Three Examples of Real Role Models

Time to forget about the Elon Musks and Richard Bransons of the world. Role models for professional rebels empower change from within.

I firmly believe in the power of role models and I have plenty, from Star Trek’s Captain Janeway to serial Indonesian entrepreneur Aulia Halimatussadiah. Role models are inspiring because they serve as examples and act as a guide when you have to make decisions, a ‘what-would-they-do-compass’.

Most of all role models are empowering, because if they can do it, why can’t you? I want to bring you three less celebrated role models. Not the ones who tore up playbooks and started multibillion dollar companies from scratch, but real role models who lead from within and inspire the people around them.

1. Mary Barra, Chair and CEO General Motors & role model on culture change

Marry Barra is the first female CEO of a major automaker. At the helm since January 2014 she’s focused on steering GM through a period in which the automobile industry is changing and the auto-giant has had to keep up.

“A lot of people say culture change takes 10 years,” she says. “We want to cut that in half.”

One very cool initiative under her reign is the partnership with car-sharing app Lyft (think friendly version of Uber).

2. Claudia Zuiderwijk, Chair of KVK & role model on partnerships

Claudia Zuiderwijk is a personal role model of mine. I’ve worked with her on KVK:\BETA, a challenge by the Dutch Chamber of Commerce for startups to develop a tool to help entrepreneurs.

She’s not afraid to take a chance on new and extraordinary partnerships. I asked her a few questions on what she thinks about being a role model.

Interview with Claudia Zuiderwijk
Do you think it’s important to be a role model as a manager or CEO?
“It’s important to be an example of the things I look for in others and in what the company should represent. You’re believable if you’re consistent in how you act, what you say and what you stand for.’
“I think role models can be people that are both accessible and doing well, not only mega successful top entrepreneurs. These people should share their disappointments and how they managed to overcome them. That’s why we’re involved in setting up a peer to peer and mentorship program with NLelevator for growing companies.”
Who are your role models?
“I don’t think anyone is amazing at everything, but many people are amazing at certain things. Like Dutch politicians Hedy d’Ancona and Neelie Kroes. Through my work I’ve also been impressed by a lot of entrepreneurs like the startups that took part in KVK:\BETA, the founders of Tony Chocolonely, Feike Sijbesma of DSM and Frans van Houten of Philips.”

3. Randall Stephenson, CEO AT&T & role model on inclusivity

Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Lastly there’s the CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson. This is a fairly typical white, male CEO who last month gave a surprising and passionate defence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US during an employee meeting.

“Do not tolerate each other,” he said. “Work hard. Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”

He added, “If this is a dialogue that’s going to begin at AT&T, I feel like it probably ought to start with me.”

His 11-minute speech was powerful exactly because he put the focus on himself. He’s starting the conversation on race relations and diversity, rather than waiting for someone else to do it.


Melissa Marijnen is partner & co-founder of Professional Rebel, which helps corporates ignite the rebel mind-set in their organization. She loves learning from others. So when you’re in Amsterdam, please be sure to contact her for a coffee!

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