Don’t focus on the destination. The journey is just as fulfilling.

Benjamin De Brabander, Belgium
Institution:Vlerick Business School
Program:Doctorate in Business Administration
Degree:Kick-off year: 2019

Benjamin De Brabander is not one for sitting still. After graduating in industrial engineering he wanted to be a civil engineer. And when he finished his MBA he wanted to go for a PhD ... ‘There's always something to tickle the imagination’, he says. He has been on the DBA programme for just over two years now. We join him for a brief review of the early days and to look ahead to the future.

Benjamin De Brabander is Director in Technology Advisory at KPMG Belgium.
He is responsible for the Enterprise Solutions business unit. He began his career at Quadreon, which has since passed into the hands of Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft. He joined on the proviso that he would be able to start an MBA within three years. And that's exactly what happened. He enrolled for the executive MBA at Vlerick. Then, 10 years later, he returned for the DBA programme.

Giving something back to society

“I think it's a wonderful concept. You are so young when you embark on your career. You think you’ve got it all worked out, but still. (laughs). The DBA programme is nothing like the MBA in terms of approach. On the MBA you amass knowledge, but the PhD is about creating new knowledge. And you don't do it for yourself, but as a way of giving something back to society. And then, of course, there is your personal motivation for signing up. I have spent years on ERP and CRM-transformations, and you learn a lot along the way. I thought a DBA programme would be an interesting way to do some research on it.

You see, there's a direct link between my PhD and what I do on a daily basis. It's actually a precondition, or you would never be able to sustain it. I've got support from my work too. They have allowed me to put my training days towards finishing my DBA programme. And, of course, they have an interest in me doing it. I use what I learn in my daily practice, and they’ll soon have a Dr as part of the personnel. It reflects well on them too.” (laughs)

Looking for a needle in a haystack

“The main topic of my research is technology enabled business transformations. But it's a very broad concept. Every word in the phrase merits a research project. It takes a long time to narrow it down, to move from the wider perspective to that single needle in the haystack that hasn't much been studied and is still relevant. It's an ongoing process, and this is the result so far: ERP (Enterprise resource planning) enabled digital transformations. In a nutshell: how might ERP, a simple and somewhat outdated concept, still be relevant and enable new concepts that are embedded in digital transformations?”

“That's where I am now. And I’ll probably have to refine it even further. But it's all part of the process. My advice to future students would be that it's normal for it to take a long time. The main thing is not to panic. And it's not all about the destination, the actual journey is fulfilling. You meet interesting people. All of your fellow students have a story to tell. One is a lawyer, another works in finance ... But you are all in the same boat, which creates a sort of shared intrinsic motivation. The interactions with the professors are on a completely different level too. You are on a more equal footing.”

Getting used to the academic mindset

“The main thing that blew me away was the sheer size of the resources available. Truly gigantic. When I search for ERP I get at least 15.000 hits. Another slightly rude awakening was the academic mindset. I didn't think that academics took any interest in what was ‘trending’ right now. But they actually do. There's quite a lot of pressure to get published, so it is best if your topic is of interest to the market.”

PhDs open doors

“What do I hope to achieve with my research? I see three opportunities, in effect. To begin with, I see it as an enrichment for my team. When young people come aboard, it is an added benefit to train them through the lens of your practical know how. And by sharing a little academic experience with them you bring them to a higher level. Then again, of course, I also see it as a piece of personal development. And thirdly, a PhD opens doors. It gives you a way into teaching, which I certainly see myself doing in the future.”

More Information

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

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