“Take the time to learn, it’ll benefit your company”

“Take the time to learn. It takes a lot of courage and it takes energy, but it’ll benefit your company in the long run." This is some of the advice that Prof. Dr. Willem Burggraaf gave his audience in his emeritus speech titled “De ondernemer centraal, tijd voor reflectie” (The entrepreneur as central theme, time to reflect). The speech took place on September 7th 2020 in the sports hall of Nyenrode Business University. "The university is known as ‘founded for and by business’. Today, too, the business community and the entrepreneur are central themes."

Burggraaf opened his speech by first paying homage to Dr. Jacques Postma, the former rector who gave his first academic speech at Nyenrode in 1950. "It was just after the war, and the room was filled with young men with career ambitions. In the early days of our institute, we had students such as Albert and Gerrit-Jan Heijn. At the time, Postma's lecture was full of references to classical antiquity, the academic accumulation of knowledge, the personal development of students and the responsibility an educational institution felt towards the Dutch state and international trade. Those are the roots of Nyenrode that are still being propagated to this day."

Successful entrepreneurship

The chance of successful entrepreneurship increases if you take enough time to reflect. But, as Burggraaf states: "We're so busy and there's so little time." Burggraaf highlighted his expertise using various metaphors: "Anyone can sail straight on calm waters. But in a storm, the entrepreneur builds a windmill, while the non-entrepreneur sets up a windbreak."  

Burggraaf invited his colleague Edgar Karssing, senior lecturer in Professional Ethics and Integrity Management, to contemplate entrepreneurship partly from the perspective of morality. Next, Jeroen Burger, Vice President Industrial Relations at Ahold Delhaize, linked this to business using some practical examples. Together they talked about how teleopathy, the narrowing of vision and focus, can jeopardize good entrepreneurship.

The danger of this focus, according to Karssing, is that "it can cause you to ignore important information, important values and responsibilities." When Burggraaf asks if there is a cure, Karssing states: "Of course. Taking time to reflect! To look at the big picture. To dare and ask yourself the question: is this still in line with my moral compass? Is that how I do good things the right way?" Here Karssing emphasizes the importance of the moral compass, "For," he states, "wealth is wonderful, but only as a reward for the happiness of others.” 

Time to reflect

Willem Burggraaf was the first PhD candidate of Nyenrode in 1988. After all these years, he now has more time to reflect and look back on a brilliant career: "I believe that Nyenrode must continue to take responsibility in the future, in the education of our students. In doing so, the dialogue between academic education, research and practice, will have to remain key.” After this he addresses the individual entrepreneur: "At the end of the day, when it comes down to the individual and therefore the entrepreneur, it's always about looking in the mirror and asking yourself: am I doing things well, am I doing the right things, and can I justify them".

Lastly, Burggraaf addresses the sponsor of his chair. Ahold has sponsored this since 1997. "I'm pleased to say that Ahold continues to support research into moral reflection and the moral compass of commercial society."

Watch the summary of the speech. Please note, the speech is in Dutch.