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Non-standard career path: from studying Japanese to making offices greener

The Linked In profile of alumnus Arne Driessen describes him as a ‘serial entrepreneur’. After studying Japanese he ended up working for a translation agency, after which he founded his own online marketing company, which he later sold to enable him to do something different again: making offices more sustainable using mobile plant walls.

Name: Arne Driessen (28)
Jobs: co-founder of The Greener Good, which uses the Wilde Wand (‘wild wall’) to make offices more environmentally friendly. Founder and former owner of online marketing firm Tenbirds and employee at Concorde translation agency.
Studied: BA Japanese Language and Culture (2011); exchange with Kyoto University (2010-2011); ResMA Area Studies (2013)

You did an internship at the consulate in Osaka. What did you learn from that experience?

“After my time as an exchange student at Kyoto University, I wanted to go back to Japan, and at that time I was really interested in the diplomatic service. The internship was a great opportunity to be in Japan again, to speak the language and build up some practical experience, but I realised that it’s not for me. The business world is a better fit for me: entrepreneurship, close working relationships, making your own choices as part of a small team and having the freedom to set your own course and take strategic decisions. I’m really glad I moved in that direction.”

Studying Japanese is not the same as studying Business Administration. Where do you get your entrepreneurial drive?

“My parents have always been entrepreneurs. My mother was the director of Trekpleister, and my father was an entrepreneur in various sectors, from a writing company to supermarket chains, childcare services and car parts. That’s why I like being an entrepreneur so much.”

Which of the skills you developed during your studies do you still use today?

“If you make sure you do what you love in a smart way, and that you also make time for yourself, you can learn anything. During my course I learned how to think critically, be creative, persevere, bring structure to my work and be open to learning everything about something new. I use all of that now. Looking back: ‘it would have been nice to have done accounting courses’, but when you actually have to make an operating account budget, you soon learn how to do it. I never think: ‘I can’t do that’, but rather ‘I can learn how to do that’.”

How did you get into environmentally-friendly workplaces?

“I’ve always believed that sustainability is important; I introduced a meat-free day in my student house. My last workplace was pleasanter after we added more green, which is what I do now with the Wilde Wand mobile plant wall through my company The Greener Good. It increases the sense of wellbeing and the productivity of a workplace.”

In 2016, Leiden started the Mentor Network for alumni, and you became a mentor. What kinds of questions did people ask you?

“I’ve had great conversations with people, such as one young man who wanted help with online marketing and PR for the Bètabanenmarkt science careers event. I made a step-by-step plan with another young man who wanted to learn about starting a business. I really enjoyed that, and I got the feeling that he got something out of it too. I’d especially advise graduate students to sign up. At that stage you’ve built up some experience and you have concrete questions.”

Is there anything in your working life that you wish you’d learned at university?

“In the real world, you have to work with people from all sorts of different backgrounds. You don’t get that so much at university. Learning how to communicate with someone with a completely different level of education or very different priorities, or someone who is 50 years older than you, was really hard for me at first because you don’t always understand each other.”

What advice would you give students who don’t know what they want to do?

“Do a lot of different organisational activities (like joining committees), travel a lot and have a lot of different jobs. That’s how you find out what kind of work you’re interested in, both in terms of what you actually do and the way of the job works.”

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