Aliter always has a people-first approach to everything we do. Today, as part of our People of Aliter series of interviews, we showcase the people behind the brand
Our guest today is Odette van Zijdveld – CEO of Aliter. Odette has been with us for more than four years now. We talk to her about her experiences with Aliter and how work has progressed despite a global pandemic.
Can you tell us a bit about your role at Aliter?
Sure, I’m the CEO of Aliter Networks and being in this position for a unique B-Corp like Aliter makes me responsible for People, Planet, and Profit.
I see my role as supporting the people in the company, helping them create a positive impact for themselves and the organization, and ultimately, our planet.
What do you love about your role, and what exciting projects/moments have you been involved in?
What I love about my role is that I get to work with many gifted individuals in Aliter. I see myself as a conductor in an orchestra where I’m able to bring all these prodigiously talented and unique people together. I help them find themselves and enable them to perform the best they can. And like an orchestra, I make sure that people are in tune with each other and playing to their strengths.
“I see myself as a conductor in an orchestra where I’m able to bring all these prodigiously talented and unique people together.”
Most of the time, it works and is magical – it’s like music to my ears. But, of course, that’s not always the case! (Laughs) But as a team, we’re always moving forward and eager to find the next set of challenges. This role is just so much bigger than me and it’s all about making beautiful things possible together as a team.
I think the high point for me was when Aliter was verified as a B-Corp. It was definitely an accomplishment considering the effort all of us put into the process. The changes the certification brought about amongst us was amazing as well. After being certified as a B-Corp, you could see Aliterians working in a certain rhythm, setting much more effective strategies, and making sure that goals are achieved.
“After being certified as a B-Corp, you could see Aliterians working in a certain rhythm, setting much more effective strategies, and making sure that goals are achieved.”
This was awesome to experience! I’ve been with Aliter for four years, and last year we almost hit our goals, 98% or thereabouts. It was heartening to see what we were able to achieve even during these extreme circumstances.
Another highlight I remember is meeting the Singapore team for the first time. We got together for a boat trip that we planned for a weekend, and everyone was there!
It was all capped with a great party where the theme was dressing like a pirate. To be honest, every day is a highlight. We share the love, and it’s great to see people growing, investing in themselves at Aliter.
What’s your favorite part about working in Almere, the Netherlands?
Speaking from an operations standpoint, Almere makes a lot of sense compared to Amsterdam because we need a lot of space for warehousing, and it’s comparatively cheaper here. So I’d say, firstly, it’s a financial decision to be here. Secondly, Almere is the youngest city in the Netherlands.
It’s amazing when you think about it because 55 years ago, this was all just water! (Laughs) The city is designed around being green and circular, which I think fits our narrative as well. I love our office, and it’s got a great vibe to it! People are busy, but we enjoy our work; we make time to laugh, so that helps. We don’t have a fancy office, but for us, it’s like home.
What was Aliter like when you joined the organization, and how has it evolved?
Well, for starters, it was a lot smaller! (Laughs) When I started, we had about 18 people here. But our mantra was always the same as it is now. When I look back at it now, I can see how we’ve evolved over time. We share both vision and mission at Aliter.
“When I look back at it now, I can see how we’ve evolved over time. We share both vision and mission at Aliter.”
Today, we are much more inclusive about decision-making. We have strong core values which were made collectively through each of us. Earlier, Aliter was driven by the efforts of Jean-Noel and Heath.
But as the company grew, I feel it became a lot to handle for just two people, even with the extraordinary talents, energy, and willpower they had. When I stepped in, I could take a lot of responsibility off their shoulders, which was good for them and the company.
Some of the changes that I was able to bring in were to define our mission and our values at Aliter. I also introduced long-term strategies, which we would then look to achieve in terms of smaller periods of quarters.
This, I believe, brings in better focus to priorities within the company. Another thing that I felt was important is to make sure that people not only grow and develop in their role but also other areas where there are internal requirements.
I always say Aliter refurbishes people before we say goodbye to them! (Laughs) This is an important part of our narrative where we leave people and equipment better than we found them. But all said, I could step up to this role because they built a solid foundation. It is with their support and trust that I was able to design or redesign processes at Aliter.
What makes Aliter stand out compared to other refurbishment companies in the technology space?
Well, that is a difficult question because, to be honest, I don’t know these competitors well! (Laughs) Yes, we have competitors, but Aliter is different from them at so many levels. From my experience with the companies that I’ve been part of, a difference I see in Aliter is that we foster and encourage entrepreneurship within the company. People feel responsible about their role and the company, which I think is awesome to see.
“A difference I see in Aliter is that we foster and encourage entrepreneurship within the company”.
An example of this was when the Corona Virus first hit; I met with the whole team to understand their thoughts. They were really involved in the discussion, and they were willing to go above and beyond what was required to keep everyone on board. And that is the level of commitment, entrepreneurship, and togetherness that exists here in Aliter.
We are a B-Corp, and there is no other IT refurbishment company that is certified. We have our own “home-grown” proprietary circular research planning system. For our employees, there is also a virtual shareholder program where they can benefit from the growth of the company value without the need to actually buy shares.
Also, there are people from so many different nationalities working within the company. Aliter has two offices, over 21 nationalities, and 40 people. Well, I think that’s a lot of unique points in favor of Aliter! (Laughs)
“Aliter has two offices, 20 nationalities, and over 40 people. Well, I think that’s a lot of unique points in favor of Aliter!”
How do you find leading a company remotely, and what do you do to stay connected with the team?
The one thing I noticed about working from home is that there is a kind of “equality” to the process. Like I mentioned earlier, we have an office in Singapore and they usually connect with us remotely. But considering that we were 80% remote during the pandemic at Almere, we were all looking at each other on computer screens!
But, to be honest, it was just different and not difficult. Perhaps the one part of working remotely is that it can get a bit intense because you’re staring at a screen all day. Back in the office, you could actually switch from the screen to real people during meetings.
Adding to the intensity is the issue of not being able to communicate optimally. You can’t rely on the body language of the people you’re speaking with – just the face and their voice.
About connecting with the team, there is a session within Aliter at 9-11 in the morning in Aliter. This is where there are updates or sharing a greeting, whatever was on the agenda that day.
Since a lot of us were working from home, the 9-11 meeting was moved online. And because of that, the Singapore team could also join in with us, which was nice! So this is how we made sure that we had enough “face-time” with each other.
It was just like being at the office for me in a way. I try catching up with all the Aliterians and make sure they’re doing okay. I understand the challenges of working from home, especially for people who have younger children. The schools were closed for a period, and I can only imagine the difficulty of coordinating between work and the kids during the pandemic.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share with aspiring Aliterians?
We’re always looking for unique and talented people who are able to contribute to Aliter. We look beyond CVs and education during the interview process. We understand that people walk different roads and I think those are the most interesting people! (Laughs)
I always felt that the most beautiful flowers grow by the side of the highway, and it’s the same for people as well. To sum it up, we are looking for authentic people who have the philosophy of growth ingrained in their mindset. People who are not afraid of making mistakes because that’s how you achieve growth. So yes, I’d invite anyone who feels that they would be a good fit for us to apply.
“We are looking for authentic people who have the philosophy of growth ingrained in their mindset.”
At Aliter, it’s all about making your own mark but with the support of a strong team. We are striving purposefully towards a goal that is bigger than all of us, and that is what I think makes us Aliterians!
Aliter is an equal opportunity employer and is on the lookout for people who love being part of something bigger than themselves and have fun doing that. Check our careers page for opportunities that suit your skillset.