My first job after university was in the food industry. I was a sales rep for a flavour company, and I had no idea what that was. I used to hate sales reps, and, one day, I woke up and I was one. I went to factories trying to sell them vanilla and ham flavor and whatnot. I was representing a brand new department in that company, and they had no idea about the full extent of what they were trying to commercialise. They had hired me to make sure the market would learn about their existence and start buying from them.
I had a briefcase that contained my planner and a price list, and that was it. The price list had no prices, but it was an idea of what kind of things we wanted to market. So I gathered as many samples as I could, had them imitated, and then sold that as an alternative for their present supplier.
My father was selling cacao those days, so we sometimes hit the road together. I did not enjoy it. I got sleepy in the car and always thought I was going to get in trouble or fired. Thought: I probably should do this better. In the evenings, I was following marketing courses and on the weekends, I sold furniture in a big shop owned by a friend of my father. I still hated selling. I wanted to be an artist, not someone nicely dressed in a fancy car driving around selling stuff.
After three years, the Belgian market was turning good enough to put in another sales rep, and I became the export manager. Finally, a way to use my languages I learned at school. I travelled frequently to the US, Southeast Asia, and to different countries inside Europe. I still felt empty and dissatisfied. This travelling was not really what I was looking for. I had met another guy, and he didn’t like me being away so much, so I contacted a head-hunter who got me in with a major office supplies company. That was worse than anything I could imagine.
I tried to stay on top, but no matter how hard I worked, they made me work harder. They constantly criticised us, thinking that would make us work harder. I got quickly promoted after a couple of months to national account manager and became more and more unhappy. The daily drives in heavy traffic to Brussels; the long, long days and never ending meetings and obligations. We had to keep sheets of how we spent our time during the day by the minute. We had to round hours off, because we were not allowed to work the hours we actually worked.
Their system of doing business too was not straightforward, and it was not congruent with who I was at that moment. My heart was still crying out, “I want to be an artist”.