Transforming a 130-year-old company into an innovative fintech: Mark Beekman

laurel dault
Article by: Laurel Dault
Transforming a 130-year-old company into an innovative fintech: Mark Beekman

Mark Beekman describes himself as entrepreneurial but not an entrepreneur. That mindset may be exactly what you need to transform a century-old corporate firm into an innovative fintech company.


Mark works for Graydon, a company whose roots can be traced back to 1888, when employees traveled by horseback between Amsterdam and Haarlem to do business.


In 2015, Mark was Director of Marketing and Sales, tasked with repositioning the company’s brand. Recognizing his potential and innovative spirit, Mark’s CEO made him an offer that doesn’t come along everyday: “Pick a program– any program in the world– and we’ll pay for you to go.”


After exploring traditional Executive MBA programs, Mark was intrigued when he found THNK featured in a list of Top 10 Schools for Life. With a personal mission to surprise and be surprised, joining an unconventional unschool was the perfect fit for Mark.


During THNK’s Executive Leadership Program, participants develop as leaders and evolve an initiative. While some of his classmates set out to create new ventures, Mark discovered that he was most interested in reframing his 130-year-old company into a leading innovative business.


Shortly after completing the Executive Program, Mark was promoted from Director of Marketing to Managing Director and advanced from repositioning the company’s brand to reinventing the organization itself.


With examples from Mark’s journey as a guide, here’s what it takes to reinvigorate a long-established company with entrepreneurial energy:

Change the shape

Traditional companies are often structured as hierarchies in which the CEO makes every decision. But such top-down formats don’t work well in the fourth industrial age; organizations are so complex and fast-paced that you can’t expect one leader to make all the decisions.

Reflecting on his experience, Mark shares: “What I took out of THNK is how to transform an old organization which is very typically a hierarchy and in a pyramid structure to more of a circle organization, where you have a lot more entrepreneurial freedom within a framework so that you can innovate.”

psychological safety
Researchers have found the most important factor to a team's success is psychological safety. To perform at their best people must feel safe enough to take risks and to be vulnerable in front of peers. #leadership #teams Click To Tweet

Get comfortable with discomfort

Researchers have found that a team’s success is not determined by who is on the team, but the way the team members are together. The most important factor is psychological safety: interpersonal trust and respect among team members. In order to perform at their best in the workplace, people must feel safe enough to take risks and to be vulnerable in front of peers.

“At THNK I learned how to lead my teams to be more comfortable exploring, failing, not knowing, and prototyping.”

To help his team embrace going outside their comfort zone, Mark created a program. Using many of the same creative and physical exercises as in THNK’s Executive Leadership Program, the program helped participants get used to failing and being vulnerable.

Through group activities and personal coaching, staff got to know themselves and their colleagues better. Together they explored questions like “Who am I?” and “What’s my personal mission?”

Tell a story

Storytelling ignites personal reflection and helps establish relationships with others. When we tell stories, we spark our imaginations, which helps us to abandon our comfort zones and delve into the unknown.

A born storyteller, Mark went above and beyond to communicate his team’s journey. He created a website that tracked each session of the program, sharing photos and exercises so that staff could remember what they learned and see where they were at in the process.

Mark also wrote public blogs, sharing what he learned with articles on topics like brainstorming, empathy building, and encouraging cooperation (articles are in Dutch). By being transparent, Mark invited the rest of the company and the entire world along their journey to become more innovative.

story of THNK
When we tell stories, we spark our imaginations. That helps us to abandon our comfort zones and delve into the unknown. #storytelling Click To Tweet

Find what gives you energy

In setting out to reinvent Graydon, Mark knew what he was up against. “It’s very hard for traditional companies to transform; there are only a few companies who really manage to reinvent themselves constantly to be competitive.”

When he first introduced the unconventional staff program to his company’s board, the response was: “This is too much. What kind of crazy stuff are you doing?”

That was discouraging. But when Mark runs into roadblocks, he draws energy from his personal mission to surprise and be surprised.

Once the results of the program came in, indicating increased employee engagement and improved financial performance, Mark was delighted by the board’s shocked response: “Wow, this is so different but it works very well. We should all do it too.”

For Mark Beekman– the entrepreneurial non-entrepreneur– everyday is an opportunity to live his personal mission. “In a day where I’m surprising people, hey, it’s a 130-years-old, but it’s still a company that can act like a startup, and that gives me energy.”

To learn the skills and process to transform your own organization to be more innovative, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.