Bart van der Heijden loves IT and business, and preferably the two combined. No prizes then, for guessing his DBA research subject. In 2013 he got his MBA at Vlerick. But a doctorate raises the bar a notch higher, says Bart.
With a bachelor's in computer science (from Avans University College Breda) and a master's in business information systems (from the Technical University of Eindhoven), he found work as a consultant at Deloitte. That was initially in the Netherlands, until the family crossed the border to Belgium. “I gave advice on the best ways to organise an IT department. I focused on getting IT and business into better alignment. It gave me a lot of hands-on experience, but I needed a broader context to work in. For that reason, I enrolled for the MBA at Vlerick in 2011. To complete the programme I worked part-time for two years, I left Deloitte after five years and started working for Truvo, who publish the Goudengids. That business was taken over by FCR Media Belgium, where I am now the Chief Technology Officer. I run the IT and marketing departments there.”
I enjoy conceptual thinking
When Bart mentioned his DBA application to his friends and family they were surprised. He had an MBA, hadn't he? “Actually, when I finished my master's at Eindhoven I wanted to do a PhD, but my parents reckoned it was about time I got back into ‘real’ life. (laughs). But the itch never went away. I get a lot of pleasure from conceptual thinking, and I love coming up with theories and frameworks.
When I saw the DBA programme advertised in the coronavirus crisis, I took the plunge. I see it as a logical step in my career, because I’m forty, I have a management role, and you sometimes wonder: ‘what's the next step?’. (laughs) Not only that, but one day, in some way or other, I would like to pass my knowledge on. At the Vlerick Business School, for example, or as a consultant again.”
Bart applied around Christmas 2020 and was admitted in April 2021. “A tough start. The admission procedure wasn’t exactly straightforward, but for that very reason you realise that ‘this is serious’. When I was accepted I had a meeting with my promoters, Stijn Viaene and Amy Van Looy. They encouraged me to start my literature search right away. I gave up my summer holidays, but with hindsight that was a good move. By September I was ahead, for which I was very grateful.”
“My research is on the subject of operating models. What's the definition? How can you describe them? What are the key elements? In my literature search, these are the questions I focused on. The next step, now, is to decide the method. Do I make a case study, or carry out a qualitative or quantitative study …?”
After doing an MBA at Vlerick, Bart knows what to expect. But the DBA is another kettle of fish. “Obviously, it's a strong combination. It was no different on my MBA. Back then I was in the middle of a home extension, we had a third child on the way and I had a lot of responsibilities at work. But the DBA is on another level. The sheer quantity of articles to read keeps rising. And you have to read them through an academic lens. It takes some getting used to. Luckily, Vlerick helps you on your way.”
So what's the difference with the MBA? They tend to leave you to your own devices. On the MBA we did a lot of classic work. But now you are on your own, and it's up to you to find virgin soil in your research field. But it's the depth that really appeals to me. Vlerick gives you a box of building blocks and methodologies and it's up to you to identify what fits your research best.”
Any tips, Bart, for future candidates? “Hammer any problems out with your partner and involve your family in the journey. My children are 9, 11 and 13, and they are thrilled to see daddy getting marked at school. (laughs) And it all comes down to planning. I’m up at 6:30 on Sundays, for example, and I work until 10. Then I have breakfast with the family. My sporting ambitions – I used to do triathlon – are on the back burner. I’ll get back to them later.”