MBA success stories: Marc van Tongeren

Marc van Tongeren (pictured below left) studied for an MBA at Nyenrode Business University. Here, he relates how it helped him to understand the importance of good governance to the corporate sector – as well as gaining valuable insights into his own leadership style

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career to date

I live in Kenya (pictured above) with my wife and three kids. I grew up in the Netherlands and, following my undergraduate studies there, co-founded a company with the aim of automating quality systems for production companies.

In 2014, my father, aged 78, requested my support in handling our family business based in East Africa. This was a tough decision because the automation business was starting to gain traction following years of hard work. Having decided to support my father, I advised that we needed to start strengthening our corporate governance.

By the end of 2015 we had established an executive committee (EXCO) and an advisory board, as well as having recruited an external CEO. Since my father’s death in July 2016, we’ve been able to stabilise the business, expand by offering new services and almost triple its profitability.

What does your current role involve exactly?

As a member of the executive committee and director of operational excellence & ESG, I oversee the operation functions of the business, driving strategic and organisational reforms while focusing on high-risk areas and non-compliance. Besides this, I provide direct oversight to new and strategically important business units such as, for instance, our courier business. These activities provide an opportunity to strengthen culture change, improve ESG awareness and manage ESG-related targets and reporting.

Why did you want to study for an MBA and why did you choose that particular school?

I was awarded my MBA in 2023 at Nyenrode Business University, which is situated in Breukelen, between Amsterdam and Utrecht. I felt I lacked the knowledge to adequately deal with the organisational issues I faced and the experience to be a good sparring partner for my colleagues, especially within EXCO. Nyenrode offers an executive MBA programme that requires one week’s on-campus attendance every two months.

Considering I work and live in Kenya, this seemed a convenient and manageable travel schedule. In addition, the MBA included several international modules that interested me since I work with people from different cultures. I also expected to learn a lot from my fellow students with their varied backgrounds and experiences. I am very pleased with how Nyenrode was able to bring together such a diverse cohort.

What is the most interesting thing you learnt from your MBA?

Prior to starting the programme, I would have probably answered something related to corporate finance or operational management. However, throughout the MBA, all modules included personal leadership development journey courses. Initially, I thought I might just have to endure them; eventually, however, these courses offered me the most valuable insights. It’s fascinating to learn so much about yourself.

What were some of the challenges you faced when studying?

The MBA programme commenced during the Covid lockdowns, so rules and regulations related to travelling were bureaucratic and ever-changing. In addition, quarantine periods forced me to extend my stay, making it hard to combine all the travelling with my private and professional life.

How has the MBA made a difference to your career path and leadership journey?

I was inspired by my fellow students in my cohort and am passionate about exploring new opportunities. In my current role, I’m focusing on establishing and cultivating new business units. Moreover, I’ve also gained a broader perspective with a better understanding of the impact we as a business have on all stakeholders and the environment. While I first saw the introduction of ESG as an additional cost, I now see all the opportunities as well as the necessity to incorporate it into our corporate activities.

In what ways have you taken what you have learnt in your MBA into the organisation where you work?

My MBA has helped me become a more supportive partner in assisting colleagues at each level to achieve the goals they set. I would advise anyone thinking of embarking on an MBA to go ahead and do it.

What are the next steps for you on your career journey?

For my thesis, I performed a feasibility study of a technology-based direct-to-consumer coffee supply chain between Kenyan smallholder farmers and Dutch consumers. The main aim is to generate more value for the Kenyan smallholder farmers. Having experienced the dire living conditions of these farmers, I was pleased that the results were quite promising and presented huge opportunities. Having reflected for a couple of months, I’ve decided to start exploring how to realise these results with the continued support of my supervisor.

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