MBA graduates: be open to reflection and change

Keynote speaker Jackie Cuthbert made a moving speech about agility, diversity and reflection at the RSM MBA graduation at World Trade Center Rotterdam on Friday 23 March 2018. The 96 graduates from RSM’s International Full-time MBA Class of 2018 and the 124 graduates from the Executive MBA Class of 2017 proudly celebrated the end of their studies in their caps and gowns, with around 650 proud family, friends and members of the RSM community.

“Life is too short to do things you don't want; dare to make changes and follow your values,” said keynote speaker Jackie Cuthbert. The RSM Advisory Board member has a background in HR, but took a different career path in 2017 and founded her company JLC Concepts.

What is success?

“Like businesses, people also have to step back and reflect on their definition of success,” Cuthbert said, adding that the graduates are entering a business world full of disruptions. “Transformations of a company are similar to the ways we live our lives; we all have a life plan, and different views on success, values and beliefs.

She said people’s behaviour and how they ‘walk the talk’ shapes them. “You should ask yourself: am I doing what I want to do, or am I doing it because I think it’s expected?” Cuthbert said values like wealth or family can change, which in turn can change your life plan. She told the audience her heartfelt story about how her parents struggled but worked hard to ensure that she and her siblings had good education after they had moved to the UK from Jamaica. Cuthbert then vowed to earn a good salary to secure her future.

Sense of fulfilment

While Cuthbert’s international career left her with ‘good money’ and lots of energy, she missed a sense of fulfilment. “My life path wasn’t relevant anymore. The fear of being poor had subsided. I felt vulnerable because I didn’t have control of myself and others anymore. But I also felt excitement. I didn’t know where to go. But that was okay.”

At this point, Cuthbert’s view, values and beliefs on the world had changed, and she wanted to be independent, and focus on her health and family.

Stop and reflect

“You might be confident you’re taking the right path but then shit hits the fan, and you’ll have to stop and reflect,” Cuthbert said. “Have the guts to look into the mirror and say you don’t want something anymore – it will change your level of energy and excitement about the future.”

Cuthbert concluded: “The MBA gives you so many opportunities to do your own thing. So be honest with yourself. Listen to your inner voice. Life is too short to keep doing things that aren’t working.”

After Jackie Cuthbert’s inspiring words, graduates received their diplomas and class speakers took the stage to tell the audience about their MBA highlights.

Changed perspectives

“Doing an MBA is like being part of a clan of people who made a crazy choice” said EMBA graduate Khanya Pilane. The South African manager at Deloitte said it was fascinating to see the evolution of everyone’s inspiring reasons for pursuing an MBA changing over time. “This programme wasn’t just for our CVs; it provoked us, and changed our perspectives and how we do things,” she said. “The RSM MBA helped me to find a purpose. Ambition and aspiration are a joy forever.”

EMBA graduate Gert Catsburg spoke about the valuable relationships the classmates have developed – personally and on a professional level. Catsburg, who is director of global sales excellence at Johnson Controls Fire Protection Products, advocates for equal career opportunities. “I want to express special congratulations to classmates who had babies during the programme. No male in the room could have done what you’ve done,” Catsburg said. He concluded: “This is not a farewell speech. I want to make this impact last. We’re working on an annual event for the EMBA Class of 2017.”

Ethical business beyond borders

On behalf of the MBA Class of 2018, graduates Kyla VanderHart from the USA, Paula Morande from Chile and Abhishek Govil from India said they learned that business goes beyond borders in ways they hadn’t imagined.

“What happens in Thailand affects business in Peru,” said VanderHart. “We’re responsible for our actions and aspire to make our business successful in an ethical way by operating diverse operations that value equality in gender and race. We are stronger together as a force for positive change.”

“Nothing great can be done alone”

The classes respectively elected Mario Korte for the EMBA17 Student Award, and Paula Morande for the MBA18 Student Award. The faculty awards, as elected by the students, went to Ronald Poppe (EMBA Faculty Award) and to Dr Arjen Mulder (MBA Faculty Award).

“The EMBA journey taught me to be comfortable and enjoy being outside of my own comfort zone,” said graduate Mario Korte. “In addition to learning new leadership skills, one of my dearest memories is all the unexpected friendships I made. The shared moments of reflection and personal stories made these two years priceless, and brought new perspectives to various business and real-world issues.”

MBA graduate Paula Morande agrees: “The MBA was a wild journey; it was like a lab where I could test myself in unfamiliar settings and practise different styles.” She added she was often exhausted yet ‘intensely happy’ from classes, negotiations, impact investing and parties. “RSM has become family to me, and as I move through life I want to stay connected. Nothing great can be done alone. We need to work together. And we have to be in touch with our own values to make things happen.”

Creating sustainable value

RSM Dean Steef van de Velde praised all graduates for their achievements, and encouraged them to stay critical thinkers and creative doers as agents for positive change. He said business should play a key role in solving big societal challenges such as inequality and poverty.

“You now have the ability to develop new business models that do well and do good at the same time. You can create value, well-being and prosperity for yourself and others in a sustainable way,” the Dean told the graduates.

Dean’s honours list

The Dean’s Honours list acknowledges academic and personal performance during the programme. From the EMBA17 class, nine graduates were on the Dean’s Honours list: Mark Vermeulen, Mario Korte, Maxim Sergeev, Andre Tramper, Metten Somers, Julien Bérard, Jochem de Louw, Alexander Hamilton and Vamsi Namuduri. Graduates on the Dean’s Honours with Distinction list are Mirjam van Aarle, Mark Phelan and Michel Organisciak.

Among the MBA18 graduates, five were on the Dean’s Honours list: Rudrarup Bhattacharya, Chienlun Shih, Raman Vadakkemadam Subramanian, Arjan Bot and Kyla VanderHart. MBA graduates on the Dean’s Honours with Distinction list are Catarina Ramos de Brito, Nitin Kumar and Justus Brokking.

RSM alumni network

The graduation ceremony concluded with a festive reception. The 220 MBA and EMBA graduates are now members of RSM’s alumni network, which offers many opportunities for networking events, lifelong learning, knowledge-sharing and collaborative projects for its more than 36,000 members worldwide.

Watch the full MBA graduation video on YouTube.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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