Dean’s letter September 2012

Dear Vlerick Business School Family and Friends,

What a wonderful event our 2012 commencement and rebranding was! 350 new students and over 750 guests witnessed a spectacular computer animation bringing to life the new brand and colours of your School. Two comments from senior guests illustrate the feeling: “I was sceptical that this was needed or useful, but tonight really convinced me, it (the new brand) is energizing, refreshing and makes sense.”, “What I liked was that it is not just a renaming and logo exercise but a real identity exercise, based on the values of the organization and linked to the internal improvement efforts.”. And indeed: international, open, pragmatism and vitality, our four brand drivers are really us! Thank you Hilde and the whole rebranding team!

For those of you that missed the speech by Mr Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council and the interview with Pierre Alain De Smedt, Chairman of the VBO-FEB, you can watch their speeches online. Why rebranded, how we did it and how we plan to live the brand inside was the focus of my own address at the event, that you can watch here.

Immediately after the rebranding the Partners of Vlerick Business School had their annual ‘Conclave’. It was first of all an occasion to welcome three new Junior Partners: Xavier Baeten, Professor of Management Practice and head of our Centre for Strategic Rewards, Robert Boute, Associate Professor Operations and Supply Chain Management, and Wouter De Maeseneire, Associate Professor Corporate Finance. Three different but outstanding profiles, fully committed to the School, and a nice illustration that we are preparing a great next generation. It was also the first Conclave for Professor Filip Abraham, Vice Rector of KU Leuven, and a Board member of your School, who became a Vlerick Partner over the summer.

The main focus of the Conclave was on the coming academic year – no major changes envisaged – but a focus on the implementation of our ‘Stronger Together’ decisions which will help us live the brand inside. All Areas and Businesses presented their new organization, their staffing and the issues they are facing. This was followed by a discussion on how the Vlerick Partners will support the Businesses.

We also kicked of the review of our R&D strategy, based on the very positive evaluation of the use of our research funding by the Flemish government. A great job not only by our researchers, but also by Eva Cools and Filip Roodhooft who have been pulling our reporting together. As part of the R&D debate we also discussed an intensification of our doctoral activities, and defined the principles of what could become the ‘Vlerick Leuven Gent Doctoral Programme in Management’: a Gent or Leuven PhD, with a Vlerick add-on focus on relevance and preparation for a business school career.

In St Petersburg the efforts by our marketing team Serge Hayward and Anastasia Korshunova have resulted in a class of 38 Executive MBAs, our seating capacity. In addition we welcomed 19 Russian students in our various degree programmes in Belgium.

We also welcomed six new faculty members on campus who were immediately invited to participate in the Vlerick Accelerated Development Track, a one-week intensive teaching training led by Marc Buelens.

We have now kicked off a sustained campaign under the motto “Enjoy Change”. See for some of the first provocative statements that will characterize the campaign. We are waiting for your own creative contribution to spread the Vlerick Brand!

Philippe Haspeslagh

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Trends in the B-school environment.

The remarkable progress of the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School over the last few years sometimes makes us forget how tough the B- schools environment has become  for all but a handful of top schools, and even the latter  are facing serious adjustments.

Worldwide schools are increasingly struggling between the academic nature of their research mission  and faculty demographics on the one hand, and the increasing relevance and value for money demanded by corporate and individual customers.  A number of recent reports indicate a new level of soul searching in American Business Schools and their acknowledgment that the more diverse and often University-independent population of European B-Schools may be ahead of the curve in terms of innovation and adaptation to the new environment [1].

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A book review of Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky “ The Practice of Adaptive Leadership”

Harvard Business Press 2009, done for VBO magazine

There is no shortage of American–style Leadership book (Warren Bennis, John Kotter, Jack Welch etc…), mostly with sound but somewhat mechanical or simplistic advice. The one that questioned me the most is this recent book by a team of Harvard Kennedy School professors who formed their own consulting practice not only in the business but also in the public sector realm. The driving force is Ron Heifitz, a pupil of Dick Neustadt, whose qualifications include that of a brain surgeon and cellist…

Anyone ever put in  charge of an organization which was fit to thrive in yesterdays world, ok in today’s but at risk in tomorrow’s, will  recognize the power of an organizational system to sustain itself  and to avoid or postpone the difficult adaptive challenges. It is especially difficult for people in mid-career, who enjoyed success, to move away from what worked in the past.

The book is about what the authors  call  “ adaptive leadership”, which they define as mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. Their concept of thriving is derived from molecular biology, which provides multiple insights for organizational change such as the fact that  successful adaptation builds on the past rather than jettisons it,   occurs through experimentation, and relies on diversity. Or that successful adaptations generate loss, and take time.

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The most important things we as a business school can perhaps bring…

Dear reader,

Your School has weathered 2009 well. Research-wise, we met all our KPIs, including a significant growth in academic output. Organisationally, we became stronger in both faculty and management. Financially, we succeeded in breaking even, with modest growth in the topline. I want to thank all of you who turned to Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School for your personal and organisational management development. Given the lag between economic recovery and corporate spending on training and development, it will be a feat to repeat this performance in 2010 as budgeted. But that is what we intend to do.

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Vlerick maintains its top 10 position in the FT European Business School ranking

Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School succeeded in maintaining its 10th position in the Financial Times European Business School ranking for 2009. Last year the School entered the top ten for the first time, climbing 6 places in comparison with the ranking of 2007. This puts Vlerick squarely among what the Financial Times calls the top group of Business Schools.

Our school also consolidated its first position in Belgium. We are delighted to be able to serve as an example for our fellow management schools (44: Solvay Business School; 48: IAG-Louvain School of Management; 54 UAMS) and to contribute to setting a high standard for management education in Belgium.

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Word from the Dean – Vlerick Reflect (November issue)

‘The winners will be those who have not only the right product innovation, but also the most effective market positioning and sales machine’

The theme of this latest issue of Vlerick reflect is Marketing & Sales. Over the past year companies have been doing their utmost to reduce their balance sheets, cut costs and find ways to increase efficiency. As they get ready for resumption of normal demand, the winners will surely be those who have not only the right product innovation, but also the most effective market positioning and sales machine.

As in any sector, the marketing channels of business schools are evolving rapidly. Depending on your age, profession or location, you may be listening to this editorial as a podcast, clicking the pages on the website, or holding a glossy magazine in your hand. More and more, our marketing is happening online and in the social media. Yet individuals care less and less about what we ourselves say about our programmes. Instead they seek the opinions of our current and past students out there in the blogosphere and in social networks. As a School, we can try to create the conditions for the outside world to find out about us, and to join our knowledge platforms. Yet at the end of the day participants have to rate our programmes highly and we must have something to say. We need high-quality content.

The changing marketing landscape is not only a challenge for the School’s management; fortunately it is also one of the strengths of our faculty. The tone of the marketing dossier in this Vlerick reflect is set by a round-table discussion in which seven of our marketing people comment on the challenges facing marketing professionals today. Other contributions discuss our research on the relationship between retailers and suppliers, and on planning and evaluation of e-business initiatives. Those who want to find out more are invited to join our new Vlerick Brand Community, or check out our Executive Master Class in B2B Marketing & Sales.

As always, this issue of Vlerick reflect also brings you up to date on other aspects of the School. I would like to draw your attention to three in particular. The first is the development of our Chinese partnership. You can read about our new intake of 57 full-time MBAs and 118 part-time MBAs, a new book about “China 2.0” co-authored by Bruce Stening, our Vlerick International Dean at BiMBA, and the exchange visit of our MBA-FSI students to BiMBA.

Business schools are in a supply-driven business: our programmes and our content can only be as good as the talent of our faculty. Hence the importance of faculty recruitment, the second aspect worth highlighting. This issue contains the profiles of seven new faculty members who were recruited this autumn.

And finally, we comment on the latest Economist ranking, which places the Vlerick International MBA at number 10 in the world, and number 4 in Europe. Whereas the emphasis in the Financial Times ranking (where Vlerick ranks 75th and 20th respectively) is on salary increases, the Economist ranking stresses the experience of students in the programme. Let’s just conclude that we are getting somewhere up there….

We hope that your markets are steadying and gradually returning to normal. Those of you who have continued to develop your management talent will be well poised to take advantage.

We look forward to hearing your comments on our Vlerick blogs (Dean’s blog, blog on entrepreneurship and various student blogs), or to seeing you on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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We’re in tune with the times

At the end of October, I was interviewed by a journalist from “De Standaard”, a Belgian newspaper about the School. I am happy to post this interview here.

Source: De Standaard, 31.10.2009
Author: Karin De Ruyter


We’re in tune with the times

Last week, Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School took 10th place in The Economist’s worldwide MBA ranking, 4th place for European business schools, and No. 1 in the Benelux. Gaining this position in the top 10 rewards years of dedicated effort to climb up the rankings of MBA education.

 ‘Vlerick has worked hard for many years − and is still working hard − to internationalise the School and to improve the quality of its programmes,’ says Philippe Haspeslagh, who was appointed Dean of Vlerick last year. ‘The rise in the ranking is a result of these efforts, not a goal in itself.’

Just how important are these rankings for a business school?

‘In Flanders, Vlerick might well be a symbol − but from the international viewpoint, the quality that we deliver is greater than our brand recognition. And so, the ranking will certainly help our recognition. But you mustn’t exaggerate its importance. The rankings are for full-time MBA programmes, and that’s just a part − less than 10% − of our activity. But of course the full-time MBA is your flagship programme, your calling card. It’s also significant that we achieve  this with our own faculty of professors and not with visiting professors who are here for only a few weeks or a year at best.’

‘For potential students, though, these rankings are an important aid. Earning an MBA is a major decision for them: an MBA programme is expensive, and it also costs a year of their life, which they will often spend in a region they’re not familiar with. And only afterwards can they judge whether they’ve made the right choice.’

‘So, the rankings are an important source of information on which to base this decision. They’re a kind of external validation of the various business schools − because these rankings are drawn up very seriously with rigorous playing rules and audits.’

‘In addition, there is of course the word-of-mouth advertising, the information that ex-students and others put on the Internet. That’s also an information source not to be underestimated − it’s even more important than the information that we ourselves provide in our brochures.’

But the position that a school attains can differ markedly from one ranking to another. In The Financial Times’s ranking, for example, Vlerick is in 75th place. Which ranking should a potential student believe?

‘Not every MBA is suitable for every student − and each student might expect something different from an MBA programme. So, in a number of areas, the rankings speak to well-defined profiles, because they attach more or less importance to certain criteria. The Financial Times, for example, surveys the rise in salary of the students three years after they had received their MBA, and they give that criterion a weight of 40%. The Economist, on the other hand, gets 50% of its information from students of the past year, 30% from students of two years ago, and the rest from students of three years ago. Furthermore, The Economist looks particularly at the level of income, and not so much at its increase. The Economist also gives greater weight to the experience of the students in the programme, while The Financial Times looks more at things like: how many profs have a doctorate; or, how much does the faculty publish in top research  journals? Incidentally: worldwide there are more than 3,000 MBA programmes. So, even 75th place is not so bad.’

Apparently, Vlerick scores well on the income criterion: according to The Economist last week, Vlerick alumni are also the best paid.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t make too much of that. First of all, Vlerick has somewhat more mature students than some other business schools, and so they also earn more. Besides, that comparison is a bit distorted by the low value of the dollar, so that the salaries of European managers automatically come out to be quite a bit higher than those of American MBAs. So, you really need to put this into perspective.’

You said that not every business school is suited for every student. What do the students at Vlerick think?

‘In a certain sense, you could say that Vlerick is still a business school in the traditional model. Business schools originally grew up around engineers, who were looking for productivity improvements, and psychologists, who were focused on labour relations. But over the years a lot of schools have been populated with economists and finance faculty. They are also typically drawing in young students − 24 and 25 year-olds − who want to specialise in financial techniques and market models. After graduation, when they start to work in the financial world, they see their salaries immediately shoot up − especially when their previous salary was based on Indian or Chinese salaries for example. It’s logical that such schools score high in the FT rankings, because their graduates often enjoy a steep rise in income upon graduation.’

‘What we do leans more towards the original business school: we train entrepreneurs and managers. Therefore, we not only provide our students with a number of tools and techniques, we also impart judgement capabilities and ethical insights.’

‘We place great importance on that last ability. This year, for the first time, Vlerick has participated in the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking, coming in at 70th place. This bi-annual ranking looks at the extent to which Corporate Social Responsibility is treated in the MBA programmes. One of the criteria is the degree to which students are confronted with social and environmentally related topics in the course of their studies, and for this criterion we jumped into 20th place.’

A minute ago, you said that there are over 3,000 MBA programmes worldwide. Even in Belgium, there is a whole assortment, six of which are offered by universities. Is that not in fact too many?

‘Here at Vlerick we offer a complete range of programmes: a full-time and a part-time MBA programme, Master’s degree programmes, open programmes, and a number of tailor-made programmes. To be able to do all that, you do need a certain magnitude. Even with our 60 professors and our €30 million turnover, we’re too small to really be able to work internationally in all these areas. So, colleagues that are even smaller can at best aspire to play a role locally and to specialise in certain niches.’

‘For us, in any case, the competition is increasingly from outside Belgium. Under my predecessor’s administration, Vlerick took a number of daring steps. By merging with Leuven, we added a small campus in St. Petersburg, and we’re moving forward with an MBA in China in collaboration with the National School of Development at Beijing University. My job, first of all, is to further internationalise our core products. In our pre-experience Masters programmes, for example, we now also have 30% international students. Of course our post experience MBA has over forty nationalities’

‘Actually, the ultimate challenge is to make Vlerick more international, while at the same time continuing to play our role in Flanders − in order to ensure that we don’t end up with two Vlerick schools: one Flemish and one international. My motto is: “Act and behave as one Vlerick.” And that goes for several areas: unity between Leuven and Ghent, between Flemish and international, the School and its alumni…’

How is the relationship with the alumni?

The quality of the alumni is very important for a business school, in addition to a whole series of other aspects like the quality of the service, of the programmes, of the professors, of the recruitment and placement service, and so on.’

‘Vlerick’s alumni association is an independent organisation, but it is certainly important for our international recognition. So, we’re also working with them to further develop their international chapters or branches. Our alumni are in fact our best ambassadors. They’ve also helped the School through a number of difficult times in the past. And many alumni are still actively engaged with the School, as godmother or godfather to foreign students, for example. Or they help conduct interviews in the student recruitments.’

But in Flanders the so-called ‘Vlerick network’ − meaning the Vlerick alumni − doesn’t always have a spotless reputation.

(smiles) ‘I know it: people are sometimes surprised that I live in Brussels and not in Sint-Martens-Latem. Some people apparently think that the Dean of Vlerick School has a kind of official residence there.’

‘But seriously: the stories in the media about that ‘Vlerick network’ have sort of taken on a life of their own. From time to time, it so happens that someone is portrayed as a ‘key figure in the Vlerick network’ − while he or she has actually never studied or held a position here.’

‘On the other hand, of course, you run into our ex-students everywhere in Flanders. We have some 14,000 alumni: you find some of them in all corners of the world, and some 10,000-12,000 in Flanders. That means that a whole lot of Flemish companies are being run by Vlerick alumni, and inevitably you have both good and less good among them.’

‘It is certainly a pity that all those stories about ‘the Vlerick network’ sometimes lose sight of how much Vlerick has done for the professionalisation of the business community and management in Flanders.’

In order to have good alumni, you must first attract good students. How many candidates are ultimately accepted into Vlerick?

‘Just as in all good schools, the rule of thumb is that, out of every 10 – 12 candidates, 2 or 3 make it through the entire recruitment process − the era when all candidates made it through the recruitment process is a while behind us. There is also a kind of self-selection among the candidate-students. The quality of the students that submit their application is also connected with the school’s ranking. Insead, the London School of Economics, and Spain’s IESE are at the absolute top. We’re somewhere in the middle of the group that comes next, in the company of (for example) Rotterdam, Cambridge, Oxford…’

Is the poor − or non-existent − image of Belgium an obstacle to attracting students?

‘Let me say that it’s not easy to establish a brand name when you have to present yourself as ‘Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School from Belgium’. We don’t even have ‘Brussels’ in our name. And yes, Belgium is not Milan or Madrid… But when we can get candidate students to the point of coming to visit the campus, and they then discover Leuven or Ghent as student towns, fortunately it’s often a whole different story. Those are real plus points.’

The School’s name is extremely long as well…

(laughs) ‘I think that we’re in the process of making a shorter name. The merger of the Leuven and Ghent business schools has turned out very well. Not only because that has given the School the necessary critical mass, but also because it has combined the academic accents of Leuven with the more entrepreneurial focus of Ghent. The School’s interaction with the universities themselves is also very good now. For instance, the two rectors are on our Board of Directors.’

Do you feel the effects of the crisis?

‘Yes. Particularly in the second half of this year, we’re seeing a clear decline in executive education. But we’ve been able to compensate for that with an increase in the Masters programmes and the full-time MBA, and with more income from research. So, we’re one of the few schools in Europe that will still achieve a small growth this year and that will be in balance financially. But we have very little idea what next year will bring.’

You also receive subsidies from the government − other business schools do not.

‘Those subsidies comprise only 7% or so of our income, that’s not really very much. Roughly, you can say that we have four about equally important sources of income: the Masters and MBA programmes, the open programmes, the programmes that are designed specifically for companies, and partnerships with companies that sponsor research via academic Chairs and so forth. That last one is quite unique: it’s not contract research or consulting, but rather research that is also academically significant.’

And has the crisis also had an impact on the content of the courses?

‘The crisis is providing a fantastic learning opportunity − both for the profs as well as for the students. For 10 years now, we’ve offered a Masters programme in financial services, which is focused on general leadership and management in the financial services field. There are students in that programme who work for 10 different banks and insurance firms. Well now, those students have learned lessons this year that they will probably never forget. And as I’ve already said, we’ve always been fairly strongly focused on entrepreneurship, with a lot of attention on Corporate Social Responsibility. And that is even being reinforced by modules that we have recently added to our MBA, such as ‘Vlerick Giving Something Back’, in which the students in the full-time MBA do a project of at least a month in an NGO or a non-profit organisation. So, we’re moving in the direction in which the wind is now blowing. This mind-set is also in our marketing, and that’s why we also appeal to students who feel drawn to these things.’

Getting to know me…

Who: Philippe Haspeslagh

Workday: Luckily, every day is  different…

Free time: First, a dip in the fitness centre’s swimming pool, then a gallery visit, a bite to eat and a film

Hell: A flight connection at Heathrow

Heaven: A walk or bike ride through beautiful nature, a tête-à-tête with my wife or one of my grown-up children

Restaurant: Casa Bini in the 6th Arrondissement in Paris

Favourite city: Paris

Gadget : At Vlerick, I had to exchange my Blackberry for an HTC

Music:  Portuguese Fado

Book: At the moment, From higher aims to hired hands, a history of business schools, by Rakesh Khuranna

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