Strategic Management department 25 year anniversary celebrations

Strategic Management department 25 year anniversary celebrations

RSM alumni asked to help production of new knowledge

A recent half-day conference celebrating 25 years of the department of Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship (SM&E) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) has asked its alumni to become ‘a complementary asset in the production of knowledge’.

Participants at the department’s first dedicated event for alumni on 26 April were invited to suggest how the department can provide more opportunities for lifelong learning, introduce mentoring and help the department to apply its research to real business situations. Video footage of the event can be seen online here.

Panel discussions featured leaders from academia and international business as well as alumni and PhDs. Faculty included Professor Frans van den Bosch, who joined the department at its inception in 1988 and partly retires this summer. He has witnessed the department’s increasing internationalisation over its quarter-century existence, and has seen it become ranked first in its field in the Netherlands, second in Europe, and tenth worldwide. Professor Van Den Bosch’s farewell symposium and lecture took place at RSM on Friday, 11 May.

RSM’s department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship now has 200 master students studying strategy and a further 60 studying entrepreneurship, 60 staff, and an alumni population of more than 3,000 individuals, Prof. Van Den Bosch told the audience. The School’s enormous number of master theses is a huge knowledge resource, as most of them were about real companies and businesses. “We also have a huge number of PhD theses full of new information for alumni produced from our research,” he commented.

Professor Pursey Heugens, the department’s fourth chairman since its inception, told the audience that strategic management and entrepreneurship ‘is not a laboratory science’; the department must learn from the experiences of its alumni, and maintain the rigour and relevance of its research. “We need to connect with companies and keep our empirical base,” he said.  He encouraged companies and recruiters to come onto the campus to recruit students, a view that echoes the findings of RSM’s recent Graduate Placement Survey.

Four alumni joined the first panel discussion to reflect on their careers and describe how they would like their relationship with the SM&E department to develop.

Marcel Broersma graduated from the Strategic Management programme in 1994, combining his studies with working in the Randstad. He founded a company which grew to 1,200 employees, then ‘retired’ at the age of 38. He now runs a company with a former peer from his student days at RSM. “We try to help small companies with strategic management advice. It’s nice to work with entrepreneurs who think in possibilities, not problems,” he said, and commented that he thought the SM&E department would benefit from embracing the use of social media.

Dave Jongeneelen, 39, chose to be an entrepreneur by a different path. “When I graduated from RSM, I joined a consultancy company, but 10 years ago I travelled to Africa,” he told the audience, and explained that joining a project which helped people to develop themselves professionally had changed his life. He later established a company which sends top management teams to Africa and India to gain real-life experiences, at the same time as helping others to find a better future. “I think the future of strategic management should come from inspiration – from something beyond profits and processes,” he said. “The world looks different from India.” Dave Jongeneelen said he would like to see the SM&E department put more emphasis on learning from outside of the classroom, in real companies and with more discussions of real life issues.

Philip de Koning Gans, 68, has spent the last 10 years as a successful sculptor, but had a long, successful and varied career, which included 36 years of practising strategic management in the aviation, banking and insurance industries. He graduated from the IFB – RSM’s predecessor – in Delft in 1976. Even now, he said, he was still using the principles of strategy in his own work. Philip de Koning Gans said he would like to see the development of special interest alumni groups, according to the expertise and experience of graduates.

The fourth alum to speak, Maarten Wilton of the Wilton Groep human resources management firm, graduated in 1979. He spoke of wanting to see more active relations between alumni and the SM&E department, an activity that had begun in the department’s early days.

In response to questions from the audience, the alumni panel discussed the LinkedIn groups associated with the Strategic Management department and their potential for providing more useful content, and the sharing of expertise between experienced strategic managers and students, through affinity groups and other channels.

A second panel discussion featured alumni and professors. Alumni asked faculty to briefly discuss the role of innovation and entrepreneurship within their companies. RSM faculty taking part were Dr Orietta Marsili (Entrepreneurship), Prof. Dr Henk Volberda (Strategic Management) and Prof. Dr Frans van den Bosch (Business Environment Interactions). Alumni taking their places on the panel were Lotte van Houwelingen, Philip de Koning Gans and Julien de Jong.

Alumna Lotte van Houwelingen asked the faculty panel about the best way to stimulate entrepreneurship in a large company, and was immediately invited by Henk Volberda to participate in a research survey about re-inventing business and the implications for business policy and management.

Dr Marsili said that corporate entrepreneurship is a new study area, and the concept of ‘entrepreneurs’ was still evolving. Ten years ago, they were seen as individuals who were business heroes. Now, entrepreneurship is more concerned with understanding business contexts, institutions, markets and technologies, and generating better business strategies. “The myth of the lonely business leader has faded in academia. Entrepreneurs don’t ‘do it’ in isolation, but within a certain set of circumstances, she said.

Alum Julien de Jong, who works for shipping company Maersk, asked how entrepreneurship could help shipping companies to deal with the overcapacity in the shipping market in which the 10 largest companies do not make a profit. The SM&E faculty panel indicated that differentiation was the key.

Professor van den Bosch commented that the more a company grew, the less adaptive it became, which made it vulnerable to smaller and more innovative competitors. Large companies have problems with combining a focus on exploitation (doing the same thing but better) and exploration (doing new things). The SM&E department’s research into ’ambidexterity’ addresses these problems. Henk Volberda said a key debate was the use of hybrid business strategies to address high levels of competition, which required ‘transformational leadership’, investment in talent, a flatter organisation, and a process of co-creation between suppliers and customers.

The discussion was opened up to the audience and the debate continued. It covered the difficulty of discussing innovation with some managers; an example of using staff to define operational problems and producing the innovations to overcome them; the advantages of working with open-minded business leaders; the benefits of isolating innovation costs from other outgoings so as to protect innovation while cutting costs; and the creation of ‘expert career paths’ for promotion of those technical experts without project leader skills.

The third panel included three alumni plus three PhD graduates and candidates; alumni were Marjolijn Cornelissen, Xander van 't Hoff and Robin Slakhorst, PhDs were Mariano Heyden, Shiko Ben-Menahem, and Michiel Tempelaar.

The PhDs were asked for their views on applying strategic management principles to business; topics included being alert to market shifts, the power of self-managing teams, the rate of progress of teams that favour adoptive strategies, the role of middle management, the importance of timing with regard to innovation, encouraging employees to be innovative and proactive, and the alignment of the rate of strategic renewal in companies with the rate of change in the business environment.

The discussion also included introducing strategic management principles as a framework for generating economic growth to the Netherlands as a whole, and the need for creating innovation as well as efficiencies in businesses such as healthcare.

Concluding the seminar, Prof. Heugens told the audience that the SM&E department was learning from the comments and views expressed during the seminar, and that it was clear there was strong interest in the formation of special-interest groups. “The ideas of senior entrepreneurs mentoring students and younger entrepreneurs, and the need to translate our research into the real world have also been illustrated,” he said. A questionnaire for alumni will also help provide ideas to develop the relationship between alumni and the department.

Video footage of the entire event can be seen online here. To see the evening’s schedule see here.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University is consistently ranked amongst the top 10 business schools in Europe. It is located in the international port city of Rotterdam where core Dutch values of openness, flexibility and acceptance of diversity have attracted businesses on a global scale. Our emphasis is on ground-breaking research and practices relevant to business; our primary focus is on developing business leaders who carry their innovative ideas into a sustainable future. Our portfolio includes a broad array of bachelor, master, doctoral, MBA and executive education programmes.

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