Paul van der Helm

Paul van der Helm

Paul van der Helm, 37 Currently: Executive MBA participant Position: Project and process improvement manager for Nike

“When you are in a class with people from different backgrounds and countries, it is inevitable that there is a lot of discussion and debate. Yes, your ideas get challenged. But this is the beauty of the MBA – you learn from being challenged. It informs your thinking.” 

How did you think an EMBA would help you in your career?
I have been working at Nike on global supply chains and, while I still enjoy myself, I felt I was getting a one-sided view of the business. Having had a career in the same discipline for eleven years people begin to view you as a specialist in a particular field, and I wanted to be able to grow in new areas. I felt the EMBA would increase my expertise in other areas of the business and give me a broader picture of where I fitted in, as well as how business projects and teams are managed in other organisations. Basically, I wanted more career freedom and flexibility. 

As a parent, were you concerned about managing your life/work balance during the EMBA? 

The programme structure of classes on Friday evenings and Saturdays fits my situation very well. I am the father of two daughters aged three and seven and, of course, family life is very important for me. While doing the programme I manage to keep one day free for my family every weekend. My wife is also very supportive. She was the one who encouraged me to do the EMBA after she had finished an eighteen-month course the year before.

Nike is a big company. Do you think your EMBA experience has increased the value you bring to your company?
Definitely. It is very easy to lose sight of where you fit in and how the different functional roles fit together in a large organisation. Nike is a $15 billion revenue company that employs 22,000 staff worldwide and is the largest sport and fitness brand in the world. The EMBA has given me a very good understanding of how it all links together, which is very empowering. I am also more self-aware of how, as a leader, I can impact other people. RSM encourages participants to apply the theory we learn to our daily jobs, as well as bring practical examples from our working lives into our assignments and in-company projects. This helps to link learning with my daily work. For instance, I am using the modelling and data analysis I learned in ‘management science’ and ‘business methods’ to improve Nike’s supply chain management. 

Were international networks a factor for you in choosing the EMBA at RSM?
The mix of students and the international faculty were definitely reasons for choosing RSM. I work for a global company and my division does its business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. On the supply side, at least seventy percent of our product comes out of Asia. The knowledge I’ve gained at RSM is helping me to build a deeper understanding of overseas markets and how these countries approach business. The international alumni network was another reason I chose RSM. RSM is one of the oldest business schools in Holland and has one of the largest international networks. I believe having strong contacts overseas will benefit my effectiveness and career. 

Is it challenging to share your ideas of best practice within a class that is so diverse?
When you are in a class with people from different backgrounds and countries, it is inevitable that there is a lot of discussion and debate. Yes, your ideas get challenged. But this is the beauty of the MBA – you learn from being challenged. It informs your thinking and is an important part of the learning process.

Has the quality of the other candidates brought value to your experience of the programme?
Yes, in two ways. There is a great international mix among the 118 participants in the programme and the team of six I work with includes people from France and the USA. This brings different cultural perspectives from which everyone can learn. Then there is the fact that people are from various functions and industries and bring different problem-solving skills to the table. Some have a top line approach; others are more interested in the detail. A lot of learning comes from the other people in the programme. 

What insights did the international study trip give you?
I spent a week in Cape Town in July with forty RSM classmates. The trip was a mix of presentations and field trips. We visited an NGO and a nearby township, which was both confronting, and inspiring. It gave us a clear view of the social and economic problems South Africa faces and the role business can and must play in alleviating these. There was a lot of focus during our visit on the heritage of apartheid, the gap between rich and poor, and the impact of HIV/AIDS. Twenty per cent of the population is infected and forty per cent are unemployed. What I learned from the trip is that you cannot run a business in a vacuum. The roles of society, business and government must triangulate. Links between the sectors are all important and everyone needs to pull together for an economy to work. On a personal level, I was impressed and humbled by the hard work and dedication of the many volunteers I met, trying to fill in when and where it’s most needed.