Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about where you’re from!
I was born into an entrepreneurial family in a small village in the Netherlands. My grandfather had started a construction company during WWI, it was small at first, but it survived two world wars! My father eventually took over, then my brother, and now it has grown to a large company.
I realised from an early age how strong leadership and vision combined with effective teamwork were the essential ingredients for business success and I have applied this throughout my professional career. The most significant thing I have learned is the importance of a good team – with collective commitment you can achieve anything and address any crisis.
So, you could say, business was in my DNA, therefore it was an easy decision to focus on business and economics academically. After university I obtained additional post graduate qualifications including a master’s from Yale University. I began my career in a sales and marketing role within consumer electronics, a position far removed from women’s “reproductive health”.
At that time, when I was in my 20s, this concept didn’t even exist. My shift later on to women’s health wasn’t actually planned. I was pregnant with my lastborn and was asked to join a start-up and create growth strategies for the company, which just happened to be a small fertility clinic (IVF Spain) at that time. What attracted me was the challenge – starting from scratch and creating something. I guess it is symbolic; born into a construction family, I wanted to create, to build.
During my seven years at IVF Spain as head of Strategies and Policies, the company grew to become one of Spain’s leading fertility centers. It was then I was approached by Clinica Tambre, a local clinic in Madrid that was in deep structural decline. It had been taken over by an investment company and they needed new leadership, vision, and a strategy to bring back growth and profitability.
I felt I had done everything I had set out to do at IVF Spain, and now there was another opportunity in front of me, and I seized it. I think the pursuit of new challenges, new opportunities to create and build, has been central to my career.
I became CEO of Clinica Tambre at the end of 2018 and after a thorough restructure with a new growth strategy and repositioning to an international patient centered clinic, I am very proud to be able to state that 4 years later, we are ranked as one of Europe’s leading assisted reproduction centres.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents?
My parents have been an important source of guidance and support. They always told me that one must focus on finding solutions, not on the problems. They always gave me confidence, and the feeling that I could do what I set out to do and that any setbacks could be faced and overcome.
They also used to tell me and my brothers to trust ourselves and our instincts, not to get too influenced by other people, and to surround ourselves with people who can add something to our lives, good peers, and positive-thinking people. In my own life, trusting in myself and seeking out these kinds of positive peers has been instrumental to the successes I have had.
How did you become interested in tech and especially female health tech?
I was an IVF patient. As a young girl my appendix burst, and as a result, I needed IVF treatment to become pregnant. Back then there was a huge taboo about assisted reproduction. I initially didn’t share my personal experience of IVF which resulted in my two beautiful daughters even when I was approached by IVF Spain. Yet once I assumed the position at IVF Spain, I came to feel that this was meant to be, and that my role was to help fulfil the dream of others who wanted to have a child.
My earlier struggle with this taboo gave my work so much more personal meaning, and I am so grateful that now we can talk about assisted reproduction – this is so vital. To advance public conversation and awareness of infertility.
I also lead the Tambre Foundation, which supports research and development in assisted reproduction, funds educational initiatives, and provides financial support to those who cannot afford treatment. I believe money should never be an obstacle for people who want to have a child. Most people do not realise that one in six couples will need fertility treatment but advances in assisted reproduction technology are making more dreams come true every day.
There is a very strong relationship between technology and assisted reproduction and I witness this daily – incubators, fail-safe management systems, equipment innovations, data management, lab processes, stimulation protocols, and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) which is used to analyse data and develop more effective patient profiles and treatment strategies.
All of this has dramatically improved outcomes for patients. Yet we are now probably only seeing baby steps; technological innovations will continue to drive advances in assisted reproduction and the biggest drivers of innovation will be in genetics.
What other decisive steps influenced and shaped your career?
Going to Madrid to take on the challenge of building and leaving IVF Spain was a game changer for me. I was not afraid to take up the new role even though there was no guarantee that it would be a success. Whilst I had gained skills in strategy, organisation and marketing, I needed to learn a range of other functions vital to being an effective CEO. Accepting this challenge was an opportunity for me to grow professionally.
My life partner, Martin, has been a significant force in helping to shape my career. He has stood by my side and supported me. It is still quite difficult for women balancing professional careers and families, and this balance was sometimes a real challenge for me, especially when my children were young. I think it is vital for women to have some kind of support network as they simultaneously navigate the demands of work and home.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
I’m deeply proud and humbled to have made an impact on so many lives – there is no greater feeling than to see couples become parents when previously they were struggling with infertility. I know from my own personal experience just what this means.
I am proud of the fact that I have created value for the investors of the clinic, which is a critical piece of any company’s continued viability and of the impact I’ve had on the team. When I came to Tambre, people were afraid and insecure, not knowing what would happen to the clinic or their jobs. Together, we have built success, stability and security and we move forward as a committed, strong, motivated team.
What drives you at work?
I am never satisfied with status quo; I always want to grow, to do better, to do more. With the technological innovations and advances that are rapidly changing the way we work in assisted reproduction; it is an exciting time to be involved. My team and I are the forefront of this dynamic, and we will continue to reach out to more people around the world, using technology to make dramatic changes to lives.
There are always new opportunities to seize, new challenges to overcome – this is what drives me. I learn all the time from every member of my team, and I think it is the learning and the growing that is a hugely motivating force for me as well. But ultimately, what inspires me the most is the success – and fulfilled dreams of the patients.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?
By far, the biggest challenge for me was Covid. My strategy at Tambre was based on innovation and international growth. But when Covid hit, the borders were closed, and patients could not travel to us. Then the government closed the clinics, so the team was put on standby, with only twelve people remaining to work on managing communication strategies – ensuring that our patients were kept informed and reassured throughout the pandemic.
I also had to manage the relationship with the investors to assure them that the clinic had a future despite the difficulties we were all experiencing. And of course, we did make it through. In fact, Tambre actually grew during this period despite Covid, but those months were stressful and hard.
At the same time, some of the most gratifying moments of my career came during this period. We set up a collaboration agreement with hospitals to share our respirators, which they desperately needed, and we helped save lives. When we reached this agreement, it was a very emotional moment – we were all in tears – we called to say the respirators were ready and within10 minutes they were here to pick them up and race them back to the hospitals.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
Trust yourself, be confident. When we are younger, we are often insecure, but it is good to be bold, to seize new opportunities, even if we have uncertainties. This is how we grow. We often hesitate because we are afraid, but it is so important to push past the borders of our comfort zones and not let those opportunities pass.
Be strong, confident, but don’t be afraid to take counsel – surround yourself with similar minds and together you can grow a team that can withstand anything.
What are your future goals in your career?
Assisted reproduction is my passion and my life; I would like to keep developing myself as a CEO and to keep growing the clinic, including expanding outside Europe and establishing Tambre as a global leader.
In addition, I want very much to expand the social conversation about fertility and assisted reproduction. We always speak with our daughters (and sons!) about how not to get pregnant, but we also need to speak to them about how to get pregnant. Many more couples deal with fertility problems than we are aware of, but we don’t talk about this because of the stigma still associated with the subject.
There is no guarantee of having children but technological innovations such as egg freezing have transformed the field and we must teach our children about the full range of issues relevant to fertility – including the technological innovations that have opened up new opportunities. Expanding awareness of these issues is central to reconciling the realities and needs of professional careers with the joys of childbearing.