The birth of a business school (1970-1984)
In the mid-1960s, the Netherlands School of Economics (Nederlandse Economische Hogeschool – NEH) commissions a study into the feasibility of a graduate school of management.
At a national level, a committee (Commissie Opvoering Productiviteit – the Committee for Productivity Improvement) investigates how business education could help stimulate national production. After much discussion over a number of years, one plan stands out. Economist Harrie Langman, then a senior executive at shipbuilders Royal Schelde, proposes a two-year multidisciplinary programme.
On Thursday, 8 August 1968, the committee – chaired by Langman – outlines a curriculum that is uniquely problem-oriented rather than discipline-oriented, the concept being that managerial problems would be defined and then investigated from the perspectives of various disciplines, such as economics, behavioural sciences, statistics, quantitative modelling, and law. By combining perspectives from different fields, genuinely meaningful solutions would be found.
The teaching methods enable students to both analyse problems and develop the practical skills to solve them.
➤ In a 2016 interview, Langman recalls that:
“When we presented our plans for a business school, the law and economics faculties [at NEH] were supportive but the people at social sciences were very much against it. They were afraid we would poach their students. There was quite a fight, but they eventually came round to our way of thinking.”
Drs Harrie Langman (left) talking to RSM former Dean Steef van de Velde (right) in 2016 - photo by Russell Gilbert
The Technische Hogeschool Delft (later Delft University of Technology or TU Delft), through their faculties of civil, mechanical and maritime engineering, and general sciences, joins NEH and their faculties of economics, law, and social sciences to create a multidisciplinary joint venture. A first teaching location is found at Prinses Julianalaan 92-96, in the Rotterdam suburb of Kralingen.
1972: Drs R. F. Hendrickson (left), E. Kimman (middle) and J. J. Kamp (right) at a construction site in Delft, building new facilities
In 1970, the first class, comprising 30 Dutch students and selected from hundreds of applicants, starts its education under the auspices of the Interfaculteit Bedrijfskunde (Graduate School of Management). Among the intake is the School’s first female student, Saskia Stuiveling, who goes on to have a highly distinguished career that includes serving as the first female president of the Netherlands Court of Audit (Algemene Rekenkamer) from 1984 until her retirement in 2015.
As part of the selection process, all candidates are required to have a Kandidaatsdiploma, a university degree comparable to a bachelor qualification. The new School is the first in the Netherlands to offer the degree Doctorandus in de Bedrijfskunde. Each semester covers a different subject.
Drs Harrie Langman, chief architect of the business school development plan, is appointed as the School’s first dean. However, in 1972 he is appointed minister of economic affairs by the Dutch government.
He is succeeded as dean by Prof. Cees Brevoord (pictured here).
Selecting students at this time is not actually allowed, so they are all hired as teaching assistants.
A strong sense of community and a shared ambition to further develop the organisation prevails. One graduate of the class of 1970 recalls that: “It was as if we were starting our own business together, figuring stuff out along the way.” Everyone involved – students and teachers – knows that they are exploring completely new territory in management education. New and innovative ways of learning, teaching and organising – with staff learning as much from students as they did from teachers – creates a pioneering culture that remains embodied in the School’s identity and culture today. With the arrival of the second student intake there is a pressing need for extra classrooms and facilities. After a hasty search, a school building is found nearby. In 1972, as rapid growth continues, the School moves to new, purpose-built premises close to the campus of Technische Hogeschool Delft (later Delft University of Technology or TU Delft), which provides a significant upgrade in facilities.
The cafeteria at the Delft campus
"It was as if we were starting our own business together, figuring stuff out along the way."
- Graduate of the class of 1970
Social gathering of students in Delft
1972: The first graduates
The famous 'zitkuil' (conversation pit) in Delft is also used for teaching and group work
Also in 1972, NEH and Technische Hogeschool Delft (later Delft University of Technology or TU Delft), the two partners in the Interfaculteit Bedrijfskunde/Graduate School of Management, form the Interuniversitair Instituut Bedrijfskunde (IIB) as a separate legal entity, thus giving the School its independence and the freedom to set its own path. Where faculty members previously worked for the School under contract from the parent institutes, they now come under the umbrella of the IIB. This pioneering, independent, can-do attitude flourishes and becomes very much part of the School’s culture to the degree that it is still ingrained in everything RSM and its worldwide community strives for.
In November of 1972, the first cohort of 29 students graduates with the new academic title of Doctorandus Bedrijfskunde (Drs.). As a direct consequence of the graduation, the School’s alumni association – Vereniging van afgestudeerden van de Interfaculteit Bedrijfskunde (Alumni Association VIB) – is born. Its members are the trailblazers in what is now a worldwide alumni community of around 40,000 in 2020.
In 1973, NEH and the Medical Faculty Rotterdam merge to create Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Recognising growing demand, IIB develops the foundations for postgraduate and post-experience offerings.
In 1978, an exchange programme launches with a focus on internationalisation and networking that gives students and staff the opportunity to broaden their experiences through study trips abroad. The success and popularity of the exchanges and study trips ensure the programme is a permanent and vital part of students’ educational experiences. Today, RSM has an unparalleled global exchange network of more than 160 business schools and universities, which includes top business schools such as HEC in Paris, ESADE in Barcelona, and Wharton School in the USA.
The first phase of growth justifies beyond doubt the faith given to the dream that there is a viable business case for management education in the Netherlands. With the School’s reputation increasing, a purpose-built campus in Delft, and student and staff numbers growing, the scene is set for the next chapter.
IIB students with Dean Cees Brevoord (right, second row) during their White House study trip
Social skills class in Delft