Sustainability Programme Manager
The power of nature
At school, Rachel totally loved field trips. Once she went to Wales to a valley that was created by a glacier. “I remember feeling completely dumbfounded. I’m this tiny little person standing in this huge valley. This was made over millions of years by huge powers that I can’t even imagine.”
So when she started thinking about a career, she realized engineering is a way that you can harness the power of nature. “Take coastal engineering. If you build a concrete sea wall, you’re actually trying to protect something behind it from an immense force. And this completely fascinated me. So I decided to study civil and coastal engineering.” For her thesis she focused on sea level rise, opening the way to a job at dredging company van Oord.
“I started in 2011 as a project engineer working on the first offshore wind projects. At the time it was very much about innovation and trying something new. We had one project. It was nice because I was in that project for the whole life cycle. Since offshore wind was so young, it was incredibly dynamic. You could’ve a crazy idea, and just try it out. I loved it and worked myself up as a project manager.”
“The first project I did as the project manager, we delivered a substation for a project in Belgium. The moment that the substation went off the quayside onto the barge for installation, stuck with me. It was amazing. They were loading at dawn. And I just stood there with my team. I looked at my team and I was thinking, I’m so proud of you. What we’ve delivered!
Yes, I’m result driven. But I think my biggest strength as a manager is that I want to make sure my team is thriving and proud of what they are doing. I actually got criticized by another project manager once. He said, ‘you’re not deep diving into the content, you’re focused on looking after your team’. I realize it is not about right or wrong, everyone has their own management style, but I want to make sure my team plays to their strengths. I find it very rewarding”
A great sponsor
“Being a woman in this industry and wanting to succeed, it is an incredibly important factor that you find those people who guide you and lift you up. I was lucky to have a great sponsor in Didi te Gussinklo Ohmann. I worked for her on and off for most of my time at Van Oord. She was also the one that asked me to manage an accelerator and deliver new sustainable business.” Eventually this grew into a full-time role as Sustainability Programme Manager at Van Oord.
Now it’s not just about the people that work with Rachel. Sustainability is very broad and everybody is a stakeholder. She runs a small team with very big ambitions. “I spend half my day asking people, how can I help you? We want you to be able to be more sustainable, how can I help you to achieve that? That’s how I try to run the program. It’s much broader than leading a team, it is how I try to lead sustainability.”
Sustainable Van Oord
“A major offshore maritime company can be like a huge shipping tanker that takes ages to turn. It is old school of the maritime and offshore sector that we think we solve everything in house. Therefore I am striving to work with the right external parties and looking at promising startups. Because we should not be trying to solve everything by ourselves.”
Also she focuses on nature based solutions. “Work with the power of nature instead of trying to go against it. For example by planting mangrove forests or certain kind of seaweed instead of adding concrete or rocks for coastal protection. This increases biodiversity instead of destroying it.”
The power of nature keeps fascinating Rachel and this might just be the redline through her career so far. We are excited to see where the power of nature will bring Rachel from here!