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There were proud smiles from 23 graduates of the first cohort of the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) in June 2024. The GEMBA Class of 2024 celebrated the completion of its studies – including study residencies around the world – with a graduation ceremony, inspiring speeches and a celebratory dinner for them and their families. These senior international managers reflected on the transformational journey and academic adventure over the previous 21-month, part-time MBA programme.

Participants come from diverse industries, including shipping and logistics, pharmaceuticals, information technology, energy oil and utilities, financial services and insurance. With an average age of 41 and an average of 17 years’ work experience, these are experienced professionals from diverse academic backgrounds including business and economics, engineering, sciences, law, humanities and art, and IT. There were 11 nationalities in the cohort; they are from Brazil, China, India, Italy, Morocco, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, and Taiwan.

Becoming future-proof

Keynote speaker Dr Elizabeth van Geerestein told the graduating GEMBA class that it can be ‘easy’ to live with a sense of unease. The transformational coach, leader, mentor and conscious entrepreneur spoke of future-proofing one’s life and career, and she shared strategies for lasting fulfillment and success. She said many people fall into the trap of managing their circumstances, instead of being the leader of their lives. She urged the audience to be pro-active instead of reactive, not driven by a schedule but to have a purpose and drive their own schedules.

Van Geerestein shared ‘keys’ for future-proofing. She said GEMBA graduates are in demand by recruiters so it’s crucial to proactively lead the changes in their lives, and to project forward. The RSM alumna advised graduates to clarify their vision for their life goals such as career and family, and to articulate their purpose. “Manage your present and never forget who’s in the driver’s seat.” She said growing up in the 1970s and 1980s as a daughter of immigrants led her the false identity of perfectionism. It’s time to let go of these limiting beliefs, she said.

A transformational journey

Graduate Lorenzo Salvatori took to the stage. He told his classmates that Italian Renaissance sculptor and painter Michelangelo claimed that he wouldn’t ‘create’ a sculpture. “He would take a block of marble, hammer away all the excess marble in excess, polish, mould and pull out the art piece. He’d say: ‘The sculpture is already in there, I just have to free it by pulling it out’.” Salvatori reflected on how this is a way of looking at things from different perspectives. “This is what we do while we try to become the best version of ourselves. We don’t go through this transformation alone. The people we meet along the way have an impact.”

Salvatori continued: “Today, we’re done writing this chapter, but we are not done writing the book. And for sure, we’re not done moulding our block of marble.”

He said it may not be an exaggeration to say that his GEMBA journey was one of the greatest adventures in his life: “Putting people from different countries, backgrounds and experiences together in a cohort to study in five different universities around the world really qualifies to be called an adventure.”

Salvatori referred to the four partner schools worldwide where the RSM GEMBA students travelled to for their Global Experiential Residencies: Singapore Management University, Stockholm School of Economics, Georgetown University in Washington DC, and the University of Cape Town.

New passion for leading sustainable change

“The future of business is not what we see right now, and the GEMBA showed me how to become future-proof,” says graduate Ayoub Saboumazrag, executive vice-president transformation at Majorel. “Sustainable business can help companies in the future to deal with the cyber world, and with changing regulations and threats that we need to tackle differently. The GEMBA equipped me with valuable expertise in leading and managing change, economics for global business managers and creating customer value, which I have been able to put into practice at work immediately.”

Saboumazrag said he developed a new passion for managerial decision analysis during the programme. “The GEMBA was more than just a degree – it was an immersive experience that transformed my perspective on business and leadership. Now, as I embark on my entrepreneurial journey, I'm driven by a new-found purpose: to empower others through knowledge. The GEMBA not only opened doors for me professionally, but also revealed my true calling in life: to acquire and share knowledge, enabling others to find their own path to enlightenment. My goal is to create a ripple effect of positive change, empowering individuals, and organisations to reach their full potential.”

Personal and purposeful development

The GEMBA is unique because of its focus on generating strategic senior leaders in business, says Professor Hans van Oosterhout, academic director of the Global Executive MBA. “Our purpose is to give participants thrust forward in their careers by developing and honing their strategic leadership competencies,” he said.

“From the knowledge that we transfer, the skills that we seek to hone, and the attitudes that we help our participants to develop, everything is geared to help our participants become C-Suite level proficient in joint strategic decision making and execution.”

When designing a programme as an academic director, Prof. Van Oosterhout said he could not anticipate the actual personal development that he saw over the last 21 months. “The day before graduation, students shared how the GEMBA contributed to their lives. I was humbled and even emotional when listening to their personal stories.”

Graduate Daniel Wertheimer shared his experience too. “What a ride! I came in for tools to further my career. I found that but also graduated with a life changed!” says the product development manager at Bouwinvest. Graduate Robert Gaina, who is director commercial operations at Ardmore Shipping Corporation, also gained more than just business knowledge. “Navigating a complex world, the GEMBA programme has significantly advanced my senior leadership abilities and established enduring, invaluable friendships within our diverse cohort."

Collaboration and confidence

Graduate Shambhu Sharma says success comes from understanding how people and things work together. “In the GEMBA, I experienced how different industries and domains collaborate and build their products. That helps me deliver the right product that people love. I also learned to be the leader I want to be, by stepping up and thinking beyond my work. It helps me to empower my team to bring new ideas and thoughts.”

The delivery manager at TomTom added the MBA was like a pre-production platform for him. “I could rehearse executing my new ideas, play with new frameworks, learn and adapt before applying them to my actual workspace.”

The global residencies also made a huge impression. “Stockholm was all about entrepreneurship. It made me think outside of my boundaries and create business opportunities. The study trip to Singapore was about digital transformation. These trips are also about sharing ideas and working together. Our class is outspoken about everything. We learned to bring our thoughts in a clear manner so we can drive things, rather than follow. This gives me confidence and tools to move forward in a far better way.”

RSM alumni network

The graduates were welcomed to the RSM alumni network by Meta Haag-Mikec, associate director corporate and alumni relations at RSM. With a growing network of more than 50,000 alumni worldwide, RSM’s alumni community brings opportunities for lifelong learning, networking opportunities, professional development and social connections. Alumni include all RSM graduates, from the first post-kandidaats, IIB and Bedrijfskunde programmes in the early 1970s up to those who graduated this year. 

The graduation event concluded with a celebratory buffet dinner at Maria’s Cantina on campus.

Global Executive MBA

RSM’s 21-month, part-time Global Executive MBA programme prepares senior managers who have typically grown through the ranks because of their functional expertise for a strategic role at the C-suite level of their business. The programme serves an observed need for senior managers to develop their knowledge in every strategically relevant functional field at a minimal level of proficiency, while developing their skills and attitudes to serve in a strategic leadership role.

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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