"I really try to leave room for everyone's opinion and nature"

Published on: 27 November 2023

Who are these people who consciously choose to work in the pension industry? What do they do there all day for your pension? And what do they like about their work? We take you behind the scenes. Sterre Ooms is team lead of APG Research, which is part of Market & Customer Insights. “I hope that down the road, there will be other people that work this hard for me too, so I can relax,” she says.

How long have you been working at APG and how did you get here?

“I have been working here for two and a half years now. After completing the Hotel Management School in Maastricht, I began a master’s degree in business administration. I wrote my thesis on APG’s diversity policy. I liked that very much and when I finished my master’s, APG needed more people. So, I stuck around. My mother already worked here and she always said: there is a certain culture at APG and I’m sure it will suit you. But at the time, I thought pensions were something that had nothing to do with me yet. Since I started working here, however, my opinion has turned 180 degrees.”

What do you like about that culture?

“At many companies, I think you start out a bit like a number. Like: get to work and prove yourself. But APG immediately felt like a warm bath. The scope of my assignment was quite broad and I immediately gained a lot of confidence. What I like about APG’s culture is that emphasis is placed on your talents and strengths. Making a mistake doesn’t matter, you are not kept small. And if you do make a mistake, you have a great safety net of managers, a coach and colleagues.”

How do you explain your work when you’re at a party?

“At a party, I say I lead a team, APG Research. This team conducts thematic research, focusing on policy, communication and strategy. We offer departments at APG and the pension funds for which APG works concrete tools to help and inspire participants and employers to put the participant first. The studies are often about pensions, but also regularly cover topics that go a little further, such as inflation, terms of employment, or how the Dutch experience financial differences and happiness. I am not a researcher myself, but I facilitate the team so that the members can do their work properly. In addition, I am responsible for HR. I offer a listening ear and make sure that together we achieve the set goals and that there is room for everyone. I always tell people that I have a great job.”   

Do they ever ask you if working on pensions isn’t boring?

“Oh, sure. I often get the comment: what are you doing in pensions, you just started working? I usually respond with: yes, that’s what I thought too. Until I started working there myself and started to understand more about what I’m doing it for. When you listen in on calls with agents from the Client Contact Center, you find out what our service is really about. That you are there for pension fund members at times of important events, such as a death or divorce. At such times, you have to make sure that everything has been taken care of. We all work hard to make sure everything is in place for people who have worked hard themselves, so that they can enjoy a well-deserved retirement. Well, I hope that down the road there will be other people who work this hard for me too, so that I can then enjoy my retirement. I have come to think of pensions as a beautiful, collective product that the Netherlands can be proud of.”

You’ve been working at APG for about two years now. Did you start as a supervisor right away?

“I first worked in HR strategy, where I dealt with the content of certain topics and policies. Very fun, but at some point I started to feel a bit of an itch, because I actually find people more interesting. What drives them? And how can you use people and their talents to get something done together? I wanted a position in which I could deal with that and expressed that ambition to my supervisor. He thought a role like that would suit me well and referred me to a coach within APG. I started networking internally and talked about my ambition in those contacts. Then, one day, my current manager asked if I would be interested in this role. I’m not a researcher at all, but I don’t need to be. So then I thought: okay, I’m just going to do it!”

Your name comes up regularly at APG in relation to diversity & inclusion (D&I). What do you do in that area? And why do you think it's an important theme?

“I serve on the board of the Global Women’s Forum. This network aims to improve women’s career opportunities by providing a platform for them to share information, improve their skills and develop enriching professional relationships. I am also in regular contact with my successor in HR, whom I support by occasionally advising on the positioning of D&I within the organization. I take a keen interest in the topic, even in my own team. I really try to leave room for everyone’s opinion and nature. And when there are D&I events, I sign up for them and invite my team too. I think that as a supervisor, you are a role model. And if there are initiatives from higher up or from HR on D&I, you translate them to your own team.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I exercise a lot, mostly endurance sports. For example, I did an Olympic triathlon twice this year. And don't hold me to it, but I might do a half Ironman next year. Exercise is important to me, it’s my outlet. I think it’s super cool to physically go to the limit.  My other passion is living a Burgundian lifestyle. I love going to a nice restaurant, having drinks with friends, enjoying good food. That’s where the ‘hotello’ in me comes out, I think. The sporty and the Burgundian can sometimes be far apart, but I really like that combination.”