Back

Office Hours: I was the Director of Product Management at Amazon and now I’m the VP of Global Operations at Flexport. I’m Ilse De Bruin. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas! I’m Ilse De Bruin, Vice President of Global Operations at Flexport, where we are on a mission to simplify freight forwarding by linking everyone in the supply chain together through technology. We are setting a new gold standard for global trading and breaking down the barriers and complexities.

Before I joined Flexport, I had the wonderful opportunity to work in Amazon, where I was responsible for building and developing the global logistics product, shipping millions of customer orders across the world and moving inventory into Amazon’s fulfillment network. During my tenure in Amazon, I continued to do what I love best - and that is to build and run the Global Logistics Operations. During this period, I had the opportunity to learn new skills in Product, Technology, and Developing growth strategies.

For 20+ years, I have built my experience, reputation, and brand as a transformation leader in the supply chain and logistics industry. Having lived most of my life in South Africa, I have learned how to run a business in an environment where poverty, education, and security are at the order of the day. I’ve run market-leading businesses as well as struggling divisions in desperate need of leadership and guidance. Along this journey I’ve built a network of over 1k good friends and acquaintances, I’ve met great leaders, learned from awesome coaches, and simply just enjoyed the opportunity to expand my horizons with a lot of amazing travel experiences.

I am a firm believer in living a purpose-driven, balanced life. I value what I do in my working environment as much as I do in my family and personal life. I have a doting husband and two daughters. During my downtime we enjoy going to the beach, hanging out with our dog, Oliver. Shaun, my husband, and I love traveling as much as we can and playing a lot of golf! My favorite discovery this year is a reading APP that summarizes really good books with 15-minute audibles! Love it and can recommend it!

Ask me anything about leading operations at a company that moves $19B of merchandise across 112 countries a year, being a product manager, scaling global businesses, developing people, leading through change, or anything else!

ElphaStaff's profile thumbnail
Thanks so much for joining us @Ilsedebruin!Elphas – please ask @Ilsedebruin your questions before Friday, September 2nd. @Ilsedebruin may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
poojaleo's profile thumbnail
@Ilsedebruin - Thank you for taking out the time to answer our questions! I will be joining Amazon as SDE1 in the Fulfillment Tech team. I am a career switcher with 5 years of experience working as an HR Business Partner. Last year, I decided to pivot my career to tech. Based on your experience working at Amazon, what actions do you recommend for a new joiner to be able to onboard fast, understand the codebase, and earn trust quickly? Thank you again!
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hi There! How exciting to join Amazon and even in a new discipline! Best advice I can give is really to learn how to embrace the leadership principles in everything you do. It is such a big part of the company's DNA! The leadership principles at first seem obvious, but when you dig into it, it is different in practice!. Next advice is NETWORK - this is the best group of smart people you are going to find in one company - make those friends and acquaintances.
Hi thanks for taking time to answer the questions.1. What is your success mantra for managing people and mentor team? 2. Do you follow any framework for providing feedback?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hey Glennie! For managing people, I believe in being authentic and honest and provide clear feedback as quickly as possible. For mentoring, I firmly believe it is a 2 way street - the person you are mentoring should have clear goals in mind and be intentional about the shifts they'd like to make. For the mentor, the goal is to help the willing party unleash their true potential - take the time and effort to understand the other person and do just that. On frameworks, not really - but I do believe you have to create a consistent "space" between 2 parties to provide feedback. Laying that expectation as a constant, makes it a "safe" space to provide feedback with the intention to improve.
tiffanyyhchang's profile thumbnail
Hi Ilse, thanks for taking time out of your day to answer our questions! 1. What have been your key takeaways from each of your career stopping grounds or transitions? 2. What are some under-the-radar or niche books you would recommend to a product leader-in-progress?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hey Tiffany, my most valuable take aways have been mostly the friends I have made and the network I have built. I have always made a point of staying connected with key people that I have worked with, especially if they have had an impact on my development. On books, I don't know if I have a specific book that I can recommend for product leaders (with a wow factor), however I can recommend that any book on learning more about critical thinking is really valuable - I found that once I started learning more about critical thinking, it did alter the way I looked at solving problems. Hope that helps!
tiffanyyhchang's profile thumbnail
Thank you, and I love your directional book rec - one of my favourite reads of this year was "A More Beautiful Question" by Warren Berger!
rasheedahn's profile thumbnail
What led to your passion for supply chain operations?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hi Rasheed, first - I love operations - I enjoy the people and the challenge of connecting the people with the strategy of the company. On supply chain, I love the international environment, probably more than the domestic environment - so transportation, nodes and connecting them most efficiently! I love the complexity, diversity and excitement of facing a new challenge pretty much every day.
meganrichards's profile thumbnail
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions on Elpha! How do you think about prioritization in your work, as you juggle so many things pulling you in different directions? Are there any frameworks or methods you've adapted to your work?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hey Megan, I get asked this question a lot! First, I believe of making sure I am managing my day vs. other people managing my day. This takes discipline in looking at your key deliverables over the next weeks or months, and working backwards from those dates, setting aside time and blocking it out in your calendar; then, I make sure that I have enough time in my day/week to connect with critical people (either regulars, people that are responsible to deliver on projects, or people that may need my help); I also ensure that I set aside time for personal commitments/tasks - when we get busy, this is often neglected and becomes a stress factor. I love creating lists - so every week, before the week starts, I write down my most important deliverables for that week and I check up on myself by the end of the week! Hope that helps.
jadeh's profile thumbnail
Hi Ilse, thank you for taking the time for questions!What would you advise PMs to spend the most / least time focusing on, particularly when trying to move from PM to Senior PM and above?I would also love to know the name of the reading app!
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hey Jade, I would recommend testing and learning vs trying to deliver on perfection. The process of experimentation is extremely valuable, especially when you can do that in an environment where you can receive critical feedback from others on how to think differently about what you are building. The APP - the Blinkist - TRULY changed my life!
jadeh's profile thumbnail
Thank you so much for taking the time for my question
amiharish's profile thumbnail
Amazon has a very distinct culture and product framework that many companies try to emulate. What aspects of it did you bring and adapt to Flexport?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Working from the customer backwards - you simply can not go wrong when you think about it that way. In addition, I believe thinking in the future and working from that goal vs. developing incremental solutions.
jacquelineyeung's profile thumbnail
At which point did you take on a lot of responsibility and it required sacrifice on your personal life or how did you take on a VP role while ensuring that you have personal goals/ balanced family life? What were some hard sacrifices you have had to make in your career milestones? How did your coaches help you in your life and what tactical actions did you take/come to realize were necessary steps to take to push yourself to the next level? Looking back, what are some clear steps you took were necessary to take? What are some goals now that will make you an even more successful VP/ CEO-to be?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hi Jacqueline, not easy questions - I believe my entire career has been a bit of a give and take. What is most important is that when you make step changes in your career, that your family understands and supports what you are doing and that they are supportive. I have always been super lucky in that regard! As a family we did make the decision to relocate from South Africa to the US for my career. That was a BIG sacrifice, especially for the girls leaving their cousins back home. We made the right decision, but it was tough nevertheless. On clear steps - I believe it is being intentional about your development and being willing to learn - my biggest changes took place when I felt most vulnerable and dependent on others to learn at pace. I realize, especially now, to move to the C-Suite, I need to be confident to ask (and get) what I need to be successful vs. simply making do with what I have.
susanlee's profile thumbnail
What is something that most companies get wrong about sustainable growth?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hi Susan, I believe companies investing in stable foundations, doubling down on what you do well, building towards being number 1 or 2.
ayamimura's profile thumbnail
What is a leadership skill that you've had to hone as a female leader? How have you dealt with challenges involving bias regarding a female leader?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
Hi there, it is an interesting question - as a female leader I have not really experienced bias, at least directly. I believe everyone applies some filter or lens and it is not always a function of gender. It may be a naive way of looking at it and I have learnt that for others, bias may be more prominent. So it is really important for me as a female leader to be more attune with potential biases in the workplace - I believe we have a great opportunity to influence and steer conversations and make team members more self aware.
As one rises up the ladder, how do you handle conflicts with the C-level executive who has much more power in the organization than you do but often collide with you in your own turf with unreconcilable differences in the opinions. He is self-entitled and has “my way is high way” attitude. Anyone with a viewpoint different from his is obliged to go out of his/her way to prove and back up why his/her opinion should be heard, whereas his own opinion is always the default and he is not asked to back up his opinion to the same rigor as he expects of others. I have raised this issue to the CEO but I doubt that much can change. Would it be wise of me to have a direct conversation with the CPO about this (how he stifles other peoples’ creativity and passion) or should I address this via the CEO?
Ilsedebruin's profile thumbnail
I am a firm believer of having direct conversations. You can either keep it open ended so that he can self discover during the conversation, or you can get right to the point and tell him/her how you feel. In these types of conversations, I recommend keeping it fact based with 2 or 3 examples. Invite feedback from his/her side as well and listen (don't respond). Try to come back later with some thoughts on what you have heard, and steps you will take from your end to work on improving your relationship. This demonstrates that you realize that every relationship takes effort. Unfortunately, if this does not work, I would recommend you speak to the CEO and provide the opportunity for them to address it. Not an easy situation. I hope your company has a 360degree review process where through multiple data points the CPO can start seeing patterns. If not, you may want to recommend that to your HR team as well.
sc159's profile thumbnail
Thank you so much for your thoughtful advice! I will be having a 1:1 with him in just about an hour and this is very helpful!! Really appreciate you for taking the time to share your hard earned wisdom with others. Thank you so much and all the best!