‘Connecting people gives me energy’

10 questions for Roelien Ritsema van Eck, Executive Board member responsible for operational management (finance, economic policy, real estate services, HR and information technologies) since 1 November. 

1. You started in your position of Executive Board member on 1 November. What are your first impressions?

“What I’ve mainly noticed is the enthusiasm of the employees, both among support staff and academic personnel. And I’ve noticed that people are working hard here.”

2. Do you already feel at home?

“I feel very welcome here. Colleagues are very willing to help me familiarise myself with Erasmus University and I feel I’m very lucky in this respect. The new strategy that’s currently being developed is a great tool for improving the university by making the right choices.”

3. Why did you choose EUR?

“This is a university with an entrepreneurial attitude based in a city that is characterised by this same quality. That appealed to me. This is also an organisation that makes a significant impact on society, a place where professionals work on complex issues. And what I enjoy about my position is that there are few jobs that offer such wide range of different dossiers: I deal with matters ranging from IT and HR to student housing and sustainability. The challenge I’ll be facing is to establish links between them all.”

4. Corien Prins, Chair of the Supervisory Board, calls you ‘a unifying team player, with the ability to look beyond her own portfolio’. What do you think she means by that?

“I’m sincere about wanting to connect people and showing an interest in people. That gives me energy. Fostering good relationships, both with people and between people, is essential if they are to work together effectively. In this context we can’t shy away from being critical of each other when it comes to the substance of our work. In addition to that I really believe that vulnerability can be a strength by showing a willingness to be honest about difficult matters. And finally, I believe that being accessible is important. My door is always open, figuratively and literally.”

5. Your LinkedIn profile says that you feel drawn to complex issues that have an impact on society. Could you explain what that means?

“In short, I like dealing with complicated matters. I truly enjoy unravelling and clarifying a difficult case and bringing it to a successful conclusion. I also want to do work that makes a difference. It know it sounds like a cliché, but I want to contribute to making the world a better place.”

6. What are the biggest challenges?

“We have to continue to look at the balance between performing at our best on a day-to-day basis on the one hand, and change and innovation on the other. Both are important. You can’t start something new if you don’t have a solid foundation. You also see that demands and requirements can change. Students want work spaces that offer them the facilities they need, and IT is becoming increasingly important for the day-to-day activities of research and education.”

7. For the first time in EUR’s history, women outnumber men on the Executive Board. Was that a factor in your decision?

“That relationship wasn’t really a factor in the Executive Board, but I do believe in diversity in teams. But for me, diversity means more than just the male/female aspect. That’s something I want to demonstrate by example - especially to my three daughters - and that also includes a good work-life balance.”

8. Is a good work-life balance difficult in this position?

“It’s certainly not easy, but it is possible. One way to do this is by setting limits: for example, I want to be able to drop off my children at school at least twice a week.”

9. You were the initiator of the ‘Be a professional’ programme and you provided guidance and support to ABN Amro high potentials, both within and outside the organisation. What motivated you to do that?

“I feel it’s important that people continue their development. One way of doing this is providing them with skills such as storytelling or a pitch and presentation training course. That way you get better and quicker results. I also believe in encouraging talent. I enjoy seeing young people reach their full potential. The leaders of the future are here now at EUR. Sonia Shvets, for example. She was the student host for the Opening of the Academic Year and the Dies Natalis - what a talent!”

10. What do you do when you’re not working?

“Besides my family obligations, I have an active social life. We regularly welcome guests into our home and we get a lot of visitors. I also do kick-boxing and running and I want to take part in sports activities at Erasmus Sport. After all, you do your best work when you’re physically fit.”


Roelien Ritsema van Eck (1975)

Education: her studies include Business Administration (University of Groningen) and International Management (Oxford Brookes University)

Lives with her partner and three daughters (10, 8 and 6 years old)

Ancillary activities: member of the Supervisory Board of Zorggroep Sint Maarten