She was Born 1941 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where she also attended school and helped to build her family’s transport business. She studied economics at Erasmus University, before working there for six years as an Assistant Professor.
Her political career started on the Rotterdam Municipal Council, and in 1971 she was elected as a Member of the Dutch Parliament for the liberal VVD party. From 1982-1989 she served as Minister for Transport, Public Works and Telecommunication in the Netherlands.
After politics she was appointed President of Nyenrode University from 1991-2000, and served on various company boards, including Lucent Technologies, Volvo, P&O Nedlloyd.
Prior to serving as European Commissioner for Competition from 2004-2009, her charity work included advising the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and World Cancer Research Fund, and she has an ongoing interest in mental health issues.
"Steelie Neelie" (by Ryan Heath) is a book about her ten years in Brussels fighting for a more competitive and digital Europe.