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Kees Cools

Kees Cools, partner at Booz & Company and professor in Corporate Finance at the University of Groningen, studied business economics and philosophy, participated in the Chartered Accountant program and graduated in 1993 at Tilburg School of Economics and Management.

"Making mistakes is allowed, as long as you learn from them."

Why did you choose to study at Tilburg University?
“My favorite subject in high school was physics and I was pretty good at it. Yet I feared not to be smart enough to study physics at Eindhoven University of Technology. After I passed the exams in the first year of the Econometrics program at Tilburg University, I switched to International Economics and Philosophy. Eventually in 1987, I graduated in Business Economics. Cum laude, which I should since it took me many years to graduate. After my bachelor's degree in Philosophy I passed al exams for the master's degree, but never finalized my thesis. The first (scientific) chapter of my doctorate thesis could have also been my master thesis. That's what professor Guido Berns advised me to do. But I was too busy starting as a consultant. It's a pity, since that was the only thing needed to obtain my master degree in Philosophy. That chapter has even been published internationally…
That I chose to study at Tilburg University was obvious. Tilburg offered an econometrics program and I had no idea about the differences with other universities and therefore no reason to look any further. In hindsight, maybe it would have been better to finish my degree in econometrics. The analytical part of this program is always valuable and statistics would have come in handy during my academic research.”

Who was your favorite professor and why?
“Ludwig Heyde, professor in History of Philosophy was very inspiring; he knew how to visualize the fundamental phil osophical questions. He seemed to tackle philosophical issues and reveal insights on the spot. In a lucid and elegant manner the whole story unfolded and filled the blackboard. As if you were the witness of his thinking process. But also professor Plattel, Jean Frijns, and Wim van den Goorbergh were bright and interesting teachers who knew how to make their courses attractive.”

Do you have an interesting anecdote about your student time?
“I was always very active at the university during my student life. At the time I helped establish the central student counsel, SOS, was later part of the Progressive Student Party (PSF) in the University Council and was also board member of the faculty board of Philosophy. My first election was for the position of student member in the board of the department of Econometrics. At that time, Douwe Egberts (a coffee company) had a campaign with the slogan, '… and then there is coffee.' I decided to come up with a slogan that would say just as little as those of the other candidates: 'Then there was coffee, now there is Kees.' I even got elected!”

"As a Friend of Cobbenhagen and member of the Campaign Board of Tilburg University Fund I am still connected to the university"

What has your career been like?
“After graduating, I joined Maastricht University to work on my doctoral thesis. But the supervising professor resigned and his successor surprised me, he didn’t like me nor my research, as it turned out. Completely unexpected and without warning, I was given the choice to: “either you resign or you will be fired, you’ll never obtain your doctoral degree.” In Tilburg, Piet Moerland had just been appointed professor of Corporate Finance and he was willing to take me under his wings. After my PhD in 1993, I joined consultancy Horringa & De Koning. At the time, McKinsey was the only strategic consultancy wit h a foot in the door at the large multinationals, but when Horringa & De Koning and The Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) merged, we successfully competed in that market. In the year 2000, I became a partner at BCG and in 2009 switched to Booz & Company. There I had more opportunities to specialize in my own way. Since 1999, I have been connected with the University of Groningen as part-time Professor of Corporate Finance. In addition, I learn a lot from a number of supervising positions I hold, for example chairman of the audit committee of ‘FNV Bondgenoten’ and member of the Supervisory Board of CPB, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.”

What are your future ambitions?
“I have two ambitions. One is for Booz & Company to challenge BCG and McKinsey's market leadership positions, like in the nineties we, at BCG, successfully competed with McKinsey. My other ambition is together with Jaap Winter to create a new reality in board rooms. I met Jaap a few years ago at the Efteling during a conference on governance and behavior of CEOs and boards. I had written a book on this topic, ‘Controle is goed, vertrouwen nog beter.’(Control is good, trust even better). There is a lot of distrust amongst commissioners and boards of directors, too much hierarchy, too many unspoken perceptions and too few shared views on roles and goals. We would like to transform this. We’re currently writing a new book on this topic (Dutch title: Spelregels op de apenrots). We also want to provide input for scientific research. We want to analyze discussions and decision making processes within boards and use MRI scans of CEOs to gain better insigh t into how the brains of top managers and board members function.”

What role has Tilburg University/School of Economics and Management played in your life and how did it influence your career?
“Firstly, the university gave me the opportunity to develop myself. I was a shy teenager and performed below average in high school but I flourished in Tilburg, thanks to all the activities that were offered at the university. Naturally, my degree enabled my career and the study in philosophy provided for the necessary reflection and broad development. The fact that Piet Moerland had the courage to take me on as a ‘second hand’ PhD candidate and give me a third chance has been crucial to my career. Of course, I also made a few friends for life and met my wife, who studied psychology.”

Does Tilburg University/School of Economics and Management still play a role in your life, and if so, which?

“Certainly, as a Friend of Cobbenhagen and member of the Campaign Board of Tilburg University Fund I am still connected to the university. From time to time I am a guest lecturer at TiasNimbas Business School or provide lectures for study association Asset and/or Studium Generale. I also like to attend meetings of Tilburg University Society and with Booz & Company we support Professor Aart de Zeeuw and the Tilburg Sustainability Center.”