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Kees van der Waaij

Born Limburger, raised Brabander, and then “Rotterdammer” Kees van der Waaij has worked 35 years for Unilever. He played a major role in streamlining this international fast moving consumer goods company and in the modernization of its human resources. This alumnus Economics and Accountancy holds the position of Chairman of Unilever Nederland.

"When trying to improve the world, people tend to overestimate the role of the government and underestimate the role of businesses."

Was studying Economics in Tilburg your childhood dream?

“No, that was Aeronautical Engineering. That dream was shattered by a lack of spatial insight: geometry was not my thing. Hence, I decided to go into business. I studied Business Economics and later Accountancy in Tilburg. That was convenient because then I could go back on Friday afternoons to friends in Oss.”

Did you enjoy your student time in Tilburg?
“I shared a house with students in psychology, business and politics. This led to discussions in the middle of the night, often in the bar in the neighborhood (Hasselt) where I lived. Our landlord was a regular guest there.”

Which professor do you still remember?
“Economist D.B.J. Schouten, always with his pipe. During a class in modeling he would say: think of one question yourselves and come up with the answer. “That’s a trickier question than you would think. I anticipate you will need the full 3.5 hours,” he said. Eventually I filled 15 pages. That was normal at the time. For the exam now known as administrative organization, I wrote sixty pages in two days and ended up with a lump on my finger.”

"So there you have it: do not always follow the pack."

How has your study contributed to your career?
“In hindsight I am very glad that I went to Tilburg. I learned about economics more in depth; for example, the philosophy classes by professor Plattel. And later this economics program turned out to be the best in the country. That felt a little like revenge. During my study years, managers looked down on Tilburg. So there you have it: don’t always follow the pack.”