Siebe Sonnema

Siebe Sonnema

Study & year of graduation: Postkandidaats Bedrijfskunde 1977
Employer: Custom Management
Job title: Turnaround Manager

What are the most valuable skills that you took from your education at RSM?
Anticipating the 'real' challenges of future employment, I very much appreciated the didactic case-based model: working in teams with five totally different co-students varying in academic background ‒ from behavioural up to engineering sciences ‒ and in particular the interaction between individuals with widely differing personal characteristics. We learned case by case how to digest in a very short time the abundance (and redundancy) of information, analyse the (hidden) issues at hand and probe during interviews where solutions might be found. Learning to debate the arguments and focus on the process of people working together towards effective solutions, while respecting each other was to me the most valuable legacy I took with me after leaving Delft (the business school at Delft was RSM’s direct predecessor). The coaching of our professors thereby was essential, they challenged us in a very constructive way, reflected wisely on our youthful idiosyncrasies and put ourselves in much needed perspective.

What was your most memorable moment at RSM?
There were many, to start with the introduction course at the technical department where we learned to form a mould out of sand, cast the model with red-hot flowing steel, and after cooling it down, work on measurements with the lathe until the end product was there. The basics of the production process were made visible, but most importantly never forget that people working with their hands can, do and will think, so always listen carefully! The other instance was a personal consideration, not a lecture, given by a CEO from a successful innovative paper-copier multinational. He revealed in a very personal manner his daily challenges, his fears about what might go wrong, the politics within the company and so on. Thereafter I have not often met executive managers who were prepared to be so reflective, self-critical and humble. And last but not least, my presentation at my very first customer, keenly observed by my coaching professor, I will never forget Dr Brevoord's face and comments afterwards while evaluating my blunders.

How would your former classmates describe you?
This is hard to answer, first define classmates (there were 50 of us, so a common denominator is hard to find) and second it is over 40 years ago now, but I will give it a try. As a chameleon, hard to gauge with so many different and unexpected, sometimes opposing characteristics and qualities, hence my nickname as an ‘African witch doctor’. The description would vary from a nice suave person to very outspoken and tense. Straightforward, sometimes too unabashed-to-formal in those cases where distance is of the essence. I am unfit as a politician, but do know how to get things done in highly polarised circumstances. I am not an actor with different roles when intervening in an almost-bankrupt organisation, but reliable and open about the remedies. But then again: have you ever met a normal person? And, was it satisfactory?

How do you stay connected to the school and what do you gain from it?
I had the chance to work with eight different groups of students from very different origins, presenting their Strategic Business Plans. I was impressed with their high level of performance and their eagerness to learn. I do not know what they have received from my commenting, but I do know it gave me ‒ maybe being too cynical in my old days ‒ enormous energy and joy to see their promise to a better world. Furthermore I always keep connected with business schools in order to learn from new insights from academic scholars. I reworked these experiences in 20 cases, as recently published in my book about my life as an interim manager.

What is your greatest passion in life?
As a multitasker it is hardly possible to prioritise within such a very basic essential of our temporary existence on earth. The only living memory we leave behind is our children, so for me seeing my three children grow up, develop, aim for well-being, enjoying life to the fullest extent and being members of our community makes me extremely happy. Riding a motorcycle through the American canyons or flying an airplane hardly qualifies in that sense. The vast marine world with so many species in the Caribbean sea I experienced while diving during my youth on the Dutch Antilles should be mentioned as my passion for loving nature. Hopefully it will not be destroyed as the result of the baby boomers shortcomings at protecting nature.