Maastricht University Opening Academic Year 2009-2010

Yesterday I was invited to deliver the keynote speech at the opening of the Academic Year at Maastricht University. I was very honored to speak at my alma mater, exactly 18 years after I started my studies at Maastricht University.

It was a very busy but also a very interesting day. It started early in the morning already with a breakfast with Andre Postema, vice-president of the executive board (College van Bestuur) of Maastricht University. We had a nice talk about the university and its strategy, about the city of Maastricht and of course I told him about what I have done so far. Afterward, we walked to the Minderbroedersberg, where I would speak in the aula at a symposium about New Leadership. Before the presentations started, I finally met several of the staff of the university that I had been communicating with over the past months, for the first time in person. I also did another interview, which was finished right before we started.

The symposium had some high level guests: among others a delegate from the Chinese embassy had come to Maastricht to listen, Prof. Jo Ritzen (Maastricht University’s president) was there, and even the Bishop of Maastricht was sitting on the first row. Prof. Will Foppen opened the symposium, followed by a presentation about leadership and leadership styles in the academic world by Prof. Marja van Dieijen-Visser. I did the last presentation on leadership in the business world, where I focused on what I see as important traits for a new leader and on new leadership styles.

In preparation for the symposium I had proposed a statement that students should react to in a written essay, and the 3 best students were invited to defend their statements in a presentation. After the discussion with the students and the audience Laura Gutierrez Gomez was voted by the audience as the winner, and she won a luxurious lunch at top restaurant Beluga. The number 2 Lianne van Exel won a balloon trip and number 3 Andrea Proto received a wellness package at Thermae 2000 spa.

Then it was time for a nice lunch in the sun at the patio inside the Minderbroedersberg building. When the lunch was over I went for a quick walk around town, visiting among others the economic faculty where I graduated with a Masters degree in 1995. After that I walked over to the “Theater aan het Vrijthof” together with Prof. Jo Ritzen and Jeanine Gregersen (the spokesperson of the Executive Board) for the rehearsal of the opening of the Academic Year. This went fine, and after doing an interview with ScienceGuide (see here) it was time to be seated. After all the guests were on their seats the cortege entered, with all the professors dressed in their traditional robes and hats (to get an impression of yesterday’s cortege, see this short film here). I like this kind of rituals, it makes the academic world special.

Prof. Jo Ritzen started the session with a speech about innovation and leadership. Among others he mentioned what he thinks are the most important characteristics that a university graduate should possess. Not only expert subject knowledge, being able to work in teams and solve problems, but also having a strong moral backbone. Moral consciousness is unconditionally linked to knowledge and skills. A good point, especially when looking at some of the causes of the global economic crisis.

After a short musical intermezzo I was introduced to give the keynote speech. The title of my speech was Entrepreneurship and Internet Innovation: Lessons and Experiences. In my keynote I reflected on my time studying in Maastricht and the choices I made in life because of this. I also talked about social media and how business leaders should embrace it. If you want to read the complete speech you can find it here (pdf).

After another musical intermezzo Prof. Gerard Mols, rector magnificus of Maastricht University, performed the award ceremony for the Maastricht University Student Award and for the Edmond Hustinx scholarship. Prof. Jo Ritzen then did the closing words before Ode an der Freude was being played and the cortege left the building.

Following the ceremony there were drinks, but I first had to do another video interview. When that was finished I had a few glasses of beer and wine with several friends and classmates, and some of my former professors. It was nice to see marketing professor Hans Kasper again, he was actually the professor who gave me my very first lecture in university. I got to know him quite well over the years in Maastricht, especially during the academic year that I was president of the Maastricht Marketing Association.

After the drinks my wife and I had a dinner with the executive and supervisory board, the deans of the university and the commissioner of the Queen. During the dinner prof. Jo Ritzen gave me a very nice modern painting of the famous Vrijthof square. I plan to hang it in my office, so I will be reminded every day of the great day I had in the beautiful city of Maastricht!

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