It was 25 years ago today, that Heleen van Hall started working at Nyenrode Business University. Together with Heleen we look back on a memorable day: “I was only 26 at the time, it was the wedding day of my parents and the day that I decided to end my relationship with my then-boyfriend.”
Landgoed Nijenrode (Nijenrode Estate) was not unfamiliar territory for Heleen. A year earlier, she already set foot on the premises when she was employed with Starjob, an employment agency for secretarial and administrative staff. “Nyenrode’s personnel manager at the time called me with the pressing question: ‘We have a job opening, but we actually want to ask you for the position’. I thought that was quite strange back then, I was young, somewhat naïve and I already had a job I liked. But after a 3-hour conversation while enjoying a glass of wine and steak I decided to do it anyways.”
Heleen started her career at the Executive and Management Development Center (EMDC). She organized various programs including ‘The adventure of entrepreneurship’ with Professor Fred Lachotzki. “Previous versions of the program had made a loss, simply because participants didn't pay.” Heleen decided to do things differently. She kept the administration up-to-date and had participants pay with their credit cards before they were allowed to enter the room. And soon enough they were making profit instead of loss. “It was then and there that I had caught the attention and was able to show myself.”
And that is exactly what Heleen is still doing, throughout all these years, where strategy seems to be the central theme throughout her career: “In the nineties, anything was possible. We made plans, we pioneered whenever we could and we figured out new routes to take. I was getting along well with the students and for the first time I had a sense of home within the walls of education.” After a few years, Heleen transferred within Nyenrode to the Strategy Center. And finally she decided to enroll on an MBA program herself and become part of the student life.
Heleen definitely had to work hard for it: “At the time, I had to write five essays for the admissions committee, followed by two tough intake interviews. These definitely were no fun conversations to have, I was put through the ringer.” But Heleen managed to get through the selection anyways and started her education program with great enthusiasm.
Subject of Heleen’s thesis was the strengthening of the connection with Nyenrode’s alumni network. Professor Annemieke Roobeek was a major source of inspiration for her. Heleen tells openly about completing the MBA program: “My father had passed away a few years earlier and to me it was heartbreaking that he couldn’t be there. In the end it became a day filled with both joy and sadness. And of course he was with me in spirit.”
Heleen spent many hours at Nijenrode’s estate. Nyenrode became her second home. Soon she was asked whether she wanted to become the Campus Dean: “I was hesitant, since I already had a job that I loved. But once I found out that Leo Besemer, then-Campus Supervisor, approved our cooperation I decided to take on the challenge. I created a completely new position, including the work I had already been doing. There I was, on the brink of a new era.” To the question whether it was then that Heleen became the mother of all students, she responds with a smile: “Call me the Big Sister, they already have a mother.”
Through the years, Heleen has managed to grow the number of connections within Nyenrode’s rich alumni network and has been able to bring the community together worldwide. Also within the national borders, students and alumni know that they can always come to Heleen for good advice, a critical question or simply a nice cup of coffee. Over the span of 25 years, Heleen has become the strategic spider in Nyenrode’s web.
Heleen’s future is looking bright. “As long as I have still something to offer to Nyenrode, I will keep entering this cheerful, with pictures decorated office with great joy”, she adds with a big smile. Also during the years to come, Heleen will keep focusing on strengthening the Nyenrode community. “Slowly but steadily, the measures make it possible again to organize meetings, shake up the alumni network and introduce the students to them.”
We round off the interview with a nice closing: “I look back at 25 eventful years and I suspect that a number of great years still awaits me. We are headed towards a wonderful anniversary year, in which we will be able to show ourselves and what we do even more and I am looking forward to it. Because we are all Nyenrodians, colorful people standing out from the regular crowd.”
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