Law, University of Amsterdam (1995) 

Started working at Accenture: July 2004 

Relationship status: Married to Steven; mother to Max (17), Tim (15) and Giulia (11) 

Loves: Morals and ethics, watching documentaries, and spontaneity   

Gets annoyed by: People who don’t use common sense 

Favorite food: Oysters 

On my nightstand: De Logica van Geluk by Mo Gawdat 

Listens to: I hardly ever play my own music, but kindly listen to whatever Steven or the kids have on. Which means I end up listening to everything from jazz and classical music to Lil’ Kleine 

Last purchase: A piece of art - a mask made from recycled material - by a good friend 

Would like to sit next to in the plane: Jesus of Nazareth 

Life-changing event: The births of my children 

The best lesson life has taught me: Learn to love yourself

What I learned last week: Never underestimate people 

Most beautiful place on earth: Japan 

Hobbies/passions: Photography, good food, art 

What nobody knows about me: That I panic when I get lost, and I manage to lose my way even with the assistance of Google Maps  

Life motto: Progress is better than perfection 

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