Rolf Dauskardt: a rebel with a cause

By his late thirties, Rolf Dauskardt (RSM Executive MBA 2003) was successful but not satisfied. He had built a solid career in infrastructure finance but somehow felt held back – that was until he found the opportunity to apply his entrepreneurial skills to pursuing a purpose.

Story by Bennett Voyles

‘For a long time, I was enormously frustrated because while I was by nature entrepreneurial – I had set up two businesses for other people – I was just not prepared to take that final step myself. I stayed in a traditional job and what felt like security and status at the time.’ More importantly, he felt that working for a traditional firm constrained his ability to use his skills to arrange innovative financing for projects that foster positive social change.

Taking an Executive MBA at RSM helped him develop more of the business skills he knew would be necessary, but he still could not bring himself to take the entrepreneurial plunge.

Joining the rebels

Then he discovered the RebelGroup, a newly established entrepreneurial, non-hierarchical firm headquartered in Rotterdam that focuses on leveraging private sector investment to create public value.

Rolf found Rebel liberating in two important ways. First, it provided the environment for setting up an independently run venture concentrating on raising money for infrastructure projects outside of the Benelux market. Second, he found like-minded and purpose-driven entrepreneurs. ‘The main motivation for all of us is that we believe passionately that rebels can have a positive impact in the world – as advisors, developers and investors. Somebody who is simply pursuing wealth would not find themselves happy in Rebel,’ Dauskardt explained.

This kind of rhetoric might sound as if these rebels spend their time advising tiny anarchist dairy communes and macrobiotic cafes – and Dauskardt acknowledges that ‘if you scratch a rebel you’ll find a little bit of a hippy underneath’ – but their work is making a difference on a large scale, through such projects as improving Manila’s metro network, reinforcing the Netherlands’ Afsluitdijk causeway with one of the largest infrastructure financings in the country, and raising €200 million to build a new state-of-the-art hospital for children with cancer, the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht.

Collective purpose

The RebelGroup’s combination of a strong sense of collective purpose and commitment to giving the individual independence to pursue their own vision of how to achieve that purpose has almost served as a special sort of competitive advantage for the company, which Dauskardt describes as a ‘growing group of small firms’.

He and his colleagues can see their advantage most clearly when they contrast their culture of independent, purpose-focused teams with people from more traditional firms organised in command-and-control hierarchies.

‘Often when we are on mandates with other firms, partners or our clients, we notice that many professionals are frustrated, constrained and controlled by their companies and the company culture. They are limited in their ability to innovate or take initiative by management limitations, their internal procedures, company silos and worst of all, internal political behavior,’ Dauskardt said.

Even in the executive suite of many of these traditional firms, things are no better, according to Dauskardt. ‘The firm can become constrained by the limits both of managerial vision, and their ability to bring the corporation with them,’ he said.

The ‘millenials way of thinking’

As Rebel has grown by focusing on its shared purpose rather than command and control, it has given Dauskardt a new idea of business leadership. Instead of trying to get the most from people, he said, he now sees the executive’s role as ‘enabling people to get the most from themselves’.

Being a purpose-driven venture is paying off in their recruitment efforts too, as the rebels seem to be in sync with the way many millennials are now thinking. ‘Achieving this sense of purpose in their careers seems to be more important for many of this generation than just their job titles, salaries, climbing the corporate ladder, etc. Sure, many can and do go off and work for hedge funds and the like, and often make a lot more money, but as with most of us here, sometimes they don’t ultimately feel it’s a meaningful end in its own right.’

Making purpose pay

As for Dauskardt, he seems to have no regrets about leaving traditional finance behind. Pursuing his purpose turns out to have been a good move: his own venture has done well, and he now focuses on the overall group, which has been one of the few financial firms that stayed steadily profitable through past financial crises.

A more entrepreneurial and purposeful life also seems to agree with him personally. ‘I get a lot of energy because what I am busy with every day – and usually nights and weekends – is having a positive impact on the world and making things better,’ Dauskardt said. ‘That is pretty cool.’

More information

This article was first published in the winter 2018 edition of RSM Outlook – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

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.

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