Everybody needs an inspirational mentor

by Sonja van den Bosch

Everybody needs an inspirational mentor

A few weeks ago I heard the following on the radio ‘kids who have an inspirational teacher at school will have better careers later in life’. I reflected on this and although I’ve had some very good teachers throughout my school days, the person who shaped me most career-wise is one of my first bosses, Frank van de Ven from Life Fitness.

After a gruelling interview process including various intelligence & personality tests, numerous interviews with different staff members and the task to criticise Life Fitness’s existing marketing plan, I was offered the job of marketing manager Benelux. I was over the moon, as I never expected to get the job (they asked for 6 years work experience and I only had 6 months). The fitness industry was my passion (I was an aerobics instructor in my spare time) and to work for the no 1 brand worldwide was a dream come true.

From the moment I started working at Life Fitness, Frank pushed me out of my comfort zone. I still remember my first day…there was no easing into it. First thing, I received a huge pile of papers to read, had meetings to attend all day and then at the end of the day Frank asked me if I managed to read all the papers that he put on my desk.

After one month, Frank sent me to our Chicago head office to present the Benelux marketing strategy that I had to put together, in front of a group of about 25 experienced Life Fitness executives. No need to say that I was quite nervous (especially presenting in a foreign language), but I survived and I got an enormous confidence boost, when it all went well.

Frank’s philosophy on getting the best out of people was based on the following three principles:

  1. Constantly challenge – ‘I teach you how to jump 1 meter and when you can do that, I’ll teach you how to jump 1,10 meter etc.’
  2. There is always something to improve – ‘Nothing is ever perfect, it is my duty to always provide my team with positive criticism.
  3. Leading by example – ‘If I ask my team to do something, I am the first one to get my hands dirty.’

Life Fitness Benelux sales & marketing team 1999. Frank is in the last row far left. I am in the middle row second from the left.

It wasn’t always easy to keep up with a man who only needs 4 hours of sleep a night, but I really thrived and loved all the challenges and opportunities that were constantly thrown at me.

No need to say that it was an extremely tough decision for me to hand in my resignation to go travelling around the world, but the adventure was calling. Frank organised a massive leaving party and even invited Arjen and I for a very nice dinner with him and his wife. I still remember that night when he called me ‘the Ruud van Nistelroy (a young, upcoming Dutch soccer player) of marketing’.

During the time that I worked with Frank at Life Fitness, we managed to become the no 1 in the Benelux market, beating our biggest competitor at that time Technogym. We grew turnover by 117% and our market share grew from 17 to 34%. It was a fantastic feeling to be part of a winning team.

Frank is still with Life Fitness and naturally he has done really well as he is now Vice President Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia.

I often tell people about my experience working for Life Fitness, which has set me up for life and has shaped me into the person I am now from a career perspective. Because of the great benefits I have experienced, I feel it as my obligation to give the best mentorship possible to business owners and young talented marketers. That’s why at Twinlife Marketing we put so much emphasis on educating our clients about the why behind marketing and how to do things.

Frank has been my most inspirational mentor at a very important period in my life. Who has been your inspirational mentor?

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Inspirational marketing is about being true to yourself, being aligned with your core values and doing something you truly believe in and are passionate about. It is about creating meaningful relationships with everyone you encounter. It is about thoughts from the heart.

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