In this interview, Chief Financial and Operating Officer, Greet Gemels, shared snippets of her childhood, philosophy on life, leadership style and where she sees Advantage’s role in the world.
Q: Tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up in a very small town in Belgium. When I was 21, I moved. My childhood was largely spent in very Catholic schools, a very strict Catholic boarding school — it had a moat, a bridge, swans and many nuns.
When I was little, I wanted to be a nurse, which is unlike me because everything grosses me out — I’m not very touchy. But for some reason, I always wanted to be a nurse.
It’s literally the opposite of everything I do right now, and I feel like being a nurse is a calling, and you either have it or you don’t, like being in the army. I don’t, and I’m in finance now.
“I honestly think that every decision we make at Advantage will always be balanced towards both the company and the individual. I’m really happy that that’s something Advantage does.”Greet Gemels, Chief Financial and Operating Officer
Q: What did your career path look like, and how did you arrive at Advantage?
I’ve been at Advantage for 17 years now, so I didn’t have much of a career path before it. I essentially moved to Canada for my very first real job, and that’s this one. So, before that, I had a job at a hotel chain; it was an international company, and it was in Brussels.
I just wasn’t crazy about Belgium anymore, especially not after I had been to Canada once. So, I just went straight for Advantage. We didn’t have any programs at that point other than the US and Canada. We were on the first charge of Advantage trying to expand. I was running the Benelux program at the time, and the reason I came here was for my languages. Nobody cared that I had a finance background, but I was good with data and spoke the three languages (French, English and German) of the programs they wanted to do.
It’s funny because I sat there for the first couple of weeks, and they gave me this computer at the back of this old building. I kept thinking I was in a reality TV show. I had nothing to do, and they just gave me these random tasks that took ten minutes. I thought that they were trying to film me from somewhere because clearly, this isn’t a real company. And this isn’t a real job.
Eventually, I was doing little things to support different areas of the business, and the Belgium program finally gained some ground. So, I was finally able to do my job. But, for the first three months, I was 100% convinced I was on a game show.
Q: That’s funny but amazing—look at your career progression! To backtrack, what made you fall in love with Canada, specifically Toronto?
Honestly, the people. I was in such a small town in Belgium, and everybody came from the same religion, the same parish—everybody was the same person. They were just different clones of each other. So, I love the fact that I came here, and there was so much different food, so many different ethnicities, and so much noise and chaos. And people are so friendly here, like, so friendly!
Q: What role or purpose do you see Advantage Group fulfilling in the world?
One day I was invited to a Coca-Cola presentation, and it was the first presentation I was on. I wasn’t excited because it would be full of people I didn’t know. I didn’t see my role there. But then, people started having such heated debates about account managers on specific accounts and suddenly, it hit me — people’s livelihoods are tied to this! They interpret and analyze the data and clearly see a correlation between the strategies that they run and the outcomes they expect based on the scores.
The role that I see Advantage play is to be a voice of people on behalf of both parties. I think it’s important to have an unbiased bystander that can interpret these things for you.
Q: Just a little about you specifically, what are you passionate about outside of work?
I used to be very passionate about travelling — I travelled a lot. I had many hobbies. But, I had kids at a later age, so right now, I’m just lucky if I can get a half an hour yoga session at the end of the day.
I really like to be outside. I can’t be inside, and my kids have that same bug — they like to be in the dirt. So, while we’re not going to South America anymore, we do, walk at least once every week; we go on what we call an adventure where we just kind of track through paths and look up all these different trails. I really love being outdoors.
Q: What would you say your philosophy on life is?
For me, it’s all about balance. I need to have a balance of everything in my life, and as soon as I move over to a particular thing, I always have to recalibrate, or I just run myself ragged. So, everything needs to happen in moderation, and there needs to be a balance between things.
Q: How would you say this perspective has changed how you lead at Advantage?
I’m in finance, so people never think this of me, but I always see myself as putting people first. We are running a business, not a non-profit, but for people working at Advantage, I feel we have some obligation to participate in mental health and their daily lives. People always come first. I honestly think that every decision we make at Advantage will always be balanced towards both the company and the individual. I’m really happy that that’s something Advantage does. I feel very strongly about that.
Q: Is there anything that people at Advantage don’t know about you?
I ended up coming here because of a Dungeons and Dragons event and fell in love with Toronto! But, funnily enough, I didn’t come here as part of a calculated decision, though it definitely all worked out in the end.
To learn more about the benefits of working at Advantage Group, visit our people page.