She's a mom and a CEO who sails the world–and runs when she's on land

Published: Thursday, August 13, 2020

She’s Australian, born to Dutch parents, married to an Englishman and the mother of two teenage sons, a stepdaughter & a stepson. Meet Saskia Groen In’t Woud, the CEO of Damco, a global freight forwarder company with history dating back to 1905 and last year became a non-integrated brand of the A.P. Møller Mærsk Group.

“We’ve lived in Australia, Switzerland, Philippines, Singapore and now we’re staying in The Netherlands,” shared Saskia, one of few women leaders in the industry. “My husband has actually moved internationally 17 times, so I guess we’re a pretty global family.”

Introduced to sailing at age four, thanks to his Dutch father who loves the sport, Saskia came into the shipping and freight industry just a few years ago but through hard work, dedication and strong business acumen, she landed the top post at Damco.

“I cut my teeth in alumina refining and then cement manufacturing (which I really loved) before joining Damco at the end of 2015.  As my then manager said – ‘Now, learn to run a low margin business.’ The key to being a woman in this industry is to pay it forward and create more space for women to participate in,” said Saskia.

“It hasn’t always been easy, but I don’t buy into the crap either. I’ve learned over the years to decide what I want to listen to and what I can choose to ignore.  Being able to create opportunities for others and then see them do the same thing is really powerful,” she added.

Distance was a challenge, so are careful planning, freight strategies and commitment to deliver their promises. But Saskia and her highly skilled team successfully did that.

“We have executed over 170 air charters since March, and we were very strategic in terms of how to honour our customer commitments in the best way. We stayed calm when the industry rushed out and held on to some space agreements that proved very valuable in the longer run, then we picked our charters based on customer needs,” she shared.

As a woman CEO of a busy freight global company, Saskia is happy to have been entrusted with her role though she said she doesn’t believe that the glass-ceiling in this male-dominated industry has fully been broken.

“If you look around the industry at all the recent appointments in senior management, you’ll struggle to find women there at all, let alone people representing a diverse nationality base.  What I can say has worked well for me is to find other women and unite as a bit of a base together – this is really working well,” said Saskia, who disclosed that 60% of Damco’s country managers are women, including the head of its EMEA team, emphasizing though that, “For the record, the men I work with are pretty good, too and actually all have daughters, so are vested in this topic as well.”

Saskia regularly runs to take the stress out after a long day, and is also known for sailing.

“I’ve sailed since I was four years old (thanks to my Dad, who also took me to Rotary father and son weekends). Why? You are always learning something new – navigation, weather, boat itself, diesel engine repairs, electrical work, you name it. When you are sailing, it is like time stands still and it’s just magic – even on a bad weather day. It’s truly a team sport that requires good communication and it is a lifestyle, too,” she said.

And she has just bought a yacht she named “Celeste” – a dream come true.

“I’ve just bought a yacht I have wanted for years and years and years. I will be sailing her 1200nm back from Finland to the Netherlands throughout July and early August with my kids and one of their friends,” she said, adding, “it feels surreal to sail her home.”