Building on success

Successful business schools and executive education centres rarely rest on their laurels, and RSM Executive Education is no exception. Despite an impressive track record of delivering a broad portfolio of tailor-made programmes and providing cutting-edge research, room for improvement remained when Theo Backx took up the position of executive director of the department in October 2012.

Story by Kevin Titman

RSM Executive Education currently operates under the marketing tagline of “Business was Usual”, painting a very accurate picture of the ever-evolving business landscape. By the same token, business schools need to equip managers and executives with the skills and knowledge to deal with this shifting business environment. When Theo Backx, former managing director of Sony Europa, was entrusted with management of RSM Executive Education he considered it was high time the department followed suit and evolved, firstly in response to changes in the business world and then in anticipation of change.

The first steps taken were in-house, as he explains: ‘I had been in the corporate world for 34 years and at RSM since 2006. What I inherited was a department that had achieved so much but, by shaking up internal processes, could have an even greater external impact and therefore be of even greater relevance to its clients.’

The challenge for any such centre is to bridge the gap between corporate demand and faculty input. Theo decided to underpin this by the formation of two collaborative but highly different councils – the Advisory Council (a soundboard comprising purely high-ranking representatives of the business world) and an Academic Council (representing members of all faculty departments). In addition, a complete review of the marketing of programmes was performed, social media activity analysed in greater detail, and closer follow-up of potential clients carried out. In short, the goals were – and still are – to generate more revenue and bring in new clients.

Strategy for growth

Both prior to and since the establishment of this shake-up, RSM Executive Education has had plenty of success stories to share: this year marks the 10th anniversary of its partnership with the global automotive supplier Denso; in October 2012 the new Amsterdam office was opened, doubling in size within its first six months of operation at limited additional cost; and over the past 12 months the combined efforts of the Rotterdam and Amsterdam offices have seen a 15 per cent growth in the executive education client base.

These recent achievements, along with the necessary internal changes, are signs of a longer-term vision that will serve to strengthen the RSM brand name alongside its “cousin” Erasmus University, harness core activities in the areas of finance, accountancy, marketing, strategy and leadership, and create stronger relations between faculty and the various Executive Education departments.

Theo wants to see this translate into three main tangible results: ‘From a strictly revenue perspective we want to see RSM Executive Education double its market share in the next three to four years. From the marketing angle, we want to tell a compelling story that will generate more business and consequently improve our client conversion rate. And within our organisation we must think, act and operate like a business – every single day.’

A new business mind-set

Operations from Amsterdam can be held up as a concrete example of the way in which RSM Executive Education is moving forward, strategically and operationally speaking. The choice of location was a “no-brainer” for a city regarded as the hub of Dutch business to the same extent as London is regarded in the case of the UK. The demands of executives working in the city affects the way the office works – they are looking for shorter, more intensive programmes and Theo reckons this more “Amsterdam” way of doing business will filter over to Rotterdam and eventually be incorporated into the overall way of doing business within RSM Executive Education:

‘What we have developed in Amsterdam is not a training centre but a business office, from where lectures are delivered, from where we respond to specific demands and also go out and seek new clients in a pro-active way. We now enjoy greater control over our business proposals and can look forward to developing an even more business-oriented culture across our two main Dutch bases,’ he says.

The future is bright

Such has been the success of the Amsterdam project that RSM Executive Education is looking to replicate it in Germany, with Dusseldorf clearly in its sights for the location of the next Executive Education office. The arguments for the choice of city are overwhelming, from a geographic and industry perspective. Above all, it is symptomatic of the new way of operating at RSM Executive Education – business is being sought, rather than assuming it will land on the centre’s doorstep. Add to this the continued development of technology-enhanced learning, a reciprocal corporate-academic training scheme and discussions that Theo Backx and his team are currently having with the national and international industries in view of a new, high-level executive programme launch in 2015 – and the future for RSM Executive Education looks very bright indeed.


More information about RSM Executive Education and its programmes can be found on their webpages.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of RSM Outlook.

RSM Outlook, 2014 Winter RSM Outlook