Every year 20 students from the University of Groningen participate in the International Financial Program (IFP) where they conduct research for internationally oriented companies in a specific target-country. They provide answers for business questions and provide tailor-made consultancy services. The students are guided and accompanied throughout the entire process by two Professors from the university with business experience and backgrounds. Get to know our professors Jim Emanuels and Dick de Waard a little better with this in-depth interview about their life, experiences and thoughts on IFP!
What is your educational background ?
Jim: Just like the participants of IFP, I completed my bachelor and masters degree in business economics at the University of Groningen . I was really interested in accountancy so I conclusively specialized and got my PhD in accounting and focused on Internal Control afterwards.
Dick: I did not really follow the conventional education path, I started at MAVO 3 and gradually advanced until I was able to do the accountancy track. I followed the part-time program in the evening and worked at an accountancy firm during the day. Afterwards, I completed my post-doctoral in environmental accountancy at the University of Amsterdam and later on received my PhD in corporate governance (accountancy).
What exactly is your position / job and what do you find most interesting about this?
Jim: I am co-founder and a partner of Tacstone, my main-job being an management consultant. I help and support management and boards of directors, often with digitalization, strategy and risk management challenges. Tacstone works with companies from various sectors, so we do not specialize in one particular sector. Tacstone also holds a holds a portfolio of investments. I am a part-time professor at the University of Groningen, and I am member of the supervisory board of a few not-for-profit organizations. I really like the variety of it all, when different problems arise I can use my experience and education to solve those problems. I am not really the type for daily routine work.
Dick: I hold two positions at the University of Groningen, I am the chair of the accountancy department and I am the educational director of the executive master of accountancy. I am mostly responsible for the auditing courses, whereas Jim is responsible for the internal control courses. Additionally, I am a professor in Corporate social responsibility at the University of Curaçao and chair of the accountancy department over there as well. I also serve as a member of three supervisory boards.
How did you get to the position that you are in right now, and does this differ from how you previously envisioned your future when you were young?
Jim: After i graduated I spoke with a lot of people about their experience and became sure that I wanted to become an auditor. I also ended up being one of the youngest graduated and promoted accountants. My boss gave me the chance to complete my PhD in auditing whilst working at the firm. I could now explore the scientific side of the profession. I eventually chose to become more active in consultancy, and stopped working as an auditor.
Dick: I never really imagined myself attending a university, used to go from school to school and wanted to work at sea when I was younger. Only after I started working at an audit firm I realized that this was something I was really interested in. I decided that I wanted to be successful in accountancy and become a partner. Eventually I ended up working for Ernst & Young for 35 years and became partner after 17 years.
Why did you choose to become active at a university in addition to your job at the time, and what do you like most about it?
Jim: I had a fulltime career and worked at PWC and KPMG before I started engaging in university work. After I finished my PhD in 1995 I was approached by some universities because accounting tracks became really popular at the time. I first started at Nyenrode Business University and was facing really big groups of students, without any teaching experience. I eventually stopped teaching at Nyenrode because I did not completely know if that was what I wanted to do. I did however keep writing and publishing articles together with colleagues, and when I was handed the opportunity to work together with those same colleagues at the University of Groningen, I could not refuse. I have been working there since 2003 and still enjoy it very much.
Dick: After my graduation, the Dutch Accountants Association asked me to teach in the same track that I completed. I really liked teaching people about the profession and spreading my knowledge to students. After one year of teaching my boss at the time, who was a professor himself, presented me with a vacancy at the University and I ended up taking this part time job beside my appointment at Ernst & Young. I really like teaching students in lecture halls and like it even more when students respond back to me so we can have a discussion.
Do you have (in addition to IFP) a lot of previous international experience? For example, lived / worked abroad?
Jim: I never lived abroad but I have worked on many international projects, with companies as well as for universities. I also really enjoy travelling and tried to combine it with fun and interesting stuff, such as scuba diving, which was great to do.
Dick: Even though I would have liked to (temporarily) live abroad, this was hard to combine with my wife’s job. As a compromise I ended up working with a lot of international clients whilst working at Ernst & Young so I could regularly visit other countries. And nowadays when I visit Curaçao as a professor I end up staying there for extended periods of time.
How many editions of IFP have you accompanied?
Jim: This is my fourth time working as an assisting professor with IFP. I have accompanied the students to Tanzania and to India, but unfortunately we could not travel to Peru in the previous edition due to the Corona virus.
Dick: This will be my eight’ time as an assisting professor with the current program-design. I also accompanied IFP to new York a really long time ago when the program-design was still different.
What are the tasks of a professor when you are guiding IFP students, what role do you assume?
Jim: I think the most important role as a professor is to motivate and inspire the students. People sign up for IFP because they want to gain experience, and I want to play a supporting role in that experience. I think there really has to be a connection between the students and the professor. Second of all I have to coach them in securing projects and assignments. Especially in the beginning you can teach them how to get started and encourage them to remain motivated along the way. My role is also different every year though, some groups take more initiative themselves and some groups need more help.
Dick: I always saw my role as complementary, you can always contact me if you need anything but I really want students to take the lead. The students can use me if they want help or advice and I will be at their service. Sometimes you also need to encourage them a bit and help to guide them in the right direction, because after 35 years’ experience you know where the pitfalls are.
Why is a collaboration with IFP valuable for a company, what kind of value can be added?
Jim: A lot of organizations have multiple problems or potential ideas that they want to look in to, but do not have the time or resources to accomplish this. I might cost a lot of employee-time or otherwise money to research. This is the perfect opportunity for those organization to outsource those research questions to motivated, young and enthusiastic university students who are accompanied by experienced professors. Second of all, it offers a great recruitment perspective for companies that need a yearly flow of new employees. They get in contact with young talented students that are just starting their careers.
Dick: Companies can still let students solve their research questions at cost price, which is really low in comparison to normal prices. This also gives the students the responsibility to execute the research as good as possible and really deliver results that companies can implement. Another reason is of course the recruitment perspective, this is useful for companies as well as students, especially the older ones. Some companies specifically requested finance master students to work on their project so they could possibly offer them a job. Overall I think the whole project is a golden formula, extremely beneficial for both parties that participate.
Why is participating in IFP valuable for students, what do they learn the most?
Jim: That is a very good question, I think that without doubt the most important thing is learning to work together in a team. Students normally start learning this during group assignments at the university, but IFP is next level and way more intensive. You have to act and react quicker than you are used to, and also have to travel together. When things don’t go as well as planned they have to help each other and find solutions, I think this is a very valuable skill in corporate life. Of course they also start networking and get a taste of possible career paths.
Dick: The students learn to interview people, gather information, judge content and ask the right-formulated questions. They really learn to operate in teams and rely on each other. After spending so much time with each other they will know how to communicate correctly other and remain patient. Sometimes they will also come in contact with important people, CEO’s, and will learn that they are also just human. I think it is more important to have extracurricular activities like IFP on your CV than high grades.
Why do you think that desk-research (instead of field-research because of COVID-19) can still be valuable for companies ?
Jim: The situation that the world is in right now is uncharted territory for everybody. The research project as well as the way of communicating have to be adapted, and both company and student can learn from this. A lot of the research has to be completed in the Netherlands, still with the help of foreigners, and this is a change from recent years. This also offers opportunities, you can research the influence of COVID-19 for instance. Overall, a lot of preparation and orientation beforehand is needed.
Dick: I still think that students will take the needed time that companies won’t grant themselves, the students will dig deep for multiple months and try to find the right information. We will also connect with locals from the country in question that can help us with the research question. It might be harder to obtain than usual but students will still identify where value can be added.
What is your best IFP memory or moment whilst being abroad?
Jim: I have quite a few, in Tanzania we went to an island off the coast in our spare time, we had dinner over there and had a great time on the island as well as on the boat back. In India I suddenly found myself in a dance club with the students, which was really unexpected but really fun. Next to the recreative side we also had a lot of tense and excited moments. The moments where everything goes wrong, but you still find a way to pull through and deliver a valuable research can be really rewarding.
Dirk: Every trip was very different but there were a lot of valuable moments. One research focused on Panama as well as Costa rica and we went to Costa Rica with a really close and small group in the first week. The group that went to Peru was really diverse and we went ‘sandsurfing’ on the dunes. We also managed to get an interview with the minister of economic affairs in Peru who came to visit us at the university, which was really special.