2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Rik Sneep, Duke University (Fuqua)

Rik Sneep

Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

“A visionary catalyst that is in love with life.”

Age: 38

Hometown: Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia; originally Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Family Members: Natalie (my amazing wife), Lucas (super sweet 5-year-old), Max (2-year-old troublemaker), and Marco (the sloth in our garden that the boys gave a name).

Fun fact about yourself: I was officially 007 (but in the Dutch Air Force).

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Utrecht, the Netherlands: Bachelor of Science in Earth Sciences and Master of Science in Structural Geology.

Where are you currently working? Royal Dutch Shell, General Manager and Country Chair for Bolivia and Paraguay.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:  

  • World Business Council for Sustainable Development Leadership program at Yale University (graduated with distinction in 2018, spoke at UN World Business Forum 2018)
  • Member of Roundtable for Emerging Leaders of the Baker Institute for Foreign Policy
  • Advisor to several organizations on energy market development in Latin America (amongst others CoA, CSIS)
  • Advisory board member for two start-ups (NanoGripTech, Poof)
  • Advisory board member of Safe Water Gardens, a social enterprise that we set up to bring safe and affordable sanitation to rural communities in the tropics (and I actually help build some in Indonesia).

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? With a group of classmates, we collaborated with a faculty member to adapt his curriculum so that it would focus more on the COVID-19 response, consequences, and aftermath. The faculty member took this recommendation in a positive light and designed some new course materials, including the creation of a COVID-19 simulator, allowing us to evaluate the impact of different decisions in response to COVID-19 on the society, the economy, and world health. We are hopeful that this product will be used in leadership meetings around the world in the future. I believe it is this ability to have a real impact that sets Fuqua apart and also what gives everyone involved with this project the greatest sense of satisfaction.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While working in Saudi Arabia as department leader, it was through my decision-making that a project stopped. Because this particular project was a joint venture, we not only had staff from our organization involved, but also one other major corporation, as well as a few direct hires. It was this last category of personnel, the direct hires, who were most at risk because of the project ending. The direct hires did not have a mother or umbrella corporation to which to return to work. From then on, I spent most of my time coaching them, in order to make them as marketable as possible for their next opportunity. They took up the challenge with great enthusiasm. As a result, we used the remaining six months to close any skill gaps they may have had, as well as to create the best CV/resume possible for each one of those individuals. I am proud to say all of those direct hires wound up with full-time positions with the company where I was a department leader. They are all still working for this company, spread across the globe, seven years later.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Katherine Schipper. Extremely knowledgeable, well organized, had great experiences to share, and exudes exactly the right approach for an executive program.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I strongly believe in the power of the collective as essential to solve this world’s major problems. Individualism will not lead to success. I, therefore, chose the program that focuses most on teamwork, the power of the crowd, and humanizing leadership – all key ingredients to making this world a better place. In addition, Fuqua offers a program that is compatible for people who do not reside in the US. The program is intelligently constructed with intense residencies, making it logistically feasible. In addition, the faculty is extremely caring. I fell seriously ill during one of our residencies, and I am grateful for the care and flexibility shown by all faculty and staff.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Meeting such a diverse group of intelligent people from so many sectors, countries and backgrounds are just mind-blowing. The environment is extremely stimulating and ideas for new ventures, startups and products keep popping up – especially at a school like Fuqua, where the entrepreneurial spirit is deeply engrained.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Never, ever, underestimate anyone. I proved myself wrong many times in the past with first impressions and preconceived ideas. I now take a deliberate mental pause and listen first to what others have to say. I am not there yet – but at least I am aware!

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I had talked through the schedule and calendar with my wife before signing up for this adventure. The real struggle started when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of foreign residencies and sessions were replaced virtually. The two-week travel abroad restrictions allowed me to fully focus on my studies. Somehow, for my family, it was better. The ‘virtual residencies’ were extremely difficult to manage: somehow, work had doubled in the first quarter of 2020 and I had just taken on the role of Country Chair, so for me it meant long working days in virtual meetings. The virtual residency now totally occupied my weekend as well. For my kids, it has been hard: they know you are around and want to play, but no: “Papa had to go to school.” So far, we managed, but not without the regular stepping out for some Legos or a drawing.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do not select solely on the name or reputation of the school. Of course, a high-quality faculty is extremely important, but just as important is to understand your own drivers for pursuing the MBA, (what you want to get out of it) and select the best matching program to your needs. It is a big commitment and, at times, it will get tough – so you better make sure you are in the program that gives you what you want, and not just the name.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That it will be hard to adjust after having worked for so many years (for me it is 14 years since my last degree). The curriculum is well-designed and tailored for people like myself. The stimulus of the content and all the brilliant classmates make you quickly forget you are going back to school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Talia Klein – she has an amazing, sharp analytical mind and has a real aura of integrity – she keeps the group honest. Working in a cutthroat technology sector (blockchain), she is extremely efficient at making new deals and working with diverse stakeholders. Impressive!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I noticed that I thought differently about almost every business decision. I might not make a different decision in the end, but my thought process was different. My colleagues started to invite me as a creative, different, and honest mind, who challenges the status quo and made people think differently. That realization was the trigger.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Make the world a better place by giving it my all. In doing so, titles or jobs are not an indication of success. The relations you build and the lasting impact you have on people are

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Rik made me see the best version of me.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Make my son finally ride his bike, learn to play bass guitar to a level that does not lead to divorce.

What made Rik such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Simply put, Rik Sneep is the star of Duke’s Global Executive MBA Class of 2020.  Of his qualities, what stands out is the manner in which he shares his knowledge and his excellent leadership skills. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Fuqua’s classes went virtual, Rik helped retool one of the courses to focus on crisis leadership and shared his firsthand experience in real-time with his classmates. He was chosen by his cohort to moderate a global panel discussion featuring business leaders from India, Sweden, and Singapore. Rik was a natural at moderating the session, he was literally gliding from one aspect of the conversation to another, but what impressed me most was his ability to summarize and crystalize the comments from the panelists.

Rik brings a global perspective to classroom discussions that not many others can match. He is from the Netherlands, is married to a Venezuelan, has lived in the US, Bolivia, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, and speaks five languages. Rik currently serves as the General Manager and Country Chair for Bolivia and Paraguay at Shell. He is tailor made for crisis management as he radiates a calm, composed personality. During our residency in China, there was an economic crisis in Bolivia and he had to leave two-thirds of the way through the week to evacuate his family and put a crisis plan in place for his employees. During our residency in Peru, he became severely ill and spent more than a week in the hospital in Lima; missing most of the classes during that residency. Despite both of those difficulties, Rik maintained high grades in every course over those two terms and his positive outlook despite the circumstances was infectious. Rik is a model student that Fuqua strives to attract.”

Mohan Venkatachalam
Senior Associate Dean for Executive Programs


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