Hans Maenhout loves a challenge and doesn't always take the shortest route from A to B. The Vlerick DBA programme came at just the right time. ‘It was either that or training for a marathon’, laughs Hans. Now the doctorate is his marathon, and he's trying to train for it every day.
Hans Maenhout graduated in 1992 as a civil engineer. Then embarked on a crisscross professional career. He began in R&D at Texaco and ended up in the US, where he first got a taste for finance. After that, he worked as crisis manager for Almanij, now the KBC group. The third chapter of his career was set in the world of start-ups. Today Hans works as an investment director for Finindus. He spends the day searching for investment opportunities, helping businesses grow and then selling or merging them into bigger groups.
He's not one for sitting still. “I’m quite inquisitive, although that might be something of an understatement”, laughs Hans. “Every few years I have to start something new, or at least follow a new course.” The list of courses on Hans’ CV is impressive to say the least: corporate finance, corporate law, international management (Vlerick), mergers & acquisitions (Insead) ...
“I reached a point where I started feeling restless. I had taken just about every course there was (laughs). Until I read about the DBA programme in the Vlerick newsletter. It was the challenge I was looking for. I was in my early 50s, when some people of my age run into a mid-life crisis. A few friends of mine started training for a marathon; well, this is my marathon. Because, ultimately, it's the kind of feat you have to train for every day.”
Hans started in 2019. That summer he submitted his research idea. “The hardest part is probably narrowing the subject down. I knew I wanted to do something on risk capital. A broad subject that I was keen to research. Fortunately, there are supervisors to get you on track. With their guidance, I looked for gaps in the literature. Well, relevant gaps. An area isn't necessarily of relevance to the academic world just because nobody has ever researched it. My topic turned out to be early stage companies. More particularly, how the shareholder structure influences corporate governance in the start-up stage and how this affects the further development of the start-up.”
A topic that ties in closely with Hans’ current professional activities. “I wouldn't last the four years if it didn't. Which doesn't mean that the course dovetails neatly into your professional life. You’ve got to set limits and set aside time for your course and your research work in a structured way. Especially in the period leading up to the course modules. And in the weeks that follow it. It's pretty intensive.
Every one of the course weeks is an eye opener. You think you know something about the academic world, you've had a university education, but you have absolutely no idea. The way the research is done, the importance of rigour, relevance and reach, for example... how enlightening! And yes, it takes time. In the beginning I just wanted to get on with it, but it was by learning more about methods like qualitative research that I was able to narrow my topic down.
What I didn't know when I started is that you don't really get to work on your topic in the first year. You have to let go of the “I already know what I want to do” mindset. The birth of a subject is a time consuming process. And time is a rare commodity, as I am only-too aware, because the hardest part is about to come, I believe. Now it's up to me to set the rhythm and find the discipline to continue my research work.”
Hans has now been on the programme for almost two years. Does he have any idea of where he wants to take it? “I see it mostly as a process of personal enrichment. It also helps me in my job, of course. A few other opportunities have come along as well. I've been able to give a few guest lectures at Vlerick. And now I’ve got a taste for it. Who knows what doors may open for me?”
Hans Maenhout, Investment Director at Finindus