Jeroen Reyes Stolker

Jeroen Reyes Stolker

Business School is an Investment

So choose the place most likely to help you succeed says Barclays’ Head of Trade and Working Capital

There’s little that Jeroen Reyes Stolker, MBA 2000, doesn’t know about international banking. In a 15-year career that spans the UK, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, he has held senior leadership roles in international financial organisations with the likes of Citi and Barclays Bank.

Today he heads up trade and working capital for Barclays Corporate Banking in the Middle East. His success, he says, stems from a decision he took as a 28-year old engineer in Venezuela.

What happened in 1998, Jeroen?

I’d done mechanical engineering, principally because my father was an engineer. But I knew that cars and engines weren’t going to of it for me in the long term and I was ready for a change – not just of industry but also of culture and of country. So I decided to do an MBA.

What brought you to Rotterdam?

Business school is an investment. I wanted to be sure of choosing the place that would most likely help me to succeed. I knew of Erasmus by reputation and RSM was prominent in the global rankings. I was looking for an international environment where I would learn to build cross-cultural business relationships.

OK, so what were you looking to get out of the MBA?

I wanted an international lifestyle, but I wasn’t prescriptive. I was open to a range of possibilities. That said, I think I had certain expectations of what the MBA would deliver – and the experience exceeded these, particularly in terms of networking. In engineering the focus on the academic literature is more than the focus on relationship building. In the MBA, there were 120 people from every walk of life in my cohort. The links that we built were unbelievable. We still chat every day on WhatsApp or Facebook, 15 years after graduation. And I tap into my RSM network all over the world when I’m doing business. Partly because of the human scale of the programme – it gives you the intimacy as well as the time to build real bonds. That’s the difference RSM offers I think.

A network for life, then? What else did the MBA experience give you?

Well, you get the hard core academic topics – things I had little previous understanding of, like reading balance sheets, assessing financial performance, or understanding the value of a business. But then you also build the tools, the discipline and the frameworks to organise yourself as you’re going into your career. My Dutch classmates would tease us Latin Americans about our use of agendas – our “Latino” approach to meetings, that kind of thing. Seriously though, I think the MBA was crucial in terms of how you project yourself. How you articulate your ideas in a presentation. As an engineer this wasn’t something I had experienced. The tools I developed at RSM are tools I’ve been using for the last 15 years.

The MBA also gives you the macro view. It gives you the bigger picture of how businesses operate. When you arrive you will have come from a department or a specific function, but you don’t see the whole picture of how the different elements of an organisation all function together. The MBA provides the general manager a vantage point of the business.

So you get a bigger picture of business organisations. What about doing business globally?

Rotterdam is right at the heart of Europe so it’s a melting pot of different cultures. You interact with different people from different sectors, organisations and backgrounds, as well as different businesses. I did an internship in the financial department of Nike HQ in Belgium. We were hired to review the costing system for the CFO, build a model and come up with a raft of recommendations – many of which they implemented. Sure, you have the academics, but there’s a hands-on, practical dimension that really exposes you to how the world operates.

You sometimes hear about the transformative effect of an MBA. Did Rotterdam change you?

It changed me as a professional beyond any doubt. I became much more international in my perspective and outlook – much more of a global citizen. As you progress in an international career, your success really hinges on who you are in the company: how you build relationships and how you project yourself. The MBA laid the ground stones of my career in this sense.

As a person I think I have maintained my values and my own codes of behaviour. Too often you see people bending the rules to go with flow or losing their transparency in the corporate environment. After 20 years in business, I think the ability to remain true to yourself is important. It’s something that other people value.

Good advice for next-generation leaders. What else would you say to young people starting out?

Think about your long-term vision. Where do you see yourself in the long term? I was clear from an early age about the kind of lifestyle I wanted. The clearer you are about where you want to be, the more likely you are to get there.

Then I think it’s important to take risks. When I’ve been promoted or done particularly well, it’s when I’ve taken a risk. When I left my company in Venezuela to do the MBA, everyone thought I was crazy. But the MBA was the key to my professional success. This has happened across my career, from leaving London to moving to Spain to taking the role in Dubai where I live today. A lot of people are paralysed by fear. But if you believe in something and you think it’s the right thing to do, do it.

And be persistent. If you don’t get something you want the first or the second time, don’t be disappointed. Stick with it, be persistent, believe in yourself, and you’ll get there.