That Anoesjka Imambaks would end up in Rotterdam was pre-ordained, she says, as we meet her at the offices of Venture Café in the Groothandelsgebouw.
Anoesjka Imambaks (34) studied Public Administration at Erasmus University. She was a policy advisor for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, was awarded a traineeship at Berenschot and ran Maid at Home, a training and mediation office for professional household staff in an upmarket sector. It won her an incentive prize by Ethnic Businesswomen NL 2016. Imambaks has been CEO of Venture Café Rotterdam since 2017, an affiliate of Cambridge Innovation Centre. She’s also a member of the board of directors at Patijnenburg BV in West Holland.
‘I grew up in Vlissingen, where my father had a job in the shipping industry. After he obtained his engineering teacher’s license – in between shifts! – my parents decided to turn back to Rotterdam.’ Even then, her mission was clear - to enroll at Erasmus University as quickly as possible. ‘Erasmus University truly exudes Rotterdam culture; it’s international, multicultural, open. Public Administration fit me like a glove.’
‘I was a serious student, very focused,’ she remembers. ‘My days were filled with lectures, study groups and a costumer service side job with an internet provider. I never became a member of any student society or corporation. Nobody explained to me how useful that might be. These days, I tell students: networking starts right now.’ Nevertheless, her career is one for the books. ‘During the last year of my master’s I was an intern at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences. I sensed it would lead to a job.’ After a traineeship at Berenschot, several functions in The Hague and running her own business, Anoesjka ended up in the CEO’s chair at Venture Café. ‘We’re building an international community of creative and entrepreneurial people. Every Thursday afternoon it’s Open House, where we bring entrepreneurs, innovators, students, service providers and investors together.’
‘Our group would buy one book, then spend hours copying the pages’
Back to campus. ‘I never skipped my study group, really paid attention during lectures. It will teach you more than books ever will. I was part of a small, mixed group of students, all from the same year, whom I still see to this day. We were so industrious: who out-crammed all the others, or we’d be comparing grades… It was always about putting in the work. I remember for my first midterm exam, Public Administration 1.1, I scored a 6 where most people failed. That gave me confidence.’ They were always hanging out in the mensa, Imambaks recalls. ‘We’d buy one study book, then spend hours and hours in the copyshop of the A building, copying the pages.’ A pity, in hindsight, she concludes: ‘I would have loved a full bookcase, now I only have stacks of paper to show for it!’ Writing her thesis was an onerous task. Anoesjka: ‘It’s true what they say, the only way to pull through is to keep going. One night, when I crashed into a wall while writing, I penned an emotional email to the professor who supported me, Professor Edelenbos, and then, to my immediate regret, clicked ‘send’. The day after I received a business-like reply that strictly addressed the substance of my thesis – I was so embarrassed, ha ha!’ Her parents and husband attended the defence of her thesis. ‘My study proposed you have to make structural changes to an organisation before you can change the culture within that organisation. It ran counter to what everyone was writing and thinking at that time. Scary, but in the end they gave me kudos for exactly that.’
Her mother passed away when Anoesjka Imambaks was 25. ‘Liver cancer. After it first presented, she lived for another six months. That’s why I’m glad I lived at home until I got married. I got to enjoy sitting on the couch with her and chatting away, as well as mama’s cooking.’ It did install a strong realisation that life can be over before you know it. ‘I’ve always had this sense of urgency, this great focus on where I want to go. I have lots of energy, I want to do things! My mother’s death probably intensified that. I sometimes forget to live in the present.’
She’s still living in Rotterdam, with her husband and three daughters. A wonderful job, a great career ahead of her and a beautiful family - Imambaks has reasons to be happy. Looking back, would she have done anything differently? ‘Enjoy my student days more,’ she concludes. ‘Join that student corporation after all, make that trip abroad after all. Students nowadays collect memories, I collected credits. Nevertheless, I managed to land on my feet.’
TEXT: Karin Koolen
PHOTO’S: Charlie De Keersmaecker