Sofie De Beule-Roloff is COO and management-team member at the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). From the sidelines she is faced with European crises on a daily basis. But what are the underlying mechanisms? What are the ingredients for European solidarity? With these questions in mind, she began the DBA programme in September 2021.
Sofie has lived and worked in Luxemburg for most of her career. She hoped that a diploma in International Hotel management would take her around the world. But, after starting with the Sheraton group, she soon felt that her passion lies elsewhere. In Leicester (UK) she attended Monfort University, where she got her master's in Law, Employment Law & Practice. After that, she worked as an HR manager for several companies. These days she is Chief Operating Officer (COO) and management-team member for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a permanent fund that provides emergency loans for EU states in financial distress. “As COO I’m responsible for what happens behind the scenes. My job covers three divisions: HR & Organisation, Business Strategy & Project Management, and thirdly, IT & Facility Management. I was onboarded in 2012 as Head of Human Resources & Organisation. The emergency fund began life as a temporary organisation, but it soon transpired that a permanent European institution was needed, and I was asked to set up the relevant structures in the capacity of HR manager. You are independent as a European institution, so you have to build everything yourself from scratch, from payroll to social security. Then, in 2019, I joined the management team as COO.”
Sofie keeps the systems running behind the scenes. But she pays just as much attention to what's happening in the workplace. European economics, politics and society lie at the basis of our organisation's work. This is where the seed to follow the DBA programme was sown. “I am in daily contact with colleagues and researchers who monitor the EU's financial stability. It fascinates me. I am very curious by nature too, and I often try to establish ‘why’ a certain thing might be. Over my career I have gained a vast experience of different businesses and cultures. I get to use my creativity, my drive for results and my ability to connect with people easily in my work, and I’m still learning on the job every day. But I thought it was a good time to get back into some theory. I would compare it to healthy cooking. We can all follow a recipe, but I want to know more about the methods and ingredients, and to write my own recipes..”
Sofie began her DBA programme with a focus on European solidarity. The biggest challenge at the start of the programme is to fine-tune your research. And how is she finding the process? “At the moment I am in the learning phase. As a subject, European solidarity is obviously quite broad. The main thing that I am interested in is the different European responses to crises. Where solidarity is concerned, I want to focus most of my attention on the European Green Deal. How do different EU countries tackle the transition? How do we convince the hardest hit people, regions and sectors and support them in their transition to a climate neutral society? How do we head for a greener and more sustainable Europe without leaving anyone behind? That's still a bit vague, but it's part of the learning process. At the moment I’m taking a lot in; focusing and fine-tuning are the next step.”
In the meantime, the first rounds of lessons are over. What has Sofie made of the last few months? “When you get started it's quite a leap in the dark. But consider the programme's possibilities! It is mostly about reading academic articles in the beginning. To be honest it can be heavy going, and it takes a bit of getting used to. What have I learned up to now? How much I don't know. It’s like those Russian Matryoshka dolls. You lift off the top and find another underneath, and then another ... so you keep learning more and more. And that's what I find so fascinating about this programme. It's like you are a sponge. Constantly learning and forming impressions. Of all kinds of things, like the other DBAers. We are a tight-knit group. From different backgrounds, professional and private. Our interactions with each other and the professors throw up fascinating insights. To continue the cooking analogy: on this first year I've had some rich ‘food for thought’ to keep the hunger at bay, and it has only heightened my appetite and cravings for more.”
When Sofie let it be known that she was starting the DBA-programme, friends and colleagues were wide-eyed with surprise. She had so many plates spinning. How could she manage another? “It wasn't an underestimation on my part. I do have a very responsible job, that's true. But I found a little room for manoeuvre in my private life. My kids are students, so I’m no longer a full-time mom. And anyway, the programme invigorates me. I’m also happy with the guidance I get from Vlerick. I can sense the team's passion and it motivates me.”
And how does the future look?
“In the first place, I hope my research is of benefit to the ESM. And then, I want to give something back to society. Play my part in a rightful transition to a greener and more sustainable Europe. I might get to transfer my passion and knowledge to the next generations, by doing something like teaching. For me, it's about giving, taking, giving back, and so on. We have to be there for each other in our society. A DBA is not a ‘free lunch’. The programme will cost me blood, sweat and possibly tears. But if it lets me give something back to society, no matter how small, I’ll be motivated to keep toiling and sweating. 😊”