The VU has more than 100,000 alumni. Where did they end up after their studies? In this section, we feature three alumni from the same degree programme. This time we talked to alumni of the Master’s programme Business Administration: Strategy and Organization.
Marleen Selten (26) graduated in 2019 and works as consultant helping businesses become more sustainable.
What did the Master’s programme Business Administration: Strategy and Organization offer you?
„A huge plus is that the business community is really involved in the programme. The person responsible for Schiphol’s sustainability policy was guest lecturer for the Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility course. I contacted her afterwards to ask if I could shadow her for a day and got my first job at Schiphol partly because of that. That’s why my tip is: if someone’s doing something you find interesting, just contact them. You never know what will come of it."
You’ve been working as consultant at Driven by Values for three months. What do you do there exactly?
„As consultant I help companies, municipalities and grid operators with complex sustainability and energy transition issues. I’m currently working on the charging infrastructure vision and policy for various municipalities. All new car sales must be electric by 2030. How do you handle that as municipality? How do you ensure that there are no queues for charging stations? I’d certainly recommend working for a consultancy to anyone who enjoys a challenge and variation. You also quickly discover what you like and don’t like doing and you’re also often offered opportunities further development."
How did you end up working in sustainability?
„My father is a climate scientist so I was made very aware from a young age of how our actions affect our environment. And more importantly, that it’s still not too late to do something about this. I really enjoy being involved with sustainability in an innovative way. I won the Young Entrepreneurs Zuyd Award in 2017 with a healthy fast food concept. The healthy version of McDonald’s where you’re served fast and tasty food that’s also really healthy. I’m also currently setting up an online store selling sustainable and fair trade jewellery. The jewellery is made by social entrepreneurs in Kenya and India using recycled material."
You were also Board Chair of Young and Fair for many years. Tell me more!
„Young and Fair is an organization that creates awareness about sustainability and fair trade by arranging guest lessons at secondary schools and annual festivals. If you’re given clothing money as a teenager, you probably opt for cheaper stores as at that age, you’ve not yet learned about the exploitation, abuse and pollution that often lies behind this. It’s not that people don’t care about nature or human rights; they simply don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I find it incredibly interesting, enjoyable and invaluable to share this information."
Lars van der Wal (29) graduated in 2018 and is founder of GymStory B.V., a mobile platform for users seeking easy fitness tracking at the gym.
How did you come up with the GymStory idea?
„I’ve been using the Runkeeper running app for almost ten years. I put on weight when I was a student and wanted to lose weight by running. I didn’t really enjoy running but the app made it fun. You can improve your own performance and compete against other users. It’s really motivating. I now use tracking apps for skiing, cycling, walking and even sleeping. I can’t manage without them. There wasn’t one for fitness though and as I know how much fun it can be, I saw a huge market for this. The fitness industry was also really interested in my plan."
How does it work exactly?
„When people start going to the gym they expect their appearance to change. They expect to build muscles or lose weight. After a few weeks they’re often taken aback by the fact that exercising by yourself at the gym hardly has any effect. Enabling people to keep track of their exercise is a really simple solution. We developed a sensor that can be placed on each type of fitness equipment. This sensor connects with your telephone so you can track your exercises via our app and compete against friends or others at gym."
„We work B2B, so the gyms buy the user platform and sensors from us. The next step is to use smart algorithms to develop personalized training schedules and we’ll be working with professors and PhD students from the VU’s Human Movement Sciences programme. We’ll supply our sensors and the unique data to them and they’ll conduct research and validate the data. That will mean that everyone can carry a free personal trainer around with them."
How did the study programme help you establish your company?
„I had the idea for GymStory during my master’s degree and I designed and compiled the programme around starting my own company. I really learned a lot in all the courses and learned a particularly important lesson during the Open Innovations course. Many entrepreneurs want to keep everything to themselves in the startup phase, partly out of fear. But you can miss opportunities because of this. Particularly when you’re innovating it’s important to talk about your plans and involve external parties. I was really open and sought partnerships with other companies and competitors, without giving away all my company secrets. If other companies get involved, you can bring a higher quality product onto the market more quickly."
Camila Bühler (25) graduated in 2019 and now works as business analyst at Deloitte.
You originally came from Germany. What made you decide to follow a master’s degree at VU Amsterdam?
„I followed a business course, quite by chance, during my cultural studies bachelor in Germany and it was unexpectedly a huge success. The innovation offered by the business world really attracted me and I adapted my study programme to this. After my diploma, the Master’s programme Business Administration: Strategy and Organization proved to be an exact match for the issue I find so interesting. Namely, how can you ensure that a company grows in an innovative way?"
What did you think of the study programme?
„The study programme met all my expectations. The huge variety of courses on offer enabled me to learn about many different aspects of business. From corporate social responsibility, to alliances, mergers and acquisitions, and devising strategies. The programme was also really aligned with practice. For instance, I worked with various co-students to produce a business case for a consulting agency and we presented our results to the client ourselves. I really enjoyed doing that."
„I still have close connections with VU and the study programme and help current master’s degree students to find a job. When I’d just graduated, I found the job market overwhelming. Where to start? That’s why I give students tips and tricks and explain how I handled things at the time. The most important thing is to make sure you know your options. You can do that by taking part in VU career activities or going to company events. And don’t worry if you’re not sure what you want. It’s a good idea to just look for things that interest you. The rest will follow if you do that."
You now work as a business analyst at Deloitte. What do you do there exactly?
„I work as consultant helping large clients integrate SAP software. You can use this software to integrate all parts of a company, giving the company total control over all its different sources, data and communications. It offers end-to-end solutions for finance, production, logistics, distribution etc. I help clients to realize a similar transformation which helps the company grow. That was exactly what I was looking for."
„The interaction with clients is what I enjoy most. Really understanding their needs, creating a strategy and changing their company to make it even better. I’ve really landed on my feet at Deloitte. There are so many learning and growth opportunities and they listen to your personal ambitions. That’s not always the case in my profession. I can’t imagine finding a better employer."