Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day where we celebrate women, in all their diversities. We celebrate women who paved the way, women who are here now, and women of the future. This year’s theme is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. This theme aims to recognise and celebrate the contribution of women to technology, so who better to interview than Katja Berkhout, who was named one of 50 inspiring women in tech in the Netherlands in 2019.
Katja has been with Flite for over 3 years, leading meaningful change and growth as the Managing Director of Fliteboard Europe, Middle-East and Africa. She is an advisory board member to Alliander New Business, and has been a moderator and board advisor to tech conferences like CES, SXSW and TNW on multiple occasions.
Flite: What is your personal definition of success?
Katja: Success to me is an ever-moving target. I’m always thinking about the next goal or next innovation. How can we make our company better. How can our team work together more collaboratively. What’s our next growth stretch goal. What steps do we need to take to get there. What can I do to support others to succeed in their roles. And specific to Flite, success is a big smile on the face of someone on our team, a customer or a new partner taking Flite for the first time. Success is to work hard and play hard.
Flite: What motivated you to become a leader at Flite?
Katja: The opportunity to work with our visionary founder David Trewern and the other leaders in our business; Flite’s mission and purpose and exciting and award-winning products; and the opportunity to work on growing a global community around a new category of water sports that is absolutely revolutionary.
Flite: What is your favourite thing about leading at Flite?
Katja: Working with our amazing team that are so incredibly passionate and driven about creating the best company, product and experiences for our partners and customers.
Flite: When you began your career many years ago, did you dream of having such a significant leadership role?
Katja: What really drives me in my career is making a positive impact. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had the opportunities to be part of building several exciting new ventures. When you are working on impactful projects, where innovations happen at a fast pace and you are working with stellar crews, like our team at Fliteboard, it doesn’t feel like work. The hard work becomes incredibly rewarding and inspiring. As a leader you can make more impact. So my drive has naturally brought me to leadership roles.
Flite: What makes you feel empowered?
Katja: When we collectively achieve a result. It’s been incredibly rewarding to help Fliteboard grow from its first employee in Europe to a team of 22 highly motivated and skilled professionals. I feel privileged going to work every day at our office and warehouse in Amsterdam and working with this amazing group of people. I’m excited about the next growth chapters for Fliteboard as a leading personal foilcraft brand globally.
Flite: How do you think companies benefit from having more women in senior leadership?
Katja: Complementary skill sets and diverse views are important in any leadership team. As a woman you can present another voice at the table. I’ve worked a lot with fast growing start-ups in past roles, and it was interesting to see that companies with more diverse leadership teams were typically more profitable, more socially responsible, and provided safer and higher-quality customer experiences, among other benefits.
Flite: Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?
Katja: I’ve worked with founders and CEOs of technology companies around the world and have come across so many incredible women. One example, less known globally, but an inspiration closer to home is Eline van Beest. She’s an incredible role model in the Dutch medical technology industry. She founded a medical tech company that was acquired, then went on to set up an investment fund sharing her knowledge with the next generation deep tech start-up founders. Now she’s taking on a biotech start-up, with very difficult technological challenges and massive impact if she succeeds. All this while taking on kitesurfing experiences where she can. She’s a role model for the work hard play hard lifestyle that I aspire to.
Our stellar Flite crew ladies also inspire me, each in their own way with a display of passion, grit, collaborative spirit, original thinking, out of the box troubleshooting, kindness, and elegant Fliteboard riding styles.
Flite: How important is it to have a mentor in order to grow as a leader?
Katja: I don’t have any formal mentors but love exchanging ideas and comparing notes with peers, friends and my husband (who’s himself in a global executive leadership team).
Flite: Are there any unusual or interesting things in your career path that you’d like to share?
Katja: I’m a firm believer in the school of life and the opportunity to never stop learning. I’ve had to, because my university degree (MA in Contemporary History) did not prepare me for any of the roles I’ve had to date in my career. There is such a wealth of knowledge out there via AI, books and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange.
Flite: What does Fliteboarding give you?
Katja: As a kid I grew up in the Netherlands and windsurfing and sailing were my passions. When I finished high school I took a year to explore Australia and New Zealand with a clear objective: I wanted to learn how to surf. I did not. I could not do a proper duck dive, nor had I ever taken any lessons. And naively, I thought Bells Beach was the best place for me to learn. Haha. ‘Shark Bite’ is what the local Aussies called me. And they were right of course. With Fliteboarding I’ve been given another chance to feel the exhilaration of surfing. This time the riding is endless. And no need to paddle out. You can create your own pathway on the water. It’s magic.
Flite: What is one of your favourite memories on the water?
Katja: After the first Flite Cup in Portugal in 2020 we went to a boat show in the Algarve in Villamoura. One early morning our local Fliteschool partner, Jay and his wife Sam, took me and Tom Court (Flite Performance Team Rider) out for an expedition along the beautiful Algarve coastline. We ‘discovered’ the secret Benagil Caves. On our Fliteboards we could go into the cave (something you can’t do on a boat), and we set the boards up on the sand to enjoy the natural skylight. It was absolutely spectacular.
Flite: What does freedom mean to you?
Katja: Freedom to me is the feeling you have when you are one with nature. And it’s best felt when you are in a flow state of mind. The best feeling of freedom is to hike on a mountain with my kids running circles around me. Or running a trail through sandy dunes. When kitesurfing and catching that perfect wave and high fiving a friend on the next one. When sailing at that moment when you switch off your engine, raise your sails and let them catch wind. When you explore a coastline on a Fliteboard and discover a new horizon. Freedom feels effortless, after you’ve put in the effort.
Flite: How do you encourage creativity and innovation in your team?
Katja: By providing a safe space to think out of the box and try new things. My door’s always open and my frequently asked question is: how can I help?
Flite: What about teamwork and collaboration?
Katja: We are working in a fast paced environment, so it’s important to keep an eye on the big goals for our business. We have regular morning huddles and provide team training sessions. We keep close checks on our weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. And our managers in the team feel empowered to coach their teams to progress these goals. Our team organizes daily, typically Dutch, lunches at the office and make sure we have plenty of fresh healthy vegan, fruit and toasty alternatives. We all love riding Fliteboards together, so we try to organize riding events and other sporting / gaming tournaments. Work hard. Play hard!
Flite: With all your responsibility, how do you stay grounded, happy and take care of yourself?
Katja: Thanks to my two wicked smart, funny, and sporty girls! And by playing around with my dog Nova or taking her for a quick hike in the woods, sand dunes or beaches near my house. I try to maintain a regular fitness regime including daily HIT training schedule. At the advice of a colleague, I’m trying intermittent fasting to keep my positive energy high.
Flite: What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders?
Katja: To follow your dreams and passion. There is no holding you back if you want to achieve something. Only yourself.