Testing corporate waters for a perfect fit


It’s no small coincidence that Lisbon-born Ana Endres, Head of Discovery Health’s Strategic Health Services, advises talented young graduates to “try out a few companies” before settling on a corporate culture that fits their needs.

Ana learned how to strategise at the feet of her mother, a doctor who worked long hours in the Portuguese public health sector, and her father, an architect who “knew exactly how to take care of the kids”.

“She was my role model and had the support of our extended family. I guess we were a modern family. Everyone managed to follow their aspirations because of the planning and support structure created,” Ana says.

She joined Discovery in 2010 after working at global strategy consulting companies McKinsey and Dalberg Development Advisors where she advised the United Nations and the World Bank on finances and public health. Before that she was an international product manager for Johnson & Johnson.

A chemical engineering graduate of the Instituto Superior Técnico in Portugal, specialising in bio-technology, with an MBA from Spain, she’s fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and holds her own in French and German.

What career advice would she give young people? “Today, I can see how experimenting with a few different jobs and companies served me. It takes time and you need to try a few different things before you find what company works for you. Don’t get stuck with your first company. I used my first eight years to understand what I like and don’t like and to find a cultural fit with a corporate that met my needs and goals.”

Discovery ticked all her boxes

She met her South African husband while they were on an exchange programme in Costa Rica as part of their MBA studies, and followed him back to this country.

What excites her about Discovery is that it stands out globally when it comes to innovation. “The rapid thrust with which they bring things to market is absolutely unique and they’ve managed to attract a really good group of intelligent, knowledgeable people. I find driving innovation with these teams deeply motivating.”

She describes her leadership style as “Latino-loud, straightforward and direct”.

“I’m hands-on and feel comfortable when I know the detail behind things, and why they’re being done. I prefer lots of involvement and discussion, that’s why I call people more than I email them. In our team we have hard-working, self-motivated people who have each other’s backs. I’m comfortable saying what I feel and think they are too.”

Ana enjoys sharing her experience and helping others think through what they want to achieve. “Most of the mentoring discussions are about personal aspirations and career growth. It’s not often you sit down and focus on personal conversations and hear about their dreams, and I really enjoy those. It’s also a learning opportunity for me – all these interactions with mentees are ultimately interactions with people on people issues – and the more you do them, the more you learn how to be a better manager.”

Intuition not a top business skill

Is she intuitive? “I’m very rational and analytical while in business mode, but observant enough to see how people are feeling about the topic at hand,” she says. “I use data for business decisions and intuition for how to drive it.”

For Ana, balancing work and her personal life is about planning everything in advance, from work meetings and life-related goals to play dates, holidays, and social events.

“If I leave it to the last minute, often I end up not doing it. Planning days, weeks, months or years in advance goes a long way to ensuring that day-to-day tasks don’t take over and you don’t lose sight of what’s important,” she says.

Her support system includes her husband Rolf and an au pair and nanny who live with the family during the week. They have three boys age 16 months, three and five years old. “Rolf gets home by supper time, and is very present for the kids – work only takes over again at night after the kids have gone to bed and both of us had time to catch up with each other.”

“It’s not about enforcing strict hours. You get peaks and troughs at work and kids need you at different times. You navigate the demands. Sometimes they’re sick or going through a stressful beginning of a school year – it’s actually more stressful trying to keep personal and work life apart!”

Constantly adjusting

She de-stresses by spending her weekend with her children. “Having 3 boys keeps you fit!” A former national volleyball player in Portugal, she found the sport less popular in South Africa so turned to doing triathlons with her husband. Her real passion is ballroom, Latin and hip-hop dancing, and since the lockdown she does online dance classes at home.

What does she sacrifice? She shrugs. “Not much. I don’t feel guilty, as many mums do. My role model was my mother who worked hard all her life but made sure we felt loved and were surrounded by people who loved us,” she says.

Ana is an avid reader of non-fiction and economics, but loves the odd romance or drama novel – often stealing a few minutes at a time to read while waiting at a petrol station or in a queue.

At Discovery, she’s responsible for Healthcare Services, the Service Lab, and the Digital Health platform and special projects where she leads the development, piloting and launching of digital and non-digital health initiatives.

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