Four alumni from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) were recognised with RSM Distinguished Alumni Awards at an alumni dinner to celebrate the successes of the RSM community on Thursday 21 November 2019 in the historic and iconic Arminiuskerk in the city centre. The annual RSM Alumni Achievement Awards acknowledge alumni who are a force for positive change in business or society as part of a corporate community, entrepreneurs, or as individuals whose life’s mission is to improve the lives of others or to protect or improve the environment. Two awards were given for achievement, and two awards for volunteering. The recipients exemplify RSM’s values of being critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers who are a force for positive change. They are Li An Phoa, Jeroen Nieuwenhuis, Jeroen Reyes Stolker and Gianmarco Villa.

Agents of positive change

As times change, so the categorising of the awards changes. There have been several categories since the first Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented in 2009. What they have in common is a positive effect on the RSM community and on society says Sue Martin, Director of Corporate and Alumni Relations at RSM. “Our distinguished alumni awards provides us with a unique opportunity to recognise their outstanding achievements and to thank them for their incredible support. They truly are a force for positive change.”

The RSM Alumni Achievement Award acknowledges alumni who are a force for positive change in business or society. This can be as a part of a corporate community, as an entrepreneur, or as an individual whose life’s mission is to improve the lives of others or to protect or improve the environment. The Alumni Achievement Awards 2019 were presented to Li An Phoa (MSc in Business Society Management 2005) and Jeroen Nieuwenhuis (Executive MBA 2008).

The RSM Alumni Volunteer Award recognises alumni volunteers who share their time or resources to contribute to the school’s reputation, research, education and student experience, or help promote alumni relations. The Alumni Volunteer Awards 2019 were presented to Jeroen Reyes Stolker (MBA 2000) and Gianmarco Villa (MSc in Strategic Management 2013).

Achievement: engaging and educating others

Li An Phoa contributes to people’s health and a more sustainable world in inspiring, mobilising and practical ways. She set up Beautiful Earth Action and Research (BEAR) in 2005 to support the transition to regenerative food systems and sustainable agriculture. In 2012, Li An founded Spring College, a nomadic school which has taken thousands of people on educational outdoor walks to boost people’s awareness of natural systems and bring cultures together. She won the VIVA400 award in 2015 as a ‘world improver’, a competition for 400 enterprising women.  Drinkable Rivers is Li An’s latest initiative. It emphasizes the relevance of drinkable rivers as an indicator for healthy living and care for the environment. She lectures in sustainability at RSM, Hogeschool Leiden and Nyenrode Business School.

Jury members Elizabeth Rogers (Distinguished Alumnus 2017) and Tom Marshall (Distinguished Alumnus 2018) remarked that Li An has a 15-year track record of making a real difference as an entrepreneur with a focus on the environment, by creating solutions for the most important challenge of our generation – the climate crisis, and by engaging other leaders on business ethics and sustainability.

Achievement: fighting for healthcare innovation

Jeroen Nieuwenhuis combined his business knowledge and PhD in electrical engineering to safeguard a life-saving technology after Philips announced its withdrawal from developing a portable diagnostic instrument. Jeroen worked hard to allow the project to continue, secured external equity funding and kept the technical team together. Now, care providers use his Minicare system to reliably diagnose a heart attack on site within 10 minutes. The improved workflow resulting from its use means better patient outcomes, and more efficient use of resources. Jeroen’s team found a partner to take the system to a global market by selling the company to Siemens; this provided job security to Minicare’s employees, and yielded a good return to its investors.

Jury member Eva Rood, RSM’s Director of Positive Change remarked that Jeroen Nieuwenhuis’ belief in his business unit and his fight for it made sure the world benefitted from this innovation and enabled his colleagues to keep their jobs, and was a good example of being a force for positive change.

Volunteering: making meaningful global connections

Jeroen Reyes Stolker used his time at RSM as a bridge from engineering in Venezuela into a career in the global financial sector in London, in Spain, Dubai and Bahrain. Since completing his degree almost 20 years ago, Jeroen has led two of RSM’s most active Alumni Local Chapters. He co-founded the Spanish chapter, and re-energised the RSM alumni community in the Middle East.  He organises annual brunches, professional forums and other events, and worked closely with Dutch business councils in both Spain and the UAE. It’s important to contribute in the small circle in which we live, he says.

Jury member Willem Koolhaas, RSM’s Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications, remarked that Jeroen’s activities represent RSM values, and the RSM alumni community would be a lot less vibrant without his efforts, and those of others like him.

Volunteering: a top-rated mentor

Gianmarco Villa said that the opportunity to grow from ‘self-leader’ to ‘team leader’ was the start of a new and exciting chapter in his professional life. It happened when the business planner in Nike’s JD Group was asked to manage a new team member, and discovered his motivation came from sharing experiences and advice. ‘Co-piloting’ someone’s career gave him a new approach to his work, he said. He used this experience to help students use the RSM MentorMe mentoring platform. He is now one of RSM’s top-rated and most sought-after mentors, and has completed more than 60 consultations. Students say he gives great follow-ups to their initial consultations. Gianmarco plans to keep giving back to the RSM community through coaching and mentoring. He says contributing to a better world by sharing his time and experiences with those facing the same challenges is effective and helps his own development.

Jury member Eva Rood, RSM’s Director of Positive Change, remarked that Gianmarco’s achievement of mentoring more than 60 students was an impressive achievement and she hoped the number would continue to increase.

Shortlist and voting

Nominations could be made by RSM alumni, students, faculty members or staff members. A shortlist of nominees was judged by a jury of six RSM staff, faculty and Distinguished Alumni, who kept in mind RSM’s mission and core values: to be critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers who are a force for positive change.

The shortlist of nominees was put to a public vote on RSM’s website earlier in the autumn. Six jury members contributed their scores to the results of the online voting. When choosing award recipients, the jury kept RSM’s mission and core values in mind.

The jury members were RSM staff, faculty and previous alumni award winners: Dean of Faculty Prof. Dirk van Dierendonck; Dory Grandia, assistant director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations; RSM director of Corporate Marketing and Communications Willem Koolhaas; Distinguished Alumnus 2018 Tom Marshall; Distinguished Alumnus 2018 Elizabeth Rogers; and RSM Director of Positive Change Eva Rood.

Shortlisted nominees

In addition to the award recipients, nominees for the Distinguished Volunteer Award included:

  • Christine Balch (Full-time MBA 1994) for improving alumni reunion activities through creativity and advice
  • Yannis Pagoulatos (Full-time MBA 2012) for creating engagement opportunities through global sailing events
  • Ramona Sandu (Executive MBA 2016) for exchanging knowledge by coaching and leading from the heart.

And nominations for the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards included:

  • Ruben Schultz (MSc International Management/CEMS 2016) for disrupting the transportation industry and improving mobility
  • Elena Avramenko (Executive MBA 2017) for facilitating knowledge exchange and increasing funding for non-profits
  • Stephanie Platschorre (MSc in Global Business & Sustainability 2019) for initiating and developing opportunities that boosts society
  • Mart Polman MSc Business Information Management 2015 for boosting the real estate market and economy in Southeast Asia
  • Rajarshi Chakraboty (MSc Business Information Management 2018) for increasing technological and economic growth through collaborations
  • Jara Pascual (Executive MBA 2017) for bringing ideas and knowledge to life by connecting innovation ecosystems
  • Dr Hans Quak (MSc Supply Chain Management 2002 and PhD at RSM) for innovating to make more sustainable urban freight transport happen.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked 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.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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