You learn the most off the beaten track

Baharak Sabourian, Chair of the local Board of Directors of Rabobank Rotterdam (in training)

Those who do good, well met. If there's one thing Baharak Sabourian is living proof of, it's the principle of reciprocity. The opportunities she has been given, created and seized, she tries to offer others as well. As a lawyer, she didn't expect to ever work in a bank. Meanwhile, she has been training internally at Rabobank for more than seven months to become Chairman of the Board of Directors. She talks about her special career, which is built on a foundation of gratitude, eagerness to learn and perseverance.

Nothing is self-evident

A life lesson I learned early on is that you shouldn’t take anything for granted, you have to do it yourself. As a child, I was determined to become a lawyer. My childhood in Iran unleashed in me a fighting spirit for justice. My parents gave up everything there to give their children a promising life, so it was up to me to seize the opportunities. Once in the Netherlands, I did my best to get my high school diploma so I could go to university. This in a culture I didn’t know and a language I didn’t speak yet. But with the right mentality, good facilities and support, especially from my parents, I succeeded. I am very grateful to them, but also to Dutch society’.

At a local bank, in particular, you need to be versatile and have knowledge of the various strengths, customers and other stakeholders. And have a heart for society.
Baharak Sabourian

Always looking for a challenge

“My career is a journey I really enjoy. At every destination I learn something new and am challenged. That’s what I need. So after law school I went into the legal profession. I developed communication skills from which I have benefited throughout my career. After five years, however, I quit the profession. I thought it was too commercial and wanted to serve the public interest instead of one client. That was when the financial crisis broke out. That frenzy was reason for me to join the Ministry of Finance. As a policy advisor, I was able to do my bit to get society out of the crisis in a healthy way. I just didn’t have the right financial background, so I followed a Financial Law course in the evening hours. Both in theory and in practice, I learned a lot during that period as well. And when the ministry calmed down after the crisis, it was time for me to go.”

“After that, I made some remarkable career moves. For example, I worked for a foundation that was a shareholder of state-supported financial institutions, including ABN AMRO, and for an international pepper company. Each sector has its own dynamics, which makes it interesting for me. That’s why my resume shows a mix of legal, financial and political functions and I have both commercial and social experience. I’m not a standard banker and that’s exactly why I’m at Rabobank. We’re a cooperative, so you work with a wide variety of partners. As chairman of the board of a local bank in particular, you have to be versatile and have knowledge of the various strengths, customers and other stakeholders. And having a heart for society, that’s one thing that’s certain. When I started here, I really was impressed by how socially involved all my colleagues are. I haven’t seen that anywhere else.”

Give something back

“Where I am now, I also owe a debt to other people. My parents, mentors, women who worked above me; they helped me with advice and action. When I was 30 years old, I was already on the Supervisory Board of Care Netherlands, an organisation that offers humanitarian support to people who desperately need it. That wouldn’t have happened if former councillors and politicians Lousewies van der Laan and Loek Hermans hadn’t believed in me. Now I’m on the Supervisory Board at Kunsthal Rotterdam and Albeda College and I try to do the same: give people a chance. I’ve gained a lot of love, trust and a stage myself, but I realize that not everyone gets that. VET’s are the driving force behind society; if I can offer them a helping hand, I will do so. The students and the artists also give me valuable social insight, each in his or her own way as a gauge of what is going on in society. I then consider it my task to do something with that. If I look back at the day in which the people around me are healthy and together we have made the world in which we live a little better, then it has been a successful day for me.”