Nancy Poleon, owner of BrandedU, helps career women in high positions to be more visible, because according to Poleon it is sometimes lonely at the top and the business world needs much more female leadership . But if it is lonely at the top, MASTERS EXPO asks: who helped Nancy get to the top?

Text: Mical Joseph
Image: Nancy Poleon

What used to occupy you as a teenager?

"My mother did not allow me to work when I was in secondary school. She thought that if I worked, my schoolwork would suffer. And since my mother had no diplomas at that time, my high-school diploma was very important to her. In the end, during the summer holidays in my last year of secondary school, I was allowed to go to work at the Hema. I had proved that I had done my best during my education.

I was a huge Janet Jackson fan and often participated in singing competitions à la the Soundmixshow after school. At the time, I danced to Janet Jackson songs with my two girlfriends. I was always into music and knew early on that I wanted to be in the music business. As a 14-year-old, I went to the Sign O' The Times concert by myself; my father had managed to get one ticket. I experienced the light show, his performance and the energy... It was amazing!

After grammar school I had several jobs, one of which was at hotel The Grand in Amsterdam. I remember very well standing in that beautiful room of The Grand and saying to myself: 'Later I will also stand here for work'."

And then?

"As a young adult, I started studying European Business Administration. I spent six months in England and six months in the Netherlands studying this subject. After graduating, I started working at ING for three months as a Management Trainee, but this position didn't suit me. Then I saw a vacancy in the Telegraaf: the music publisher Promotone BV was looking for an administrative assistant. I got the job and we arranged all the finances of The Rolling Stones, U2 and a few other artists.

The manager of The Rolling Stones, Prince Rupert of Loewenstein, organised a New Year's Eve dinner. The guest list was full of prominent people from the music industry. I was placed next to Dick Stolk, the managing director of the record label Virgin. I took the plunge and asked if he was still looking for people. He said he wasn't, but that I had to be in Hilversum. I applied to record company BMG and was hired in the marketing department. It was really fantastic there: music sounded from every room. There were gold and platinum records everywhere. It felt like coming home and I thought: 'I've arrived, I'm not leaving here anymore'.

There was a reward for the person who wrote the best marketing plan for Pink's second album Missundaztood. I had the best plan and won a Bose headset, I was as proud as a peacock. My visibility was growing and I was known for my guts. Also, the international team knew that if I said we were going to sell 50,000 records, we would. At the age of 28 I became Head of International Marketing and a year after that I moved to London for BMG."

How did BrandedU come about?

"Due to reorganisation, I quit the company at one point and ended up at a new company where I became general manager for five years. In the fourth year, I won a music prize in the Netherlands and was voted Best Dutch Music Manager by colleagues from all over the country. I noticed that getting that award triggered two things in me: I was actually not happy anymore with what I was doing and secondly, I found out that there were much more women at the top than I initially thought. I came to that conclusion because I was nominated for the VIVA400. Women who were in the arts, science, business etc. came together. This gave me so much energy.

In 2011, I started my own business. I first started managing artists, but also advised others with their branding. I helped different industries and at the same time I was part of the team of TEDx Amsterdam Women. Every year I saw how inspiring it was to listen to the stories of successful and ambitious women.

That's actually how BrandedU came about: I wanted to start an event where women learn how to make themselves visible in a very focused way, but inspired by women who have already done it."

Who was your mentor in this?

"During my career in music, my mentors were always men, but later in my career, it was women who inspired me. One of my mentors was Merwyn Lyn, he was the one who got me the job in London. Merwyn often gave me advice about the industry and we had long conversations about anything and everything. In London, I had a number of women who kind of coached me. One of them was a lady from Australia, so when she was in Europe, I would always see her for a while to ask my questions about the business."

"What you pay attention to grows. So focus on what you do want instead of what you do not want".

What is your greatest passion in your current profession?

"The reason I do what I do is that the more I look into the subject of women's empowerment, the more I realise that it is necessary to pay attention to it. With music, there was so much excitement: the express train went on and on and there was always so much to do.

There are so many women who still feel alone at the top and in many sectors, women's emancipation is still a long way off. This frightens me, because the Netherlands is still far from where it should be. Men still have higher salaries and there are many women who are still too modest and do not have the courage to make themselves and their talents visible. My passion is to show strong women that there are still many more women at the top."

What has been the biggest learning moment in your career?

"A turning point in my life was the VIVA400 moment in 2010. I always felt lonely at the top, but during that event I thought: 'here are all these great women and here I feel sisterhood'. Many of these women have become very close friends of mine with whom I talk about business, goals and ambitions. We are always honest with each other and really say what works and what doesn't in each other's business. I have learned that such women do exist, but that I just had to look hard."

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

"What you give attention to grows. So focus on what you do want, instead of what you don't want. I would also say to my younger self: 'Don't be so strict on yourself'. Because I was hard on myself, I was hard on others. I have learned that I achieve a lot with softness and this realisation came after years of trial and error with finally the 'end station' when I started working for myself."

Have you been a wheelbarrow for anyone?

"I have been a mentor or an inspiration to many. These are women I do not know personally, as well as women from my top-level network who call me for advice. It is mainly about how they achieve their goals. I like the fact that they come to me and that I can also turn to them."

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