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Philippe Naert is a serial dean. Or, to put it less bluntly, he is now dean of his third business school, TiasNimbas in Tilburg in the Netherlands. Prior to this, he was dean at Nyenrode Business Universiteit, also in the Netherlands, and before that, dean of Insead.
Although Prof Naert, who is Dutch, is 64 years old, he is by no means resting on his laurels. He has big growth plans for TiasNimbas, which was created through two partnerships, the first between Tilburg University and Eindhoven University of Technology in 2004 and the second through the acquisition of Nimbas, another Dutch business school, in 2006.
Tias is thought to have paid some €7m to acquire Nimbas, which is big bucks for a small school. In 1996 the institution had an income of just €2.5m and this year the school will gross €20m. “In the next four years we need to go from €20m to €40m,” says Prof Naert.
Prof Naert is one of a disturbingly few business school deans who is practising what he preaches and applying true business logic to planning growth. “You can pray someone gives you millions of euros but that’s unlikely, and organic growth is not enough. You need mergers and acquisitions.”
He says his ambition is to put TiasNimbas in the first division of European business schools. “That’s not to say we are aiming to become an Insead or a London Business School. Our aim is to be in the same league as Cranfield or Bocconi.”
To become that requires scale, he says. “There are more [business school] suppliers, more competition. The minimum size to be successful is increasing.” In particular, the school needs a broader range of programmes as different types are popular at different points of the economic cycle. MBA programmes, for example, have traditionally proven more popular when there is a downturn in the economy.
Though his mergers and acquisitions so far have created growth, they have also formed a diverse portfolio of programmes, taught in several locations. The school now offers an MSc degree in management in Utrecht and a Doctor of Business Administration degree taught jointly with the Bradford School of Management in Bonn, as well as five different MBA degrees.
These is the full-time MBA degree, taught in Utrecht, which awards a Bradford degree; three part-time MBAs, taught in Tilburg, Bonn and Utrecht; and the Executive MBA, taught with Purdue in the US, Gisma in Germany and CEU in Budapest. As a result of this, TiasNimbas is represented twice in the Financial Times EMBA rankings this year.
Prof Naert says that the plan is to continue to offer all of the programmes, as well as the school’s extensive portfolio of executive programmes. It may go even further and launch a fourth part-time MBA in Brussels.
TiasNimbas is now in talks with the Bradford School of Management about the Bradford degree programmes it acquired with Nimbas – Nimbas had essentially facilitated the teaching of the Bradford degrees in the Netherlands and in Germany, with the majority of the teaching being done by Bradford faculty on those programmes. Prof Naert says that one of the reasons for the acquisition of Nimbas was to acquire a high-profile full-time MBA programme. “If you want to be credible you have to have a credible full-time MBA programme,” he argues. He says the plan is for those programmes to become joint degrees, with the British and the Dutch school each teaching about half of the courses. “The relationship with Bradford is quite positive,” says Prof Naert.
With plans to continue as a multi-programme, multi-site business school – TiasNimbas teaches programmes in Utrecht, Bonn, Tilburg, Eindhoven, and possibly in Brussels in the near future – the dean acknowledges that building the school’s faculty will be the biggest issue. The second problem will be building the school’s research base. This is established territory for Prof Naert, whose job at Insead was the “scientification of the institution”, as he puts it. While in Fontainebleau he founded Insead’s very successful PhD programme. At TiasNimbas there are three types of research he hopes to promote: the traditional discipline-based, peer-reviewed research; practice-oriented research; and case studies and other teaching materials. All of which is a tall order for Prof Naert.