08-09-2022

People like you: Robert Breugelmans

Written by
Thijmen Kaster

In our blog series ‘people like you’, Sweav members share their personal stories. In this episode Robert Breugelmans, ex banker and now (digital) nomad, shares his.

People like you: Robert Breugelmans

Tell us something about yourself and your background

I was born and raised in Amsterdam, and studied Economics & Finance at Amsterdam University. From early on, I was fascinated by foreign cultures and languages. This fascination took me to Beijing China, studying mandarin for a year. After China, I took the opportunity to go to Tokyo for an internship at Canon. There I experienced my first professional culture shock.

These experiences sparked my appetite for building a life abroad. I consider it one of the best ways of gaining new perspectives and reinventing myself while building a new social life and adapting to new social norms. I started my professional life by joining ING Bank traineeship, and took the opportunity to broaden my perspective even more by living in Singapore and NYC.

Why did you decide to quit your job?

After six years of working at ING I noticed I got trapped in the corporate treadmill. I ended my ING career at the LBO (Leveraged BuyOut) division, because I felt I was financing these large private equity deals with the purpose of making wealthy people wealthier. It made me question what I was contributing to the world.

Next to that, I got increasingly fed up with the long working hours and the stress that came with the job. I felt like I was giving up large parts of my life, and I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice anymore. It was time to get rid of my golden handcuffs. 

After quitting ING, I went on a 1.5 year soul searching trip around the world. During the trip I realized that I didn't necessarily want to do something radically different, but that I wanted to use my finance skills for a different purpose and on my own terms. That purpose I found in working with NGOs, social enterprises and other for-good companies as interim CFO or helping with fundraising. Next to that, I wanted the freedom to work remotely. I now work on and off  from Amsterdam, Boston, Seattle and Nairobi.

How are you experiencing freelance life?

I think a big misconception people have is that you need external validation the corporate ladder provides. As a freelance consultant, you need to follow your own path. Whereas in corporates there is a very clear path paved for you, which numerous people value and have walked before. Letting go of your ego, and not pursuing the path that is designed to keep you in the corporate system, is key.

What is the biggest misconception people have about freelancing in strategy or M&A?

For me, it was that it would be too difficult to find projects, especially since my network in Dubai was still very limited at that time. Fortunately nothing proved to be less true, once the word was out, numerous opportunities presented themselves.

What would be your advice for people considering going freelance?

Start getting the word out that you’re considering quitting your job. The more you talk about it, the less scary it becomes and the more self confidence you’ll gain. Specifically, talk to people who took the step to independence already or talk to people who are five years ahead and who live a life that you find inspirational.

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