2018 Best EMBAs: Saskia de Bruin–van Dijk, Purdue University (Krannert)

Saskia de Bruin–van Dijk           

Purdue University, Krannert School of Management

Open, enthusiastic, no-nonsense, focused, natural leader and performer, driven by change.”

Age: 45

Hometown: Riethoven, Netherlands, Europe

Family Members: Husband – Bram de Bruin, Parents – Cees and Corrie van Dijk, Sisters – Drs. Marjolein Emons and Astrid Sluiter

Fun fact about yourself: I believe there is a Poet and a Quant in me. Initially I studied Advertising & Interior dDsign, probably more a ‘Poet’, where I learned to think creatively, which is an ability I still use every day. Later on during working life, I switched to the ‘Quants’ side with 18 years in finance and controlling. Now this shows to be a great combination to excel in education and career.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Advertising & Interior design post-secondary college, Sint Lucas, Boxtel, Netherlands

Bachelor of Business Administration (SPD), Fontys Hogeschool, Eindhoven, Netherlands

Where are you currently working? Lekkerland AG & Co.KG is a wholesale and logistic service provider in the FMCG Food & Tobacco market with a revenue of Euro 13 billion (2016). We are present in six countries within Europe. In Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria under the name Lekkerland. In Belgium and Spain under the name Conway. Out of 24 warehouses, Lekkerland supplies around 90,000 filling-station shops, kiosks, tobacco goods stores, specialist drinks markets, food stores, bakeries, fast-food chains, canteens and other convenience stores across Europe with about 600 trucks.

Currently I am working in the position of Business Program Manager Europe, at the headquarters of Lekkerland AG & Co.KG in Cologne Germany, leading strategic projects on transformation and innovation. This gives me the opportunity to work with the best colleagues in our company in an intercultural setting, working on the future of Lekkerland.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: In the past two years, my life’s full priority was combining private life with work and my EMBA study. This caused me to back out of additional activities.

Prior to my EMBA, I volunteered as board member for the Photo association and for an Archery sports club, both in the role as treasurer supporting them by using my financial knowledge to ensure long term financial health.

Now having graduated and having again some more free time, I started working out again. With the Bootcamp team, we are attending sports events like runs, supporting this charity mainly related to disease research and development. Furthermore, I am looking into a local Dutch initiative, as a volunteer coaching and supporting entrepreneurs, either starting-up their business or struggling, to create a healthy financial and business direction.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? To be able to support my peers during the EMBA on the finance topics due to my 18 years’ experience in Finance and Controlling. Quite a lot of people struggle with the quants side of the EMBA, and I really admired my fellow students who had less financial background regarding the pace they grasped the complete financial concepts and terminology!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Started my career as a data entry clerk, now in a position as direct report to the CEO. It brings a lot of experience and understanding that you gain throughout that journey. I am proud that due to my perseverance, energy and effort to now hold a leading position in the biggest (investment-wise) and most impactful business transformation projects for the future of Lekkerland.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? The biggest insight I gained was with regards to strategy and why they fail. Getting the insights and tools for analyzing the question ‘where did it go wrong’. Was it already because the strategy was not defined in a clear meaningful way? Or was it the fact that the mandatory steps were not taken during implementation which cause the strategy being nothing more that something on paper? Followed by concepts on ‘the right way’ to do it.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I have been studying besides my full time job on two occasions in my life. When I started my career, I did my Bachelor in Business Administration going to school three nights a week and studying on the weekends. But that was many years ago, I was young and at the start of my career.

Pursuing an EMBA and finding the right program needed to facilitate many more parameters. In my current job, I am travelling a lot, 60-80% of my time I am abroad on a weekly basis. Attending classes on a frequent base was out of the question, and the digital way of studying was an important requirement for me; it enabled me to study wherever I am and enabling cooperation with my student peers.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that to succeed in the current world you need to have a global focus. I found this all in the unique and truly global program that was offered by Purdue University in cooperation with Tilburg University and other universities all over the world. During the program, we studied in the international groups during 10 weeks, all working towards the residency periods of two weeks –each taking place somewhere on the globe. The program was great where we were being together for two weeks with your peers; studying in an international environment and cohort; integrating ‘how to do business’ in that part of the world through local company visits; and flying in the best professors from all over the world. What also spoke to me is the set-up of this program. You start the program with a cohort which will stay together till the finish. This enabled building up a very strong networks, relationships and friendships for life.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The diversity of the group you study in. Where it is common to have a diversity in the cohort out of different industries, we had a cohort with 50% women, and students from eight different countries (covering China, Middle East, India, Europe, South America, North America and Canada) This makes the learning experience in a global setting much more interesting, learning from each other what to take into account when doing business in that particular part of the world.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The area I had the least experience and knowledge in was Strategy. This was an eye opener for me. It enabled me to look to my company’s strategy in a different way, analyzing gaps and failures and making recommendations in getting the strategy to a level where it is really connected and translated to an execution level. I have provided all my strategy papers to our CEO, and recommendations were taken into action.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Looking back, I still do not understand how I did it throughout the 19 months! In addition to that, I had in the middle of the EMBA program an SAP implementation for Lekkerland Switzerland. Since I have a leading role in this program covering the business perspective of the project, it meant for me that during the period around the actual the Go-Live on the 1st of January 2017, I had no time to study at all. The team and I were working 24/7, and also it meant I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Switzerland with my colleagues with a midnight dinner since we worked until 11 p.m. It was for the first time that I was away from my husband, family and friends on New Year’s Eve. It also meant that I needed to spread out my study, which normally was a 12 week period, into just a couple of weeks.

So prior to the actual GoLive phase and being back home from the job, I spent the complete weekends studying to keep up. Luckily, my husband is very understanding, since he is also studying besides his full time job. But making sure the marriage would still be intact after my studies, you do need to invest time in each other. We found a solution in keeping our Friday nights study-free, usually going out together for a nice dinner. That particular period was a very difficult and stressful period for me, and there were times I wanted to stop. With the support of my husband and some peers out of the cohort, I was able to push through!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I would say, GO FOR IT! It will always enrich you with new knowledge, experiences, and getting to know new and very interesting people. It will not be easy, but if you make a conscious choice to put the study as your highest priority during the relatively short period of time, it will work. Perseverance and a supportive network around you from family, friends and you employer is key for success. When I started my studies I announced to all my family and friends that counting me in for parties was optional, but I would make it up to them after I graduated. So the party in the summer of 2018 is to celebrate my achievements, but also as a Thank You to my family in friends.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “Put your life on hold to focus on your study” At least this was a myth I thought to be true before I started my EMBA. Just ‘stay in lane’ with job and family to handle the additional burden of studying. But you cannot put your life on hold! During my EMBA, I got promoted (which usually means more work!), had a huge SAP implementation (where the project planning of course did not take my study plans into account) and also on a personal level I had to deal with a loss when my sister-in-law passed away at the age of 40.

What was your biggest regret in business school? That the program has come to an end. It was such an inspiring and energizing experience for me, which triggered me to continuous learning. I graduated in December 2017 and have already moved on to a multi-day MasterClass at TIAS University on innovation.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?

Dara Bennett is a young ambitious woman, who joined the program just six months after her third son was born. Pursuing an EMBA with three very young children and being apart for longer periods of time due to the international travel for the study, she pushed through and also graduated with amazing results. I admire her and her husband in the balance they found to be a strong family together, supporting each other in realizing also their individual dreams in pursuing an EMBA (her husband did his EMBA in the two years prior).

As of day 1, Dara and I had a connection which only grew stronger during the two years of study. We laughed and cried, and she was my mirror to reflect. She supported me through good and bad times. She was there for me and kept me on board for the study when I was struggling because of a loss of a family member during the final semester of the program. I am convinced we will stay in touch for life!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I felt the need to challenge myself again on an intellectual level. Having worked in cross functional fields from Finance, Controlling to Sales, learning by doing, it can sometimes limit your views. I recognized this in myself and it lowered my drive and enthusiasm. I wanted to open my eyes again, get a different perspective, learn new things and challenge myself on a different level.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…very bored. I probably would have switched jobs to find a new challenge. While now, through the EMBA, it opened my eyes and I see opportunities in my current job and company to further develop the company as well as myself.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? In my current position, I am working more and more in close cooperation with Board of Management and Country management level. This would be the aim for me to grow in such a company leading position.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As I was called by my peers the ‘Mom’ of the class, I tried to keep everybody together and on track, supporting my peers wherever I could, but also in for good fun and a laugh.

Favorite book: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

The common enemy for success lies within ourselves; our ego.

With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. Ego can hold us back.

Favorite movie or television show: The movie; Everest

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I love spending my time outside in in nature. Both of my bucket list items are related to that.

First of all, hike to Everest base camp. In opposite to the mental challenge the EMBA gave me, this is full on physical, and somehow also a mental challenge. A 2-3 week walk in difficult circumstances, experiencing completely different cultures, in a stunning but hostile Himalayan environment, pushing myself to the limit.

Secondly, to experience the aurora borealis in the winter wonderland of Finland (or Alaska).

What made Saskia de Bruin – van Dijk such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

Pro-Active approach to learning for self and others: From the beginning of the program in March 2016, I was impressed with Saskia’s dedication to her studies. As one of the few European-based students in this cohort, she was the consummate diplomat and students continuously sought out her advice and opinions throughout their time in the program. This openness provided multiple opportunities for others to learn from her. As such, her approach represented a key feature of the residency-based program: learning from your peers. A calm and self-assured leader, Saskia consistently worked ahead on courses during each pre-residency period, and as a result, she always came more than prepared to every residency. Her academic dedication paid off, as she maintained one of the highest grade point averages in her class. As a result of her academic efforts, Saskia accepted an invitation to join the prestigious Beta Gamma Sigma Society (the international business honor society for AASCB accredited schools).

Taking chances and getting results: During the fourth module (semester), students take the Entrepreneurship course. This is the course that innovative students look forward to the most.  Needless to say, Saskia came to the residency prepared to present her specific project; sliced ketchup.  Yes, carved condiments. With her extended team back in the EU, Saskia brought samples with her, along with the scientific research, operational outlay and the marketing plan in hand and ready to get the project off the ground in the EU market. While the effort remains “in-production”, I have no doubt that Saskia will be successful in each and every endeavor she sets her mind to. And this approach embraced the philosophy of leveraging every learning experience to the fullest.”

John Lewandowski

Associate Director



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