International Women's Day (March 8) is dedicated to equality. It is also an important occasion for us to highlight successful women who are committed to equal rights, who are pursuing an impressive career path and who do their part as role models for future women in leadership.
Mieke Frijters, from a 'very young' manager until last year elected female entrepreneur of the year. "I was 17 when my father died. Never regretted a day I continued the business," Mieke said. Her dad started ATF in 1960. The moment the Port of Antwerp developed. One truck and one crane became two and ATF - de juiste weg developed into a renowned modern innovative road construction company based in the north of Antwerp. A speciality? carrying out infrastructure works for customers in the Chemical and Petrochemical sector.
After the death of her father in 1982 her 11-year older brother and Mieke decided to continue the business together. They were a perfect team until they got buyers at the door. That sounded like music to her brother's ears. In 2014 she decided to buy out her brother completely and continued by herself, with her TOP team consisting of 100 men and 10 women.
"And they, they are the most important thing for me," according to Mieke. Gathering the right people around you. They are not on your balance sheet, but they are the biggest investment in your company. Listen to your employees and get on the shop floor. Know what's going on. Value them and take care of your people as much as possible.
"For me, a happy employee is the right way to a happy customer!"- Mieke Frijters
What obstacles did you have to overcome during your career and how did you overcome them?
I joined the road construction company that my father founded in 1982 with my 11-year older brother. The intention was to spend a year in the family business and then continue studying, but the death of my father in November of the same year changed those plans. Together with my brother we took over the company with the objective of developing ATF in what we considered to be the right way. In 2012 a potential buyer showed interest. A tempting offer that we almost signed. But the closer we got to deciding, the harder it became. For me to no longer be active or to build something completely different, even though I already had a fantastic team around me? A wonderful family business is also a family that you leave behind. So, I made the decision to buy out my brother and go my own way. To this day, I have not regretted it for a minute.
Is "female leadership" a thing? If yes, how would you define its features?
The person who leads is important, not the gender. You will only be taken seriously if you can show your knowledge and that is just as true for men. You and your team must know where you want to go. Furthermore, you must of course be able to deal with ups and downs. Management team or not, "you" must ultimately take the leap. And you can’t count on others to tell you that you are doing well, you need to know that for yourself. And you know that things will go wrong: mistakes need to be learning moments. You don't make that mistake a second time.
As a female leader, do you strive for gender equality in your company? How?
We certainly do not make the distinction. But in practice it is still a "thing". For example, I employ a female tractor driver and that is going very well. But it is still not so obvious for women to perform in the industry that we are in. Although we are already making great progress in the field of ergonomics, it remains physically demanding work. Logically the biological properties of men are naturally stronger than women.
But at the higher technical level, I increasingly see that women have found their way into the road construction industry. And I'm very happy about that.
What would be your advice to women who want to succeed?
It won’t cause any harm to inspire more women to get involved in entrepreneurship. In the road construction industry, I am perhaps the odd one out. What helped me is that at home my husband is the "home manager" and ensures that the fridge is always full and ready for the weekend. I don't think it's necessary for you to be the leader at home and at work, but I do like for everything to be going smoothly at home. For many women who have no partner behind them it will probably be more difficult to find this work-life balance. But as I say it's always a challenge. With a good organization there is nothing to stop women from starting their own business. What do I find the most important ingredients to successful entrepreneurship? Make sure that you do your work daily with a lot of energy. Also make time to work "on" your company before working "in" your company, and most importantly? Organize a fantastic team around you and keep investing in it. My motto? A satisfied employee is the beginning to having satisfied customers!