Seeing and grasping opportunities, while making a difference for people and the planet: this characterises the career of Laetitia Smits van Oyen (54). Thirty years after completing her studies in architecture, she has returned to TU Delft as a member of the Supervisory Board.
LLaetitia Smits van Oyen had already made a turnaround at her graduation. Although she had been fascinated by architecture from the start, she did not think that the world would be interested in her designs. It was the 1980s, and a new phenomenon was emerging: the computer. ‘I didn’t know anything about it, but I saw opportunities and did my graduation project on a computer programme for designing low-cost public housing. It was very new at the time’.
After De Telegraaf wrote an article about it, Kraan Bouwcomputing asked her to come and work on software for the construction industry. After a year, she continued in a subsidiary of Volmac. ‘Talking to companies about how they could apply automation and the problems that they had encountered. At that time, everybody was buying computers, but nobody knew what for.
Smits van Oyen observed the lack of a link between hardware suppliers and accountants, and thus entered this gap in the market with a customer. Their solution consisted of secondment. Synergy Consultants grew to 150 employees, after which they sold the company to Getronics.
The time was ripe to relocate to live with her husband in Curaçao.
Together with the owner of the Sea Aquarium, she established the Curaçao Dolphin Academy, where
visitors could swim with dolphins and learn about protecting this species. The Smithsonian Institute was conducting research on the ocean floor there.
Once back in the Netherlands, Smits van Oyen completed a global executive MBA, which Rotterdam was offering in partnership with universities in Mexico, Brazil, the United States and Hong Kong. ‘It showed me how the world works. I learned the importance of the people–planet–profit triangle. It brought her to the board of the African Parks Foundation and the Stichting Urgenda, which aims for sustainable enterprise. In the latter organisation, she noticed that the Netherlands was losing its position as a leader in water management due to public administrators’ lack of knowledge. To remedy this, she ran for a seat in the municipal council. Much to her dismay, she noticed that ‘the political system was more concerned with service to the party and short-term gain than it was with competencies’.
She now prefers to invest her energy (and money) in such institutions as the Alexander Monro breast-cancer hospital in Bilthoven. Her role on the TU Delft Supervisory Board will allow her to use all of her entrepreneurial qualities. ‘Looking at opportunities, collaborating and assessing risks (e.g. for the proton clinic in Delft). The cycle is complete’.