Travelstart’s Maija de Rijk-Uys’ Career Takes Her on a Voyage of Discovery
The Head of International Markets for South Africa’s largest online booking agency explains why planning and spontaneity are a good mix for both work and vacations:
ABR: Where were you born?
MDR: I am Maija, a short, curly red(ish) head, born and bred in Cape Town, South Africa
ABR: Where were you educated and what qualifications do you have?
MDR: School education in Cape Town – attended the International German School (my mother is German) where I also completed my South African, as well as, German school leaving certificate.
I studied at the University of Stellenbosch where I graduated with an Honors in B.Com (Financial Accounting). Furthermore, I completed my B.Compt Honours (Certified Theory in Accounting) with the University of South Africa.
I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (articled with PricewaterhouseCoopers in London).
ABR: Tell us about your career and how you got to your current position?
MDR: I come from the traditional Big Four background where I completed my CA articles and continued with the firm in their Advisory division.
I ended up staying a total of five years and five months after which I joined Travelstart as the International Business Development Manager. I now head up the International Markets for Travelstart
ABR: How did you get involved in the travel business?
MDR: By joining Travelstart. I love travel: the industry as well as the “action” of travel (work and personal)
ABR: Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
MDR: Oh wow, I don’t have an exciting answer here. Several people have influenced me. Now I am going to sound really clichéd, several people: most notable are my husband, a few people I have worked with in the past and a few close friends
ABR: What do you love most about your job?
MDR: A good few things: the fact that we are expanding into emerging markets (never a dull moment), the work travel aspect, the dynamic nature of the travel industry, ecommerce and the people I work with.
ABR: What motivates you?
MDR: Getting a team to work together towards a common goal. Seeing results.
ABR: What do you consider are the main ingredients for business success?
MDR: Discipline, transparency, persistence, people and integrity.
ABR: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
MDR: When something that seems bad at the time happens, to think “will it matter in a year.”
ABR: What was the worst?
MDR: Not sure I have received bad advice, at least I can’t think of anything obvious now. I usually consider several pieces of advice and evaluate them against each other. If something was really bad I would hope I discarded it.
ABR: What do you do in your free time?
MDR: A lot! Spend time with my family, run (with hubby, baby, dog and all), spend a lot of time outdoors hiking, on beach, exploring new places, a lot of weekends away in the countryside, international travel, lots of wine drinking!
ABR: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
MDR: Good question, seeing I am not an entrepreneur myself. Probably something along the lines of persevere, believe in yourself, ensure you get the right support and advice, and also funding. Never lose sight of what you want to do.
ABR: What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
MDR: Not listening to my gut
ABR: What is your favorite place in world to visit and why?
MDR: Generally I love visiting the Far East: Bali, Malaysia, Vietnam andThailand. I love the culture, the food, the weather, the vibe and the people.
ABR: As someone who works within the travel industry what are your top three tips for ensuring your vacation is exactly what you want it to be?
MDR: Well, first you got to know what you want, then start planning. Use review sites to ensure that where you want to go and stay is as good as you think. Set up a rough travel plan but leave some time to be to be spontaneous. Be open to exploring.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.