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EU Alumni Association President Discusses Network Importance

René van Baardewijk

René van Baardewijk

Chair of the Alumni Association

1989 BBA

Owner, Rebain International (www.Rebain.com)

Tell me about the EU alumni network.

We are still in the first stages of formalizing the structure of the alumni network. There have been many great projects and ideas, and we are now on the way to structure it further – with chapters in every country that are available to other alumni. We are all busy, but I am willing to invest time in this project – as I think it will be really rewarding for all alumni.

What are the most important values of such a network?

First, the network and level of contact – for example, you could be new in a place and want to meet like-minded people – here is where you would benefit from having an alumni association. There is the business aspect of course, where alumni are looking for jobs, or talent to hire; any number of synergies may emerge when like-minded people get together.

Are you doing business with other alumni?

Yes, among other things, I participate in a freight forwarding company with a fellow alumnus from Thunderbird University, where I got my MBA. I am also in the process of setting up a plastic division in my distribution company with a fellow EU alumnus, Mark Beekmans; we share the same values and have a common bond. As members of the same alumni body, you know each other and often share a way of looking at the world. Sometimes you don’t even need to conduct business together; exchanging ideas and talking about projects can be enough. People who went to the same school are never complete strangers.

But most state schools in Europe have no real alumni network…

True, but that’s changing. At private schools, the alumni network has always been more important, if you look at business schools in the U.S.A., it almost feels like a cult sometimes. Europe is catching up and this is necessary, as alumni are also an important issue for prospective students. With budgets for education constantly being cut, universities need to learn how to market themselves. And there is no better advertising for a school than a portfolio of successful alumni who are actively connected. Sometimes this can really help you, for me it has been an important tool throughout my career.

Can you give an example?

When I finished my military service in the Dutch marine Corps I  learned Spanish as I did it in the Dutch Antilles, and wanted to move to Latin America where I saw a lot of business opportunities, instead I landed my first job in Moscow, Russia. It was 1992, and Russia was in a transition, and not many people spoke English at that time. I was completely lost. Nobody could understand me.

And Russian is not a language that you can learn in a few months.

Exactly. I needed to connect with people, so I tapped into an alumni network – people not only helped me to find an apartment and good restaurants but also told me how to do business in Russia, what you need to know about the authorities and so on. It really helped me.

One could say: today you can look it all up on Wikipedia.

Pure facts, yes, that’s true; but nothing helps you more than a meeting with a real person with whom you have something in common. This is how friendships are built, no technology can replace that.

Speaking of technology, how has this changed the organization of an alumni network?

It is a great help – we are working on a database to connect people; with chapter leaders in all major cities where EU alumni are present or travel to.

Where do you see the network in five years?

Present in all major cities; where people can be easily contacted and organize events for locals and visitors from EU. It would be a great tool when visiting or moving to a new place and EU alumni travel a lot.

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