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Career profile: Derek Bruce, head of international development, AMRO Bank NV

Posted on by from Changeboard

Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Derek Bruce, head of international development at AMRO Bank NV. He shares his career journey, moving to the Netherlands (and learning Dutch!) and why understanding different cultures is really important for his role.

Basic details

Name: Derek Bruce

Job: Head of international development

Current employer: ABN AMRO Bank NV

CV in brief:

  • Training manager, ABN AMRO Commercial Finance plc, 2009 – 2013
  • Management development manager, News UK, 2007 – 2008
  • Regional learning and development manager, Trinity Mirror plc, 2004 – 2007
  • Training and internal communications manager – Argos Ltd, 2001 – 2004

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

My role centres on the management of strategic planning and implementation of international learning at ABN AMRO at our head office in Amsterdam. We’re a leading retail and commercial bank with a strong home base in the Netherlands that also follows its customers abroad. We are active internationally and have around 25,000 colleagues working for us worldwide.

Who do you report into?

Willemijn van Oort, manager of the Development Centre.

Tell us about your team

The Development Centre has a global focus to ensure all ABN AMRO employees have opportunities to learn and grow with a top class employer. I work with our international HR and business communities to make sure they, and their teams, have the knowledge and skills to perform at their best. That includes advising managers, developing our international learning approach as well as networking to ensure we take advantage of best practice, and much more. Whatever it takes to provide support and learning opportunities.

I am always in awe of the huge amount of energy, experience and innovation we have in our team, which ensures that the work we do makes a real impact on people, teams and our organisational goals.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

Working with and coaching people from all over the world and getting a real understanding of what works well in different cultures. We have offices in places ranging from Australia to Hong Kong and Singapore as well as Germany, France and the US.

We also really encourage the development of our people and giving opportunities for growth, and seeing people move upwards and sideways throughout the organisation is something I’m proud off.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

Working with people from all over the world in a good way! The time zone issue can be a nightmare sometimes and occasionally results in calls at funny times of the day and night. Oh, and speaking Dutch, which I’m still learning.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A ‘typical day’ doesn’t exist. Of course, there are regular meetings and team updates, as well as speaking at seminars and conferences and working with our management teams to make sure we’re going in the right direction. My favourite time though is our monthly discussion with all of the international learning and development managers. We talk about what’s going on in the various countries, and I’m always proud of the work they’re doing around learning and development in their regions.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I wanted to stay within ABN AMRO due to its great approach to learning and development, and work internationally, and this role enabled me to do both.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks – having a senior team who advocate learning, being able to travel worldwide and my colleagues

Downsides – having to balance travel with my personal life

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

  • An awesome network
  • Being sensitive to cultural differences related to business and learning
  • Being able to speak to people from all levels about the benefits of learning in a simple and relevant way
  • A sense of humour
  • The ability to be innovative and creative in making a real impact with learning across multiple locations

Career path

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

Part time job with Sainsburys when I was 16. I worked there as my parents shopped there. I had the most fun there…

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

Pretty much – I set out to work in different industries and organisational sizes and my career path has matched that.

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge has been living up to my own standards, and as I’ve grown up (and I’m still growing up) I’ve developed different priorities and an appreciation of how to be more pragmatic.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

Not crazy but interesting, I travelled to Milan to have lunch with the CEO of a social enterprise company – the lunch was amazing but alas, the move didn’t quite materialise.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Seeing a number of people who I have coached move upwards through organisations, and out of organisations by choice, to become very successful and happy in their careers.

Do you have any career regrets?

I don’t really have any, I prefer to make a decision and learn from it rather than never know what would have happened if I hadn’t tried.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Treat everyone how you think they want to be treated…

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Learn at least two languages – the world is so small now and while I can get by in Dutch and a smattering of Italian, I would love to be more fluent in other languages.


  • Coffee or tea? Coffee – Soya vanilla latte being my preferred choice
  • Jam or marmalade? Jam
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles, their music has much more meaning to me
  • Mac or PC? PC, totally put off by the restrictions imposed on using anything other than Apple
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Guardian
  • BBC or ITV? BBC(3) for Match of the Day and Family Guy
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose, darling
  • Morning or night? Night
  • Rain on snow? Snow… until it turns into sleet and then that awful slushy stuff
  • Sweet or savoury? Both


  • App: WhatsApp – enables me to keep in touch with everyone
  • TV show: I’m more into watching movies than TV… if I had to choose Family Guy
  • Band: No favourite band as such, as I love all kinds of music… but Fat Freddys Drop and Rudimental have made my current albums of choice
  • Song: Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye
  • Book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being/The Sandman Graphic Novels
  • Sports team: Liverpool FC
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Enjoy life with loved ones
  • Place to eat: Anywhere where the chef has a passion for good food
  • Holiday spot: Rome / London (now I live in Amsterdam) / Barcelona
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Organisational status doesn’t always reflect intelligence
Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark


Online features editor at Changeboard



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