Henry Robben, 25 years of making an impact

March 18 2022

Marketing Professor Henry Robben is visibly moved when he looks back at the overwhelming amount of congratulations he received for his 25th anniversary: "That was truly amazing. Not only does it show that people have really noticed me over the years, they also humble me. These are all people with great jobs who have achieved remarkable things in life. It makes me happy that I have been able to add some meaning for them."   

He can still vividly remember his arrival at Nyenrode, twenty-five years ago: "At the time, Dean Hans Palm said to me: ‘The committee considers you a good fit for the position.’ Followed by: ‘We are looking for a strong man to lead the Marketing and Supply Chain Management Center'. All I could think was: ‘That is great, I'd love to meet that strong man.’ But as it turned out, he was talking about me. And in addition to my professorship, I was also appointed Center Director", he says while laughing.   

Over the years, Robben has worn many different hats during his self-proclaimed 'business marriage' with Nyenrode. Varying from Research and Center Director to Professor and Chairman of the Works Council. He knows the ropes and is happy to share his expertise and experience. Over the years, Henry has come to realize that leadership is not his cup of tea. But he has also learned that connecting people definitely is.  

25 years of marketing  

A quick throwback to college. According to Henry, the basic principle of marketing has not changed at all over the years: "People and companies still need a reason to buy something. But the techniques with which you market something have changed." When asked whether every technology is a step forward, Henry smiles: "Every technological development is actually more of a means to sell something and doesn’t change the core of the business. It is all about being able to take a position in relation to the competition in order to introduce your product. It doesn't matter how you do that." 

Sources of inspiration 

During the interview, Robben is very clear about one thing: there is no such thing as a marketing guru. "Gurus are nonsense, I don't believe in them. No one has a monopoly on the truth. Everyone can use their own common sense."  

He has been longtime friends with Professor Rudy Moenaert. Over the years, they have conducted many studies and published many books together. He is a huge source of inspiration, explains Robben, as are his three sons. And let’ not forget about the colleagues and students at Nyenrode. "I actually always evaluate with students and colleagues. Honest reactions make education dynamic for me and improve its quality. The students show me what it is that they need, so that they can excel in the corporate world."  

The Big Hairy Audacious Goal

"It's mainly about asking the right questions." Anyone who has been lectured to by Henry in the last twenty-five years may have started writing their Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). A BHAG is a clear and ambitious personal goal that you want to achieve within a certain amount of time. That goal should inspire and motivate you, it should appeal to your imagination and must be formulated in a challenging way. And you have to doubt if it is even feasible at all. 

Henry, a.k.a. the marketing phenomenon, also is the product of a BHAG more or less; that of his parents. His father was a miner from Limburg and his mother managed the household. After several years of marriage, they left for the other side of the world to try their luck. That is how Robben's baby crib ended up in Winnipeg, Canada. His passion for travelling and discovering other cultures probably stems from his parents’ wanderlust. Broadening his world that way is what Robben loves doing most, besides writing books. 

Impactful education  

In a time when knowledge is available everywhere, education should be about something else, Robben believes. "How much of the marketing knowledge I impart in the classroom sticks, can be measured during an examination. But the long-term effect we aim for based on Nyenrode's objective 'Serving society by shaping responsible leaders', can hardly be mapped. Therefore, I want to ask alumni to describe what influence education has had on their lives. Only then will we be able to see what our education has actually meant for them. That is when you get to hear the real-life stories." 

Here, too, the BHAG plays a role: "Of course it is nice when a student or participant has been able to achieve his or her BHAG. But it may also be that you adjust your path towards achieving your BHAG along the way. That is also what my parents did. My mother got homesick and longed back for the Netherlands. And there is nothing wrong with adjusting your plans. The BHAG is not a plan, it is a wonderful and stimulating goal." 

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