'The only thing l recognized was the vending machine'

Introducing Charlot Jonker Roelants, Accenture Google Cloud Business Group (AGBG) – Delivery Operations Lead Europe at Accenture

How does somebody with an extensive legal background ultimately find herself in a managing director role in the field of technology? Charlot Jonker Roelants sheds some light: “My career is testament to the fact that you can shape your own path by making the right choices."

Not many people can say they have been on a committee that also featured Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late South African president Nelson Mandela. But Charlot Jonker Roelants can. In 1994, as a final-year law student focusing on human rights, she spent five months in Cape Town, South Africa. Her master’s thesis centered on how to shape the new Rainbow Nation. “I still consider my time as a student as some of the best years of my life. Meeting inspiring people such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu was definitely the ultimate cherry on the cake.”

But the experience was so much more than that. Her time spent as part of a team that was dedicated to exploring what an ideal world should look like, made her very idealistic. “After that, I became determined to make promoting human rights my life’s goal. Full of hope and ambition, I applied for internships at organizations like Red Cross and Human Rights Watch, but all I received was rejections. I tried for months, but without success. I certainly didn’t expect that. Here I was – a recent graduate with great grades, a fair amount of experience and the drive to make a difference – putting myself forward for a free internship, and there didn’t seem to be any interest. So when I was offered an internship with the Confederation of Belgian Breweries, I accepted. That’s how I landed up in Brussels, where I ended up staying for 24 years.”

Where law and sales meet

“During that time, I gradually worked my way up professionally and my career evolved significantly. I started with a sole focus on legal responsibilities, but over time, the commercial aspect became a more prominent part of my job. I realized that too often salespeople closed deals and signed contracts with clients, without actually understanding what that contract entailed. As AB InBev’s legal director, I started working very closely with sales representatives. I would accompany them when they attended client meetings to ensure that the agreements we drew up were within the boundaries of the law and that they understood what they were signing up to. That was definitely a turning point in my career: it’s when my role as the ‘bridge’ between the legal - and commercial world was first defined.

Nearly 20 years later, that’s still the part of my job that I consider my forte: launching a new project, drawing up a contract and explaining to all involved what it entails and how best to work within its boundaries. When I see a contract, I can immediately spot potential pitfalls. The key is to make written communication as straightforward as possible, which is fairly unusual for legal documents that are so often drafted in a complex way. I take a very pragmatic approach: if this is what we say and understand, let’s write it down that way. Keeping it simple is often the best solution.”

‘What is it exactly that Accenture does?’

When I was approached by a recruiter from Accenture in 2008, I didn’t really know much about the company. For some reason I was convinced it was an employment agency, and I was still under that impression when I went for my first interview. During the interview, I quickly texted my ex-husband: ‘What is it exactly that Accenture does?’ 

Despite that minor misconception on my part, I really enjoyed the interview. That said, the hiring manager didn’t think I was suitable for that particular position, which had a strong financial focus. He mentioned that even though the role they had in mind wasn’t a fit, his interest was piqued and he asked me what I thought I could bring to the company. ‘Well, I can brew a solid beer and I can serve as a great translator between legal contracts and non-legal people,’ I replied. A few weeks later, he called me to say that the company had created a new role for me and would be delighted to hire me. I was blown away. A company that’s willing to create a role for someone based purely on gut instinct and faith? That was definitely the kind of organization I wanted to work for.”

My French family made all the difference

That said, it took quite some time before I found my feet at the company. Coming from the brewing industry, I was used to a certain type of work environment and ambience. At Accenture, the only thing I recognized was the vending machine. But after a few months, and especially after meeting the French delivery team that ‘adopted’ me. I started to settle in. This team, whom I refer to as ‘my French family’, truly is the best. We have been working together for over 10 years and collaborate on complex European projects. We can call each other day or night and trust one another completely. Our personalities and skills are perfectly complementary, making us truly complete as a group.

When my marriage ended and my two eldest children left home to study, I returned to the Netherlands with my youngest son, Florian. I moved to Haarlem, close to my younger brother and the Bloemendaal hockey club, where Florian could continue his successful field hockey career. My life in Brussels was great, but returning to Holland has been fantastic. It’s so nice to be close to family again and to be able to just swing past a friend’s house for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. 

I had never lived in Haarlem before, but I absolutely love it here. As an avid hiker, I find it a real treat to have so much beautiful nature so close by. Within five minutes, I can be at the beach, on the dunes or in a beautiful national park such as the Kennemerland. I often head to these spots for a long walk. The sound of nature or the sea instantly impacts how I feel. When I’m walking through the dunes or on the beach, I can completely switch off and let go of any worries I might have.” 

What I do

Essentially, I am the bridge that connects a project contract and the delivery thereof. I'm like a translator who ensures that everything that’s promised and sold to a client is put on paper and delivered correctly, and that all parties involved fully understand what the contract means and involves. Furthermore, I’m the European Delivery Operations lead for AGBG, and along with my team, I’m responsible for the delivery center footprint and the necessary resourcing for the delivery of deals that Accenture and Google oversee together in Europe.

A day in my life

...Ideally always includes making progress in one way or another. While there’s obviously the occasional day when all I do is reply to emails (which I dread), my best days are those when we’re making headway with something – progress really boosts my energy.

Advice to fellow and future colleagues

Keep things simple and always try to take a pragmatic approach when looking for solutions. Also, make sure you look good on your first day at work – unless you want to be in my boat and have a terrible photo of yourself staring back at you from your badge for the next decade.

Charlot Jonker Roelants (1968)

Studied: Master of Laws (LLM), Leiden University (1994)

Started working at Accenture: April 2008

Relationship status: Divorced, mother to Hannah (23), Sebastian (21) and Florian (18)

Loves: My children, family and friends and connecting with them over a glass of wine 

Gets annoyed by: Injustice 

Favorite food: French fries

On my nightstand: My iPhone

Listens to: Audiobooks

Last purchase: A floor spotlight

Would like to sit next to in the plane: Nelson Mandela 

Life-changing event: The birth of my children

The best lesson life has taught me: My dad always advised me that if a person does something to annoy me, rather than letting it work me up, I should just take comfort in the fact that I’m not like that person. I often remind myself of that piece of wisdom and it genuinely helps 

What I learned recently: How incredibly important it is to ensure that a client fully understands every detail of what it is you’re selling them, and that there are no gray areas. It sounds so obvious, but a recent incident once again reminded me how critical this is

Most beautiful place on earth: Malawi

Hobbies/passions: Going for long walks, gardening and interior decorating. I love colors: there isn’t a wall in my house that’s white

What my colleagues don’t know about me: That I am actually not really a true vegetarian 

Life motto: Live life to the fullest and make the most of every day