EFMD behind the scenes: Conversation with Griet Houbrechts

Griet HOUBRECHTS

For our 50th Anniversary, EFMD is starting a new “Behind the Scenes” series so that you can get to know us better. Our first conversation is with the Director of Professional Development Services and Senior Advisor to BSIS, Griet Houbrechts.

First of all, could you please tell us how long you have been with EFMD and your various roles?

I started on the 1st of December 1994, so that’s a long time ago. For the first years, I worked in the projects unit, the predecessor of the department that Christophe Terrasse is heading now. We were managing projects that were financially supported by the European Commission. Veronique, Shanshan and Benoît already worked in the same unit. We managed several projects that were fascinating for me, but in a way, I didn’t know the EFMD network that well during those first years. And then in ‘99 I switched to Business School Services, and so I started organising conferences, and I enjoyed that very much. When the Director of Business School Services left, Eric asked me to take over, and so I became director.

I did that for quite a number of years and then decided to move to France, so I quit my job as a director in 2010. I was then involved on an occasional basis with the EFMD on projects where they needed support, so I did lots of different things. When BSIS was started, I was asked to support that team, and I’ve been helping them since then. I think it was in 2014 that I started that. I also supported Business School Services occasionally whenever they needed help, and in 2020, I was asked to take on the role of Director for Professional Development, and so I’ve been working with my team on organising many different development programmes for our members.

How would you describe your current position to a child?

I have a niece that is nine years old, and so I was thinking that the best, simplest way to describe it is that our department organises courses for people that have to learn a new skill or gain new knowledge to be able to do their job better. And I think it is great to make a child understand that in a way you need to keep your curiosity and your willingness to learn even after school is finished, even when you finish university. It’s great if you keep that curiosity alive throughout your different career or even careers in plural.

What do you like most about the work that you do?

Oh, that definitely is the people. Colleagues that are fun to work with, the people in the network, that’s really what makes the job so enjoyable. And that’s why I am so much looking forward to gradually going back to face-to-face events because creating those links with people is much easier when you meet them. It has been a challenging period to try and create those links throughout the pandemic, so I’m really looking forward to returning, at least partially returning, to face-to-face events.

I think we all are! And so, during your time at EFMD, what has changed within the management education landscape?

Well, I’ve been a very long time at EFMD, so a lot has changed – the first thing that was really striking for me was when I joined Business School Services in ’99. That was the time when the Bologna Declaration was signed, and the whole higher education sector was in a way changing to make things more transparent, to make degrees more readable across the different European countries, and there were many big changes for higher education institutions, and so, definitely also for business schools.

If you look at EFMD, you also see how internationally connected the higher education sector has become, and our membership has grown tremendously outside Europe. I think the quality development throughout the world of business education has really been very interesting to watch. More recently, also the growing importance of impact and of what we call at EFMD ERS, ethics, responsibility and sustainability. That is such an interesting development and a very important one.

And can I add another one? The digitalisation of education had started before. But of course, with the pandemic, just like for EFMD activities, schools have had to move online etc., so that whole, let’s say, technical and delivery part has changed a lot. But it has also raised a lot of questions about learning styles of the younger generations and those pushed schools really to look critically at what they offer in terms of programmes, but also how they are delivered. So, the whole challenge of student engagement has come to the foreground even more so because of that online delivery.

There have been many other changes, but those are the ones that struck me most.

I’m not sure if this connects or not, but within your department, what are you most proud of?

Well, it connects in a way, yes. When I accepted the job in January 2020, we were very close to the start of the lockdown and the whole pandemic and the challenges that came with it. What I’m most proud of is that we have managed to create a team spirit, even if we were forced to work online only for a long time, and that we have succeeded in keeping a strong engagement with the business schools. That has formed a very sound basis for future work, and in 2021, we were really able to offer good programmes that were appreciated by our members. I’m really proud that we came through these challenging times as a strong team, so I’m very grateful to my team members as well because building trust and cooperating online is not necessarily as easy when you are a new team as when you have known people for a while.

Definitely, so moving away from work questions to get to know you personally a little better, what do you think is the best way to start your day?

The best way to start my day is with a quiet and serene breakfast. I hate it when during breakfast, my husband, or whomever I’m having breakfast with, starts talking about problems or tries to plan things. I just want a nice and quiet breakfast, and I’m happy to talk about things that are non-problematic. It’s not as if I’m in a bad mood in the morning, but I just need a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of the day.

I understand. I believe that music is one of your personal interests. Do you just enjoy listening to music, or do you play an instrument?

Oh, I played the piano in the past, but I haven’t played since I was 21, or around that age. I’ve stopped playing the piano, but I’ve always enjoyed listening to music. In the choice of music, I’m very eclectic. I like classical music, but I also like soul music. There are quite a number of very good Belgian pop and rock groups. I like many different kinds of music.

Do you have a favourite piece of music?

Yes, I especially like the composer Gustav Holst. He composed ‘The Planets’, and I really love listening to that. We recently bought new loudspeakers and the quality of the sound is a lot better than with the previous ones, so I’m now enjoying, even more, listening to that.

That sounds nice. What could you give a 20-minute presentation on with no preparation?

Okay, well, an obvious answer is EFMD. I could talk a long time about EFMD, but apart from that, I love talking about the region where I live currently. I am very interested in the history of the region. It’s also a place with a strong gastronomic tradition, it’s a winemaking region, so I love talking about that.

And you’re in the southern part of France?

The southwest of France in the department Lot. It’s not necessarily a super well-known department, but it’s a great place to live. It’s quiet, it’s very green and very rural.

I’m sure it’s beautiful.

Yes, I really enjoy living here.

Maybe a piece of life advice from you to finish up. What habit do you have now that you wish you had started much earlier?

It’s working out, walking, moving. I have never been very sports-oriented. I’ve always liked hiking, but I wasn’t doing it very often. Actually, during the first months of the pandemic, I discovered the health app on my phone, and I was shocked at how few steps I was doing per day. I thought it was just not possible. It can’t be an excuse that you don’t have time, even if it’s only 10 minutes. And as I told you, I live in a wonderful region, so I don’t need to take the car. I can just go out and have a quick walk. So, I gradually built that up, and I’m enjoying it very much. So yeah, that’s a habit I think I should’ve started a lot earlier.

That sounds like a good habit. I enjoy taking walks as well. It’s also very stress relieving, I think.

Absolutely, it’s the best way to wind down after having a whole series of Zoom meetings. It rests your eyes as well if you’re walking in a green space. It’s very good for your eyes after looking at the screen for way too long.

Special thanks to Griet for taking time out of her day to be interviewed by us. Learn more about her in the video with Eline Loux below.

See more of our staff interview series.

1 Comment

  1. Anderson Sant’Anna on February 27, 2022 at 20:07

    Congrats Griet!!! Excellent!!!