‘Altercations? We don’t argue, we are intertwined, united’

Notary Gerard van Leersum talks about his life with Elske Doets (46), his spouse. She is the owner and managing director at Jan Doets America Tours. The company was founded in 1981 by her father and she took over at the age of 28. In 2017 Doets was named Dutch Business Woman of the Year.

’28 Years ago I bumped into Elske in a bar in Bergen (30 miles north of Amsterdam). Of course I offered her a drink. She was in her 5th year of vwo (the Dutch 6 year high school program that prepares students for University) and I was in my 6th. I fell for her husky voice and blonde braid. I don’t miss that braid one bit, I love the freshness of her short hairstyle.’

About us

‘We grew up together,’ is how I tell the story. ‘Elske started studying Law one year after I did. We weren’t the sorority and fraternity type, but we did love to talk about our dreams for the future over a beer. Children and a house were part of those dreams, but for Elske also the world of travel that she grew up in. As an 8 year old she had already crafted her own travel guide. After a traineeship at her father’s company she knew: this is what I want. She was only 28 when she took over the business. A gutsy move that came with a lot of debt, which made me more nervous than her. But I was convinced: if this is her passion, she can do it.’

‘Last year Elske was named Business Woman of the Year. A role she took very serious. Right away she founded the Young Lady Business Academy, a pressure cooker course with the tagline “Dream, Dare and Do”. She created this yearly recurring summer course especially for young women who aspire a job at the top. The slogan “Dream, Dare and Do” is very Elske. She will make a decision and immediately spring into action, while I need some time to get used to an idea. Hence my start as an entrepreneur came six years after hers. Even when it gets tough, Elske keeps going. For example when 9/11 happened, the world stopped but not Elske. Immediately she started phoning customers: don’t go on your trip yet, we are postponing it and we’ll keep in touch. She wanted to let them know that she cared about them.’

‘She will make a decision and immediately spring into action, while I need some time to get used to an idea.’

‘Earlier this year she published a book: ‘Het lef om gelukkig te zijn’ (‘The guts to be happy’). An approach way different from all those self help books that solely focus on success. In Elske’s view it is key to stay in contact with yourself, to be in tune with your needs and with your intuition. Don’t let your life be controlled by a need to score. I think that a lot of business people could benefit from her useful observations. The best thing about the book: it is all based on her personal experience.’

Family history

Elske grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Father Jan (77) founded Jan Doets America Tours in 1981 from an office in Nieuw-Vennep (20 miles southeast of Amsterdam). Mother Sietske (73) assisted the company from home.

As a child Elske had a keen interest in the business, currently located in Heerhugowaard (30 miles north of Amsterdam). While her sister Lizzy was always mothering her dolls, Elske didn’t care about them and one time even pulled out the arms and legs of a doll. It makes sense that Lizzy, not Elske, has found her place working in health care.

Gerard van Leersum, born and raised in Alkmaar (25 miles north of Amsterdam), comes from a family of notaries. Grandfather Gerard practiced in Winkel (39 miles north of Amsterdam), father Gerard (73) in Alkmaar and he is based in Heiloo (24 miles northeast of Amsterdam). His mother Klaartje (73) worked as a recovery room nurse. His brother Arnout, who had more leeway than him in choosing a career path, currently works in Dubai as a sales manager in the packaging industry.

‘It strikes me how often Elske benefits from her keen intuition, that operates very straightforward. “I won’t do business with someone with sweaty palms,” she would for example say. She is not one to waste time. If a person drains energy instead of boosting it, she is quick to say: bam, next please! She taught me a lot about saying no, which can be hard even though it is such a simple word.’

‘In the daily contact Elske tends to be quite direct. What you see is what you get. But my more diplomatic approach has rubbed off on her. In business it is important to get people on your side. That she expanded her repertoire has helped her as Business Woman of the Year. The year was so full of meetings and activities, that it was hard to keep track of it all. Al those stories came up up at the dinner table. The first day, the kids were interested in the anecdotes, but soon they begged her to stop talking. I stayed interested and would sometimes accompany her to seminars and receptions. They were all very nice, even though some of them were a bit over the top. On those occasions we would have loved to drive off with smoking tires.’

‘Our sons are fourteen and eleven now, so they need less babysitting than in the early years. In those days we had a babysitter come to the house three days a week to create some breathing space for us. To this day I have the day off on Tuesdays and Elske on Wednesdays. And she is more at ease with that than I am. According to her, forty hours a week is sufficient to run a company. With nine hours a week of help with the housework we have plenty of time for fun stuff. Sunday is family day, it starts with all of us cozying up in bed. We love going for a beer and a ‘bitterbal’ (fried snack) at the local pub, or opening a bottle of wine at night and talk about our day. And every year we take the kids on a six week holiday.’

‘Altercations? We never argue. It sounds boring and plain, but it is true. We are intertwined, united. And I’m sure it helps that we work out twice a week with a personal trainer. I like to play tennis and Elske prefers boxing. That is so her: Bam!’

Elske on Gerard

‘Gerard comes from a family of notaries. I choose my own path, while he had to conform to  expectations. Compared to others in his profession he is very outgoing. Butler to the US ambassador would suit him perfect. Both of us have strong personalities, and we use that strength to encourage each other. Gerard gives me room to do my thing, while keeping an eye on how much I take on in my enthusiasm.’

‘He has a formal streak: careful, collected, a ‘suit’. I love it when his wild and playful side comes out. Last year he really wanted to race through the Canadian forest on a quad and I had to come with. He couldn’t stop laughing, even when he flipped over.’