– Reading time 8.3 minutes –
The Sunday Session welcomes Ursula Kus!
I’ve just arrived in IJburg, East Amsterdam. The area is new, situated in the IJ Lake and built on artificial islands which have been raised from the lake. It’s mostly concrete and grass, and very quiet. It somehow feels like an area that doesn’t quite know what it is yet. Ursula appears from around the corner to meet me, it’s 9.30am and already blazing hot. We find a park bench in the shade. I really know nothing about Ursula, only that she liked the Sunday Session project and wants to be photographed.
I start my recording and she introduces herself.
I ask her about her life and she tells me that she is married to a Mexican man and now lives in Mexico City. When she lived here in Amsterdam, she was lucky enough to have a flat in the Jordaan district. Growing up in Krakow, Poland, she witnessed the country moving from Communism to Independence. Her Mum was quick to understand the need for new goods from the West and opened several clothes stores in the early 1990’s. In the different areas of Polish centres there were clusters of businesses with nothing inbetween.
At the age of 18 Ursula was ready to start her own life, focusing her sights on New York, although her protective older brother didn’t want her to go so far away. He had some friends in Amsterdam, so she visited for a weekend and fell in love with the atmosphere and particularly the biking. Arriving here she started a three year fashion styling course. With her savvy business mind and creativity she was quickly snatched by the fashion industry. She began styling for magazines, fashions shows, television and movie assignments. She has fond memories of this time, but also remembers it was very hectic with all the networking and travelling, paired with irregular income. Then an opportunity came up; a colleague suggested that with her organisational skills and entrepreneurial spirit she might do well in a corporate environment.
Ursula found her feet in this world discovering as she says her analytical element. Her work life changed and now she was working for big international corporations. After six months working in this culture she undertook another Batchelor in Economics and Marketing studying part-time alongside her job. Working in this environment for eight years she found that she needed to take further studies in order to assume a higher position in the corporate world. So Ursula then moved to London to earn her MBA. Her time in London was interspersed with time in China and San Francisco as part of a rotation programme.
I ask Ursula about marketing. I mention that from my own perspective, marketing is about selling something authentic. So I presume people want to know who you are as well as what you are selling. Do you find this means you have to give too much of yourself?
“No,” she says. And goes on to say that the work ethic in the Netherlands is quite healthy and employers and colleagues don’t expect you to work overtime as a rule. Ursula also points out that it’s not about how many hours you spend in the office, but how effective you are. She tells me that in Mexico City where her husband works, it is without fail expected that you are in the office between 9am-7pm or longer.
Has all the travelling made you a better communicator?
“Yes,” she says, “with all this experience and in a relatively short space of time I became made a non-judgmental person. I take you as you are, respect what you do, how you choose to express yourself. It’s your freedom, it’s your will. I do not have the point of reference anymore, back to my values, my culture. The more you interact with everybody, all the different cultures, the more open minded you become, and respectful in that sense.”
Ursula’s marketing position was in Africa and the Middle East. I ask about the impact of technology in her work and in the communities she was targeting. She tells me that Africa is way ahead of European markets in mobile banking because the infrastructure for high-street branches does not exist. So the market is very receptive to new technologies. Technology is making a bigger print and changing more rapidly, as many technologies are new, there is not the process of old technologies converting into new ones.
It’s been interesting to hear about her journey. But I’m curious about her early work in Poland with her Mum. She tells me that the family business was located between school and home, so she always had to pass by on her way home. At the age of eight, Ursula was helping her Mum at 5am on visits to the warehouses to negotiate and buy the latest fashions, dressing window displays and later on as a teenager, even hiring and firing. Ursula remembers there was such demand! And tells me that people weren’t just coming into browse a quiet shop, they were coming in to buy! Ursula is an extrovert and finds it easy to connect with people. ‘There were bright beautiful clothes and people really wanted them’. She goes on to say that she liked the products and wanted people to have them. I’m thinking now as I write this, that this must have been a crazy time. So it’s no wonder that by eighteen she had already acquired a business mind and understood the mechanics of business.
After completing her MBA Ursula met her now husband and lives in Mexico City. Ursula describes her current career position as a blank space. She has found that her ten years experience in Europe, The Middle East and Africa are not acknowledged in Mexico, alongside the fact that she is a woman. This means that her salary would be far lower. So now she is developing her artistic side, re-engaging with the fashion and photography world and has dreams of her own fashion label in the future.
I’m also curious why she is in IJburg and not the Jordaan area of Amsterdam?
“Well,” she smiles. “I now live in Mexico and I’m here to visit my Saudi sister, my friend for the last fourteen years.”
“Oh.” I say. “And why do you like this area then?”
“It’s a new neighbourhood. When my friend moved here a few years ago I thought it was ugly. But now the trees have grown and it’s starting to have character and life. I like that the designers have put so much thought into the forms and shapes”
“Well thanks for your story” I say
“You’re welcome” Ursula says.
And with that we head off to make some pictures.