Interview with Brandon Kirby,
Director of MBA Marketing and Admissions, Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

How would you describe your Full-time MBA programme in 50 words?

A top-ranked, extremely diverse, academically challenging programme that attracts the brightest minds from around the world. Our programme places an emphasis on sustainability and being the force for positive change in the world.

Why do aspiring managers come to your school for a full-time MBA? Are there specific career paths, industries, or specialisations that your MBA caters for most effectively?

Many managers are looking for a truly global experience in the classroom. Our class is 97% international (non-Dutch), so they will learn about the cultures and approaches to business from around the world.

If you look at the composition of our class, you’ll notice that we draw from a wide array of industries. For this reason, I wouldn’t say that we necessarily focus on any one specific industry. While it’s true that a high percentage of our candidates do follow finance and consulting paths after graduation, our approach is to provide students with the tools they need to be successful leaders, no matter the industry.

To that end, the programme allows students the opportunity to focus on areas of interest, such as finance, strategy, marketing, supply chain management and sustainability, through the programme’s advanced concentrations.

When is the full-time MBA the right choice career-wise and when should professionals consider part-time and executive formats instead?

Typically, we see full-time students as career changers. They are looking to pivot their career into another industry, country or function – and for this, a full-time programme is a great option. For our executive programmes, we often see students who are looking to move up within their own company or industry, where a part-time programme makes more sense, as they do not come out of the workforce. Of course, there are exceptions to the statements above, but in general this is what we see.

Another item for consideration would be whether a candidate can afford to come out of the workforce and study full time. This situation is especially challenging with two-year, full-time MBA programmes.  Being that RSM only offers a one-year programme, it makes the financial constraints a bit easier to handle.

Whom will Full-time MBA participants learn from at your business school?

For the core courses of the programme (finance, accounting, etc.) students will learn from a 100% PhD faculty, many of whom come from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), which is one of the best in Europe. Many of the professors have consulting experience, in addition to their academic one, so they understand the blend of practice and theory. Our electives are taught by industry experts or visiting faculty, our goal being to find the best experts to teach the material and then bring them into the RSM classroom.

As mentioned before, students will learn a tremendous amount from each other. This is the reason we require a minimum of three years’ working experience. I’ve already touched upon the diversity angle by country and industry, but nearly 40% of our students (and rising) are women.

Finally, the programme offers internships and numerous experiential learning elements. In particular, the Living Management Consulting Project comes to mind. During the project, groups of students work with outside companies on a real-life business challenge, providing the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the programme. The project simulates working on a complex, multi-disciplinary issue, but in a learning environment.

Concerning age and years of professional experience, can a professional get “too old” for a full-time MBA or be deemed “overqualified” for admission? On the other hand, what is the right time to commit to full-time MBA studies to achieve the optimum return on investment (ROI)?

It really all comes down to motivation and what a candidate is looking to do after they complete the programme. It’s not uncommon for PhD holders to do our programmes, even though they are highly qualified – even over qualified. However, often these candidates are looking for the skills to lead a team of researchers or to make the move from academic to the boardroom. In other words, they still need the skills that an MBA teaches.

In addition, I think it’s important for the business school to set the right expectation. If a candidate would be significantly older than their peers in the classroom, it’s our job to let them understand that. Some people don’t mind having 10-12 years’ more experience than their peers, but others do. In the end, I’d say it’s more about the mentality a candidate has, rather than their age.

As for ROI, I suppose the sooner the better, so that there are more working years to recoup the investment. However, at the same time, if a candidate does a programme too early in their career, they might run the risk of not gaining the most from the programme. For example, learning about leadership concepts is important, but if someone is just starting out in their career they might be five to ten years away from a management position. I might ask, “Is that too far away?”

What should aspiring managers consider when choosing between one-year and two-year full-time MBA programmes and what are the unique advantages of your programme format?

I mentioned this before, but I think a major question comes down to finances. Can someone afford to take two years away from a paycheck AND cover their cost of living. Then consider what the ROI from that is and examine whether a one-year programme can provide the same desired outcomes.

Two-year programmes often have internships and a final project included that make up the second year. We also recognise the value of internships, which is why we give the opportunity as well, even though we aren’t a two-year programme.

Academically, the learning in a one-year and two-year programme are very similar. Our programme is very intense, but we find that our students recognise the advantages of earning their degree and returning to the workforce (often in a completely different industry, country and/or function) within a year.

Full-time MBA studies require full commitment, but are participants really “out of the job market” during their studies?

Yes and no. While we can’t prevent it, we strongly discourage attempting to work while in the programme. Most candidates come to the Netherlands on a student visa, so they are prevented from working legally, but even then there have been situations where students have tried to study and work. It simply doesn’t work. It’s difficult enough to find the time required for studies when the programme is the only thing, but when a job is in the mix, it’s impossible.

However, they are always in the “job market,” because they are looking for the next opportunity after the programme. The Career Centre works extremely hard to prepare students for their next job, while providing the opportunities to meet with companies. So, even though they aren’t working, they are still actively in the job market during the programme.

How do MBA participants at your school get a taste of real business action during their MBA studies?

I mentioned the Living Management Project earlier, which is a great example of real business action. It’s also usually a student favourite when reflecting on their time in the programme.

In addition, students are required to take a study trip to one of seven destinations, each of which focuses on a particular theme. For example, Costa Rica focuses on sustainability, Lisbon on Entrepreneurialism. This experience is a great way to see how business is conducted in yet another country, as well as to focus on a specific theme. Each trip also includes students from our EMBA programmes, which allows for a more enriched classroom environment, as well as great networking opportunities.

We also offer numerous clubs and competitions for students to join. One of the biggest is the Private Equity Challenge, which is put on by RSM MBA students and attracts teams from the top business schools in Europe. Teams are presented with a case and they must work together to find the best outcomes. Another example, would be “Get in the Ring’, held by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, a pitch competition for start-up ideas.

Learning takes place out of the classroom as well. What is it that actually makes up the full MBA experience at your school?

We are known for being collaborative, before we are competitive, which I think really sets RSM apart in the business school world. We’ve won the spirit award at the MBAT Tournament, held in Paris, for at least three years in a row. Other schools comment on how like a family we seem. That’s not to say we don’t want to succeed or that our students aren’t driven, smart and motivated. Quite the contrary, we believe that we can accomplish more together.

As an MBA experience in the Netherlands, students are at the gateway to Europe in a modern, young, and vibrant city. And while there is always much work to be done, the weekends can be used to visit Amsterdam, London or Paris quite quickly. Add this to the fact that nearly everyone in the Netherlands speaks English, and it doesn’t take much more to see why candidates are interested in our programme.

What is a typical day/week like for a Full-time MBA participant at your school?

Studying and being in class. Intense. Fun. The typical day starts at 09:00 and goes until 16:30, Monday through Friday. After class, students usually study, work in their groups, or go to see their business coaches – it really depends.

What makes your Full-time MBA alumni feel happy and proud after graduation from your business school?

Knowing that they’ve joined a group of fellow graduates who are looking to make a change in the world. Pride in that they were able to complete an intense programme that challenged them academically and personally – and they learned so many things about themselves.