Hajir Hajji: Young, Multicultural and a Woman
Triply Diverse Non-Executive Director Does Double Duty
“Coolblue supporters” is how this online retailer refers to its Supervisory Board on its own website. Also, a “friendly, but critical sounding board.” In October 2021, Hajir Hajji (1980) became one of six Supervisory Board members. Her non-executive directorship is the crowning achievement to a career with a classic “newsboy to millionaire” narrative. Except that Hajji (1980) started as a 17-year-old girl shelf stacker of Moroccan descent at discount retailer Action, and then in less than a quarter century, worked her way up to CEO. The retail chain is owned by British investment firm 3i, and currently has 2,000 stores in nine countries and more than 65,000 employees.
The schoolgirl advanced fast at the equally fast-growing discount chain. In an interview for SER Topvrouwen, Hajji said of her meteoric career: “I became a store manager at 19, and was managing multiple stores by the time I was 20. That is extraordinarily young for that level of responsibility. I still see many others benefiting from the advancement opportunities at Action. Many people on my team of buyers got the same “training” from the founders as I did. In essence, they taught us to work hard and trust our gut. And that works.” Not that her gut is always entirely trustworthy. During the Covid crisis, Hajji, who was Action’s Commercial Director at the time, sent out a letter to suppliers announcing a decision to extend payment terms to 90 days. The amount of criticism that followed forced them to backtrack. In retrospect, Hajji admits a different approach would have been better.
Not Afraid of a Big Mouth
So, she has currently made it as far as CEO at Action and has two major challenges to conquer – digitization and sustainability. She has weathered worse, though, as she has also experienced three hold-ups at Action stores. The first time, she was held at gunpoint, and one of the later incidents involved getting kicked and clubbed with a gun. “It has made me stronger. I am less likely to be thrown off by an aggressive customer or someone with a big mouth,” she told Het Financiële Dagblad. On a previous occasion, the paper had asked her what it is like to be a board member at Action as the only woman with foreign roots among all those “white men of a certain age.” Her reply, “I do double duty.” By appointing Hajji, Coolblue basically gained two non-executive directors in one go.