A year of the independent chairman of Asset: Joep Paumen
In spring 2016, I had been living in Tilburg for eight months, and enjoyed the student life. About one year ago, April 11th, I chaired a committee that organised the Asset Conference. It was the first experience I had with organising such an event. The days just before the event were intense, and afterwards there was ample spare time. I focused on the upcoming exams from my master supply chain management and looked forward to the summer holidays and future employment opportunities.
Things turned out quite different than how they were supposed to go. During my brief time at Asset, I met a lot of great and ambitious people. A new friend which I met during the organisation of the Asset Conference, asked me whether I was interested in a board year. Without doubt, a board year would be a great experience, but till that moment I had not really considered it. After some thoughts, I realised that this could be a great addition to my development. Especially, the position of chairman at Asset appealed to me.
After a meeting with Evert Hoogsteen, the acting chairman of Asset at the time, I got a better idea about what the position would entail. Looking back, I still did not know a lot about what I would face during my board year. However, it was clear to me, that it would be a challenging and fun position. I wrote a motivation letter and updated my curriculum vitae. I had two interview rounds and in the beginning of June I was informed that I was the candidate chairman of Asset. I quite well remember the phone call of Evert Hoogsteen at that time. People do not see me as a nervous type, but at that moment I was. At the end of the conversation, I asked whether the news that I would be the new chairman of Asset, was to be kept secret. With some hesitation the response was: ”Yes we should try to keep it a secret until your announcement four weeks from now”.
“Soon, I experienced that there was no point in trying.”
Soon, I experienced that there was no point in trying. In June I attended the announcements of the departments and other associations in Tilburg. Already at the first meeting, I got congratulated by people I did not even know. Even though I met quite a lot of new people during my first eight months in Tilburg, I got to know at least double that amount in that single month. However, this was only a forerunner of what was yet to come.
The summer months were a period in which the board members of Asset got the opportunity to get to know each other and the period in which the transfer of responsibilities took place. During this period, I was introduced to strategic partners of Asset: other study associations, student fractions and representations of the employees of Tilburg University.
Furthermore, the policy for the upcoming academic year had to be written. This was a joint effort with other members of general board of Asset; all the chairmen of the Asset departments. They spend half their time on leading their department and the other half on Asset general tasks. As chairman, it is my task to lead them, amongst others in the weekly general board meeting that I chair.
In August, I took a few weeks off and when I came back, I started to realise what a unique organisation Asset actually is. With 6000 members, it is not only one of the largest student associations in Europe, but it also has a structure that is unlike any other study association. Seven Asset departments, each with their own board and committees, provide services and organise events for their specific target groups. Besides this, the 43 full-time board members of Asset work together on overhead tasks and organising services and events for all students of Tilburg School of Economics and Management.
At the start of the academic year, the students return to the university. At that time, the committees of Asset are starting-up. About 600 members start working 2-14 hours per week on the organisation of activities and services that contribute to one of the three pillars of Asset: study support, career development and social cohesion. In September, the former board members were thanked for their efforts. From that moment, I was responsible for what happened at Asset.
Not more than two days had passed and I experienced what this meant. The treasurer and promotion coordinator of Asset told me that we came short on promotional giveaways. If we would order the same day the products would be delivered in time. However, this would result in exceeding the budget with a few thousand euros. Looking back at my decision to order, I realise that during the year this was not the decision with the most impact. However, at that moment, it felt as a major one.
“Connecting students and employers is our core business.”
With the novelty of the first month of the academic year gone, it was time to take steps with regards to the approved policy. A great part of the policy was targeted at enhancing the collaboration with Tilburg University. Already, we had presented our policy to the management team of TiSEM and the executive board of Tilburg University during lunch meetings. Now, it was time to put our ideas into practise. The management team of TiSEM informed and instructed the academic directors on the policy. However, a lot of work and lobbying still has to be done by the departments in their contacts with the same academic directors. This required coordination from me as well. Fortunately, I had time to do so, since the other general board members of Asset take up a lot of tasks to make Asset run smoothly.
A good example was the organization of the Asset Inhouse Days. This was executed by the acquisition coordinator and the external affairs officers of Asset. Many students get the chance to visit over fifteen companies located all over the Netherlands. Connecting students and employers is our core business. An event like the Asset Inhouse Days is a serious source of income for our association, and a great way for students to get a good insight in multiple companies.
November is a month in which a lot of formal events are organized by the various departments. One of the great privileges of being the chairman of Asset is that you can join any of about 100 formal events organised, but you are never obliged or expected to. These formal events include company visits, symposia, development days, recruitment events, study trips and business dinners. The same counts for the large amount of social activities and parties that are organised by departments. One of the events that the chairman of Asset is required to join is the yearly gala of Asset. However, that is definitely not a burden. This party is one of the highlights of the year where Asset members have a great time together.
I realised that time was running extremely fast. The opportunities that came with my position were great. I for instance had dinner with the CEO of Wolters Kluwer, Nancy McKinstry. Also, I accompanied the Dutch secretary of state for education, Sander Dekker, through the Asset premises. Furthermore, I interviewed the Dutch minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Those are experiences to never forget. Additionally, the position of chairman of Asset, gave me the opportunity to help with setting up a new study association for data science, to be member of the lustrum project team of Tilburg University, and to work on the idea to build a Tilburg Talent Platform. With the Christmas break ahead, I was busy with completing tasks and looking forward to the second half of the academic year.
Though, not before attending the COdE, a bi-annual cantus for all active members of Asset. With about 400 students attending, all with a heart for Asset, this was yet another reminder of the size of Asset and what we are capable of.
After some rest, I could not wait on getting back to work. With some fresh ideas formed during my break it was time to review the plans made in the beginning of the academic year and set a new course. During the first semester all board members are trying to find their way in the organization, and learn to manage their tasks. Some issues arise and I was able to help solving them, which is motivating and honourable work. Having managed the internal affairs, there was ample time to focus externally. The chairman of Asset is the face towards external parties, and building relationships, seizing opportunities and representing Asset’s interests externally is real fun.
These relationships span a larger area than just Tilburg. In the SEBO, which is the national consultative body, I discuss topical matters with the chairmen of the larger economic study associations all over the country. It is a positive moment to join forces as we are all facing the same challenges: digitalization, enforcement of our career events’ supply, and the possibility to engage our students even better in the activities we organize.
Asset is a very important stakeholder in Tilburg University and vice versa. Therefore, I have been in contact with the persons in the highest positions in Tilburg University, such as the executive board, various directors and the management team of TiSEM. With the latter, I have regular meetings to build on the collaboration plan which was started this academic year. The collaboration plan focusses on improving skills of students and preparing them for the labour market. The more students participate in activities organised by Asset, the more success will be realised. Besides this plan, we envision many opportunities to cooperate between TiSEM and Asset.
“All serious events aside, there are also heaps of informal activities to join in Tilburg.”
Asset in its current form exists for five years now. One of my four predecessors proposed a trip with the five people that chaired Asset, and off we went to Riga. It was fun to see how much we differed in some ways and how much we were alike in other aspects. It was interesting to discover how much Asset has changed in the past years. At the start a lot had to be discovered and new ways of working had to be found. Later, there has been more room to look externally and ahead. To quote advisory council member, Afrom van Berg (Chairman Efact, predecessor Asset, 1995 – 1996): “The steps that the organization makes, the professionality that is added every year again is very impressive. You have come a long way”.
All serious events aside, there is also heaps of informal activities to join in Tilburg. That varies from a weekend trip with the chairmen of the largest study associations of Tilburg, to a dinner with our Alumni association or the gala of another association. All in all: a great and varied supply of activities. Tilburg may not be the Randstad, there are plenty of chances to seize – if you are willing to do so.
And here we are, April. A few weeks ago the first edition of the Business Night (successor of the Asset Conference) took place. A great success, with yet another auditorium filled to its full capacity (650 people) by an Asset organised event. The Business Night is also the opening of one of the largest recruitment events in the Netherlands: Economic Business weeks Tilburg (EBT), which is a limited company of Asset with its own full-time board whom I also had the pleasure to work with. Successes like the EBT or the Business Night come with other great spin-off effects. We discussed future options in our collaboration with the University together with Rector Magnificus Emile Aarts. And many other study and student associations congratulated us with our achievement, which is a valuable sign of mutual involvement.
Many departments will leave the country at the end of this month to go on one of more than ten study trips organised by Asset. The end of my assignment comes in sight. Yet, there are still four months in which I can try to further exploit the projects that I have personally chosen to start and work on, and I look forward to convey all the information, experience and relationships that I have gained this year to my successor.
“Showing my agenda, barely makes sense due to the fact that no week is alike.”
I often get the question: “What does the chairman of Asset actually do?” Each time, I struggle to answer this question, first of all since it is hard to tell in a few sentences, and secondly, because the tasks are hard to specify and would require me to go into a lot of detail. The above only shows a broad picture of what it entails. Showing my agenda barely makes sense due to the fact that no week is alike.
If I would have to give it a try I would describe it as follows: I am working on a strategic level. Half of my time, I coordinate and facilitate the internal organisation of Asset, through weekly board meetings, individual conversations with board members, and answering various questions. The other half of my time I operate externally: enhancing the relations with employees of Tilburg University, other associations, the student fractions and many others. These meetings often take place in a small or one-on-one setting. If opportunities to intensify collaboration or to start new projects reveal, I try to make plans to seize the opportunity. Where possible I try to use the information and relationships gained externally to facilitate the internal organisation.
I can imagine that this still sounds fuzzy to you, and if that bothers you, do not hesitate to contact me 🙂