All about Damco’s Saskia Groen-in’t-Woud

Damco's Global COO Saskia Groen-in’t-Woud, the winner of the 2017 Telstra Business Women in Asia Award, shares her career highlights.
By: | March 13, 2018

In Leaders Talk HRHRM Magazine Asia sits down with C-suite movers and shakers to talk HR and leadership.

Don’t forget to check out our main feature interview with Damco’s Saskia Groen-in’t-Woud, here.


How would you describe your philosophy towards leadership?

You’ve got to give people the space to make a contribution. Fundamentally, that is the most important thing you can do [as a leader]. But for people to make a valued contribution, they’ve got to be clear on what it is they’re doing.

So, I think as a leader, my role is to set the direction, and then remove obstacles so that people can go there. I then need to spend enough time with people and understand how it is going, and whether we are resourcing it properly.

How does that work out on a day-to-day basis?

It’s a challenge, because the higher you go, the more of a compulsion it is to just say, “We’re doing this,” and then not check back in.

I think you do need an element of decision mandating, because at some point, you wear out the conversation and democracy. There’s a lot of merit in making a decision. And then you’ve got to stick with a decision and see it through.

There was a thing I learned many years ago called “in-process evaluation”, which is about having the right conversations periodically to see if things are on track. I don’t think leaders do it enough – just having an honest conversation about whether something is working or are we actually reaching our milestones.

And if we are not, to then think about why not, and how we need to adapt and change.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

The Telstra Award was such an interesting process because it let me look back on how far I’ve come  in my career. I actually started when I was 18 in a radio station writing copy! Then I went into stakeholder management and public relations for large construction projects. All this happened more by accident than by design.

But I think out of anything, moving to the Philippines, and working there for three years [as the vice-president of supply chain at Holcim, prior to joining Damco], taught me the most. I learned more about myself as a leader during that time than all the years before.

I think it’s very easy to get recognised and rewarded for making very rational, pragmatic decisions. But that experience taught me to lead with my heart, and challenged me on every level. I would walk the truck park at Bulacan, picking up rubbish with the truck drivers, for them to understand how important it was to do housekeeping. Because if you take pride in your workplace, then you take pride in how you drive your truck.

So leadership involves getting your hands dirty – literally?

Yes – if I sat in an office all day, I would have no clue about what’s really happening.

We only have two things we need to achieve, and my team are well aware this. We need to make a better customer experience, and we need to make it better for people to come to work every day. They both feed each other.


Rapid fire round

I love: Sailing
I dislike: Garden swings, and going in circles:  when people just won’t make a decision
My inspiration is: Having so many opportunities to change the way that the world works
In five years, I’d like to be: In a CEO role, that’s what I’m working towards. That, or sailing around the world!
Advice for my younger self: Realise that you have what it takes to stick it out through some of the tough times
The best decision I ever made: Coming to Damco. It was a big thing at the time, considering the company’s then-situation, but it’s worked out
One thing people don’t know about me: I love to strip and rebuild diesel engines in yachts!


For more Asia-Pacific CEOs and business leaders discussing their HR challenges, head to HRM Asia’s  dedicated Leaders Talk HR microsite.