Martine Kok, MBA ’03 (A), Finance Director, TNT Express Eastern Europe
A Drive for Change
“Change” is a key word in Martine Kok’s life; whether it’s her professional life, her geographical location, or her cultural experience, Kok welcomes change and makes an active effort to bring it about. Her open attitude has led her to explore different cultural frameworks and business functions and functions as a channel through which she can apply her own skills and insights to improve current business operations.
As Central and Eastern Europe finance director for TNT Express, a Netherlands-based provider of express delivery services, Kok continually searches out and identifies business practices that can be improved. For example, each of the ten countries where she manages the financial side of the business — from Poland and the Czech Republic to Russia —has its own financial practices. Kok knows that standardizing those practices and capturing the opportunities of inter-country projects are critical changes the company needs.
Following her vision, she managed to improve TNT’s finance and accounting system by moving the company towards electronic invoicing. “It’s quite a challenge in countries like Russia and Romania, where these technologies are less accepted,” says Kok, “[and] electronic invoicing in Central and Eastern Europe is only about 10 percent.” Through Kok’s and her team’s efforts, however, her unit successfully achieved a 50 percent e-invoicing rate in three years.
Another change Kok brought about, together with her team, is helping the company to run more smoothly and efficiently by applying practices in operations process management to finance and accounting. She is currently guiding her teamin a company-wide move towards a matrix structure, where “employees report both in a general management line and in a functional line,” she says.
Kok has actively sought out new experiences and embraced change in her personal life, as well. Having grown up in the Netherlands, Kok worked as a research volunteer at Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum located in Mumbai, where she “created a public-private community partnership plan for redevelopment of a specific slum area,” she says. Later, in Tokyo, she took graduate courses in Japanese language and business and interned with Nissan Motor Co. After that she began her career with TNT Express, and was assigned to positions in Copenhagen, then Singapore, and next Jakarta. In between these positions she earned her MBA at Johnson, which enabled her to make a career change from logistics engineering to M&A and finance within her company. Kok speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Japanese, and picked up the local language during her two-year stay in Indonesia. Within TNT, Kok assumed a variety of roles including logistics engineer, project manager in the CFO’s office, senior transaction manager for group mergers and acquisitions, and now, finance director for TNT Express Eastern Europe.
“In general, I am a person who is keen on change, who likes change,” says Kok. At the same time, she confesses that one of her biggest challenges comes from her love of change. “In certain cases, I can almost run too fast. I need to find a good pace because my managers in the countries need to balance the changes with their day-to-day management.” To better adjust her pace, Kok “not only [sets] objectives towards goals but also objectives towards processes.”
According to Kok, the relatively high price of express delivery service has meant that TNT and other industry providers have had to deal with a downturn in business during the slower economic climate of recent years. To cope with the problem, TNT offers a less-expensive service: instead of using airplanes, the company uses its road network, which is the strongest in Europe, to offer delivery that is still time-guaranteed, but at a lower-pace delivery (for example, two days via road vs. overnight via airplane).
Although she travels around the world and is keen on change, Kok says that “in the end I am truly Dutch.” She loves her country and characterizes her life there as “truly happy.” This is also why she chose to join TNT: the Netherlands-based multinational company enables her to travel around the world but also come back to the Netherlands from time to time.
This May, Kok came back to Cornell for Johnson’s Reunion 2013 a week early with her baby, Sarah, in order to “relive Ithaca” and “refresh [her] very special memories.” Together with her close friends at Johnson, Kok enjoyed hiking in Robert H. Treman State Park and eating at a Vietnamese restaurant in Collegetown. For her, Reunion was a time to reconnect with friends “and get inspired by what they do, what drives them, and how their careers have progressed.”
Kok says she has been very impressed by the international growth ambitions of Johnson and would be happy to support where needed as an alumna proud of Cornell and Johnson.
What’s next? Kok hopes to expand her international experience, including going to live in China for a while with her daughter. “I would love my little baby girl to learn Mandarin. I think it will be the language of the future,” she says.
Yuezhou Huo ’15 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.