From a practical viewpoint the programme is well conceived. You get to wear your researcher's hat, but your feet stay firmly rooted in practice.

Barbara Arnst, Belgium
Institution:Vlerick Business School
Program:Doctorate in Business Administration
Degree:Kick-off year: 2021

In the late 90s Barbara Arnst graduated in sinology. And her reason for this line of study? A desire to understand the world. The same driver that brought her to the DBA programme. The hardest part to date: letting go of research subjects. “When you come from the business world you maintain a broad outlook. But for research purposes, you have to shift from broad to narrow.”

From sinology to consultancy

After studying in China for a year, Barbara began her career in 2000 for Bain & Company, a management advice agency. She intended to return to China at some point, but for now she was engrossed in a new passion: consultancy. After 13 years she put Bain & Company behind her and continued her career at Groupon, Telenet and Gimv. At that time she also did a few executive MBA modules at Vlerick. Today she works at Telenet, where she runs the Agile Centre of Excellence. Whether a coincidence or not, her job ties in perfectly with her doctoral research.

The recurring theme of the agile organisation

“One is in fact related to the other. The issue that has always occupied my mind, since the very beginning of my career, is this: are there better and smarter ways to organise our businesses, to prepare them for the challenges of tomorrow?

In my urgency to understand everything, I thought the time had come to consider this from an academic perspective. And I saw the range of challenges that were arrayed before the business world: digitalisation, influx of millennials to the labour market and, more recently, COVID-19. With that at the back of my mind, I began my DBA journey in September 2020.”

Learning to let go

That was months ago. So what's her take on the programme today? “What stands out for me is that the academic world thinks in a completely different way than the business world. My outlook was very broad ranging to begin with. I wondered, does an agile organisation actually work? But, of course, that is far too broad an issue. Academic research is all about focusing on a particular element of a puzzle. For example: is it to do with motivation in different types of teams, or with how teams collaborate? You have to make choices and learn to narrow your view. It's an entirely new approach to anyone who comes in from the business world, because we tend to cultivate a broad view in business. The hardest thing to date has been ‘letting go’. It has been 7 months now, and I still haven't pinpointed the area I’m going to focus on. But I see my fellow students all wrestling with the same challenge.”

Inspiring other businesses

The doubt hasn't held her back. On the contrary. “This doctorate is an intense and personal project. You can't do anything but throw your all into it. But it's tough too, because you end up facing yourself in some respects. Personal motivation aside, I want this project to have some real significance. In my current job, of course. But I’m thinking further ahead too. I think I can be of inspiration to other businesses in a consultancy role.”

The Vlerick mindset is akin to that of the business world

Although the DBA programme is an intense experience for her, she describes the Vlerick organisation as first rate. “From a practical viewpoint the programme is well conceived. You get to wear your researcher's hat, but your feet stay firmly rooted in practice. I am amazed at how Vlerick manages to unite these two worlds. The interaction with fellow students is just as interesting. They each have their own professional kit, which throws up all kinds of new perspectives.

More Information

University Profile:Vlerick Business School
DBA-Profile::Doctorate in Business Administration

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