Honours Students Learn from Alumni in San Francisco: 'They have already walked the path'

Every year in March Associate Professor Willem Hulsink takes about 40 Honours students from the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) on a study-trip to San Francisco: ‘Learning from Sillicon Valley’. This trip is the icing on the cake, completing a 15 ECTS extra-curricular programme involving classes, challenges, assignments and a group visit, all aimed at what they as aspiring managers and entrepreneurs can learn from Silicon Valley, its mindset and mentality, people, companies and institutions like Stanford University.


This year they visited the headquarters at Google, YouTube, Tesla and NASA, and had guest lectures at the design school of Stanford and at the University of California Berkeley. They also got a lecture of the legendary venture capitalist Tim Draper (early stage investor in Hotmail, SpaceX and Tesla Motors) and now running his own private Draper University. They closed the trip with a special alumni meeting at the Dutch consulate, where the students got the chance to ask RSM-alumni everything they wanted to ask. It was a great success – some of them called this networking event the highlight of the trip. Two honours students and one alumnus share their experience. 'They have already walked the path and can tell you how they got to where they are now.'

'They have already walked the path and can tell you how they got to where they are now.'

Lorenzo Magagnin is a second year BA student of RSM, International Business Administration: ‘At the network event with alumni I spoke for a very long time to an alumnus who is working in the field of consultancy. As it so happens, I would like to work in the field of consultancy. They have already walked the path and can tell you how they got to where they are now. All the do’s and the don’ts. It is really important. For me it was the perfect fit.’

What was your highlight?
‘Five other students and I contacted an alumnus now working at Twitter. He used to study at RSM and was Star-board member. He invited us and then welcomed us very friendly into the Twitter-tower in San Francisco, offered us drinks and talked with us for an hour and a half. This alumnus was very open and willingly answered all our questions.’

What sort of questions did you ask them?
‘“Did you know you would end up here?” In most cases it was not a preconceived plan. Some of them first worked in Europe and got transferred to the States. We also asked how much money they make.’ [laughing]

Did they tell you?
‘Not the exact numbers. We asked what kind of business assets these companies are looking for, like high grades or if you’ve done internships. It is very helpful to talk to somebody who went through the whole process.’

What will be your next step?
‘I’m going to study in California in September. I would love to work in the States. But coming back to start somewhere in Europe would also be fine. We can set up our own companies in Europe, it doesn’t only have to happen in Silicon Valley. I very much like the atmosphere in the US, it is very open. “We are happy to share what we know, so we both can get better.” At least in Silicon Valley everybody shares, because this benefits the whole community.’

'We could identify with the alumni so much more than with everybody else in Silicon Valley!'

Franziska Ibscher is an Honours student of IBA at the Rotterdam School of Management: ‘It was very interesting to hear what career steps these people had made, and where they ended up. We asked them why they ended up in San Francisco, and why they even decided to do the RSM MBA.
I found these people very inspiring. There was a man working as a HR in a very big music company. One guy did the finance for very rich Silicon-Valley people. These were really some of the smartest people on earth probably. And not arrogant at all, they were very nice to us and interested in what we had to say. It felt like we could level. One of them had done my BA exactly.’

What did you get from it personally?
‘I really, really want to do my MA in the US now. That’s what I got from it. Before I was thinking about Paris maybe, Europe was the safe option. Now I would like to go to Silicon Valley and work there, and they showed me that this is definitely a possibility.' 

Did you ask also practical questions?
‘We asked also about living in San Francisco and how to get an apartment. They asked us things as well: like what was going on at Erasmus campus. They also told us funny stories. Some of them were only five or six years older than me, we really could identify. It was very inspiring.’

'I want to make sure RSM students consider Google as a future employer too.'

RSM-alumnus Wouter Vink is now responsible for Hardware Marketing and Global Retail at Google, San Francisco. He was happy to invite the Honours students to the Google headquarter.

Why did you - as an alumnus - want to help and talk to the students, what's in it for you?
‘Google is always looking to hire more people, and some of the best and brightest go to RSM. I want to make sure RSM students consider Google as a future employer too and the best way to do that is to explain the challenges we work on. When I worked for Google in Amsterdam, people were always surprised to learn Google is not just a search engine but a large employer too. I want to change that! That’s my responsibility as a leader at Google, and obviously I personally benefit from having direct access to RSM’s talent pool.’

Did you get help or advice from alumni yourself when you started at Google?
‘Actually, the reason I went to RSM was another Googler’s recommendation. She was an RSM MBA graduate and highly recommended the programme. So I was at Google already when I applied to the programme. Interestingly, when I joined Google a few years earlier, I was considered quite the contrarian. It was not too long after the Dotcom Bubble burst and very few people wanted to work in technology. Most of my friends chose finance and consulting instead. In hindsight, I’m glad I followed my passion.’

What is your position at Google, how did you get there?
‘I’m in Hardware Marketing and lead Global Retail Go-To-Market for the Connected Home category. My team drives new product launches and retail marketing for Google Home, Chromecast, Google Wifi and the larger Smart Home category. It’s a major focus area for the company. Before this I’ve had various other roles in Marketing, in the United States as well as in Amsterdam. The experience abroad and in country-level roles is incredibly valuable in my current role, which is global in scope.’

More information

If you would like to get in touch with alumni from all over the world working in all kinds of big and small companies, also in Silicon Valley, join EUR Connect
More about the RSM Honours Programme can be found here.