‘Long-term sector-based research is a priority’

Dean Marion Debruyne on the strategic importance of corporate partnerships

You might say that new Dean Marion Debruyne lives and breathes Vlerick, so no-one is better placed to appreciate the strategic importance of corporate partnerships. “Thanks to our corporate partners, we can delve into business-relevant topics and both teaching staff and students have the opportunity to get to know a company from the inside. We’re fully committed to long-term sector-based research, now and in the future.”

Where and how do corporate partnerships fit into the overall picture at Vlerick?

Dean Marion Debruyne: “As an academic business school, our primary aim is to touch peoples’ lives, so our research has to have rigour, relevance and reach: it must be executed well, be based on concrete issues and have impact. Our corporate partners bring those issues and topics to us, and we give them significant added value with our academic approach. That interaction delivers impact for both parties: our partners gain insight and understanding to facilitate their growth, while we can enhance our programmes with applied research and real-life business cases. Compared with other international – and especially American – business schools, fundraising isn’t firmly rooted in our culture as yet. Even so, corporate partnerships are financially important to the School, so we’re happy to put in the necessary time and effort.”

As a Vlerick professor, you’ve personally supervised corporate partnerships in recent years, for example with Swift, Optima and L'Oréal. What was your experience with those?

Marion Debruyne: “The context of each individual partnership was very different. For the Swift Chair, we researched ‘disruptive innovation’. That research also prepared the way for Bart Devoldere’s doctoral thesis. The Optima Chair involved us publishing an annual financial happiness barometer, which always attracted a lot of media attention. And thanks to Talent partner L’Oréal, our Marketing Masters students take part in Brandstorm every year, a business competition in which marketing students around the globe have to develop an innovative marketing strategy for one of L’Oréal’s brands.”

In your new position as Dean, are you planning to change the emphasis in the corporate partnerships?

Marion Debruyne: “No, not really. The number of corporate partnerships has increased in the past few years. Our strategy to focus on sectors such as finance, healthcare and energy is paying off. Bringing companies together to explore issues in these areas leads to cross-fertilisation between those companies and we are able to conduct in-depth research on topics that are vital to them. The way in which our Energy Centre has grown in the past couple of years illustrates my point: based on our experience with the Eandis Chair, we invited the key stakeholders in the Belgian energy market to a strategic workshop in order to pinpoint their greatest challenges – smart grids, renewable energy, and so on. This resulted in a white paper, together with a large-scale energy campaign, the upshot of which was that the Elia Group and KPMG each decided to endow a Chair. Later this month Eandis will be renewing its Chair and we’ll be establishing a DSO* Chair, which will also involve operators outside Belgium.
“We’re very pleased to see that more and more companies are opting for a Chair, with the prospect of five years of dedicated research ahead. The number of Talent partners, which focus on recruiting from our student body, is also on the rise. The interaction this sparks between our partners and our students creates the opportunity for us to incorporate concrete issues from the world of business into our specific teaching approach, known as ‘action-based learning’. So it’s a win-win situation all round!”

*DSO = distribution system operator

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