Conny Vandendriessche is the founder and owner of Stella P, a firm specialising in selecting external directors for company boards, and House of HR, a firm specialising in everything about people & HR solutions, such as interim jobs, payrolling and training and HR consultancy.
Conny also co-founded a European investment fund run by women which only invests in female entrepreneurs.
Conny is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at Vlerick Business School, where she studied her executive education, is a member on five separate company boards, and is the co-owner of over 15 separate companies.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role – where have you studied, what has your career path been like? How has your education helped you?
I am the daughter of an entrepreneur in the agricultural industry, so perhaps that is where I get my entrepreneurial spirit from. Although, I have two brothers who naturally my father looked at with regards to taking over the family businesses when he retired, so I was somewhat overlooked in this instance for taking on the business. However, this just spurred me on to learn about business and management and acted as a driver for me to prove that women can run a business. It’s safe to say my dad is definitely very proud of me now, however.
I originally worked in the tourism industry for ten years, before moving into a role at Adecco, starting new businesses. After four years in this role, myself and my business partner decided we should set up our own business, so we did. However, to do so I felt the need to go and learn the real ins and outs of what it takes to really set up a business from scratch. I decided to take an executive education course at Vlerick Business school, the KMO Challenge, which gave me vital skills in a number of really key areas such as financial management, people management and growth and strategy.
This course really helped to give me the skills to co-found my first business, Accent, which is a recruitment firm for permanent and temp work in blue- and white-collar jobs, in specific industries such as food and technical. This was set up in 1995, and still going strong today, as part of House of HR, which is now a wider HR firm, which is active in everything about people & HR solutions, such as interim jobs with a specific focus, outsourcing technical profiles, payrolling and training & HR consultancy, in 19 different nations.
Tell us a bit about your current roles.
Now, I have my role at House of HR and two other current permanent roles that occupy my time. I am a founder of Stella P and also co-founder of WeAreJane.
I founded Stella P around four years ago, which is a firm which looks to source and connect potential board members for companies to add value to their board. In particular, we do focus on connecting many women to these companies, with boards traditionally having a low number of women. Last year, 45% of the board members we selected were female, which is of course much higher than the current number of females at board level on average.
In my other role at WeAreJane, alongside two other founders, we are an all-female investment company, which only invests in promising female entrepreneurs. Female business founders are often underfunded – yet companies with female CEOs have been shown to have higher profits and be more future-proof. So, the WeAreJane platform invests in these firms, giving women the vital funding they need, whilst also actively supporting and coaching them.
Have you faced any challenges along the way? How has career experience or education helped overcome these?
Well, obviously one of the main challenges before I even begun working was not being seen as able to run a business because I was a woman. I used this as a driver to spur me on and it made me more determined to become an entrepreneur.
I would say one of the biggest challenges career-wise was when I first decided I wanted to set up my own company. I did not have any knowledge of the financial or strategic side of running a business. This is why I went to Vlerick Business School to learn these skills so that I could add these to my industry knowledge and people skills, to ensure I was knowledgeable on all areas needed for the running of a business.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is a great way to learn new skills, network with new people and to continuously develop yourself. It is important to have role models who are better than yourself, more senior and more knowledgeable – you can learn so much from them.
This is something I have been involved in a lot. My first ever role model who mentored me, I would say was my father. Career-wise, I have been mentored in virtually every new role I have taken on, with support from more senior people in my occupation.
On the other side of the coin, I have actually been a mentor too, whether that be at WeAreJane, where we mentor and coach the female entrepreneurs we invest in, or at Vlerick Business School, where I am an Entrepreneur in Residence, which involves me networking with and mentoring young entrepreneurs at the school.
What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?
One of the main things I hope to see in the future is to achieve equal pay. Of course, gender-wise, but also in other areas of diversity whether that be race, age and so on. It is one of my biggest dreams to help to achieve this equal pay.
I think it is really positive seeing the millennial generation come through into the workforce, who seem to not judge people on gender, race or age and simply see people for their skills and capabilities, and seeing all as equal. My hope is that the more and more millennials who enter the workforce, become managers and even CEOs, that this pay gap will begin to decrease. Hopefully this is sooner rather than later.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I would say my proudest achievement to date is building up a fantastic company from scratch, in House of HR, with the help of a great, diverse team of workers, helping more than 40,000 at work every day. Today, this company has a revenue of €1,6 billion euros, more than 2500 people & international active in more than 12 nations – that is something I am really proud of. I think this has been helped massively by staying flexible in our work, making decisions quickly, listening to the opinions and thoughts of others, and continuing to learn every single day.
I would also say it is an extreme privilege being a role model to so many female entrepreneurs, especially in Belgium. Not only helping to fund them, but coaching and mentoring them, listening to them and also learning from them is an honour.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I would say my immediate challenge work-wise for the future would be 2019 and deciding which companies to fund and invest in, and which companies to participate in. It is always a challenge picking the companies who deserve funding, but also will be profitable.
But looking further ahead than this year, I would say I have two big dreams. One, is to help ensure all companies have a functioning and valuable board. This is something we hope to help achieve through Stella P, sourcing and recruiting members for board level positions to really make a difference at these organisations.
The other I have already mentioned. To achieve equal pay for everyone, no matter what gender, race, age, and so on, they are. I think this is a really important, pressing issue, and I hope that not only is it achieved, but I can help it to be.