How Ashley van den Broek surprised her management team

March 25, 2019 | 3 min read

When Ashley van den Broek took on a challenging project at work, she feared it would mean the end of her academic career. But she chose to forge ahead with her studies, and in the process came to see how closely connected organization, strategy, finance and culture are. ‘My management team said I gained a better understanding of our organization and of our customers.’

While getting her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Ashley van den Broek worked as an intern at a vehicle leasing firm. For her internship, she was tasked with setting up the new private lease department. It was an exciting challenge, but it meant putting her plans for a graduate degree on hold.

Ashley wasn't ready to give up on her studies just yet, however. She and her boss worked out a plan that would allow her to pursue her master’s degree part-time while continuing to work. She enrolled in the Master of Science in Business Administration (MScBA) program at TIAS School for Business and Society. It was a decision that would eventually help her to land an exciting new job at Sogeti. Over the course of her master’s program, her value on the job market soared, explains Ashley.

New interests

The new private lease department was a success, as were Ashley’s studies. Along the way, she discovered a number of new interests. ’During my degree program, I became intrigued by the concept of strategic thinking. Making the move to Sogeti allowed me to develop this interest further.’

Sogeti, an IT service provider and part of the Capgemini group, advises clients on strategy in areas such as software testing, security, and cloud computing. In her role as account manager, Ashley’s responsibilities include managing the relationship with one of the Netherlands’ largest insurance companies.

Hard and soft

Over the course of her 22-month study program, Ashley learned about much more than just strategic development. ‘What I found particularly fascinating was learning about the two sides of business: the ‘hard’ side, which includes finance and operations, and the ‘soft’ side, which deals with things like management styles and corporate culture. And especially the relationship between the two.’

Modern organizations must respond ever more swiftly to new developments. But strategic flexibility alone isn’t enough; organizations also have to ensure that their employees are on board with these changes. Ashley: ‘During my studies, I learned a great deal about what’s needed for a successful transition. It’s crucial for new strategies to be supported throughout the organization. To accomplish that, companies have to focus on culture and behavior.’

Learning new communication styles

Ashley’s study program proved even more valuable than she had anticipated. ‘I discovered new sides of myself,’ she says. During one simulation exercise, she was pressured to make quick decisions and implement them with her team.

Ashley: ‘Before, I had always believed my style of communication to be extremely cooperative. But during the simulation exercise, I suddenly found myself using a much more directive style. That’s what was needed at the time.’ This discovery yielded immediate benefits on the work floor. ‘I now have a broader repertoire of communication styles that I can choose from when needed.’

Understanding customers

Her management team was amazed by the changes they saw. Ashley: ‘The management were pleasantly surprised by how much I learned during my degree program. They told me they felt that I had gained a better understanding of our organization and of our customers.’ Communicating with customers on a business level helps her to better understand the micro- and macroenvironmental factors at play in their organizations, which in turn allows her to identify the challenges facing them.

Ashley: ‘By first working with customers to analyze their corporate vision and ambitions, we can then discuss what’s needed to give them a competitive advantage. This approach allows me to serve our customers better, ensures our services truly meet their needs, and strengthens the customer’s position relative to the competition.’ For Ashley, it’s truly a win-win situation. ‘While it’s not applicable in 100% of cases, this method of cooperation very often leads to innovation.’

A 22-month investment in herself

Combining a part-time study program and a job is actually quite manageable, says Ashley, as long as you arrange things carefully in advance. ‘This was how I told many friends and family about my plans: Dear friends, I am going to be investing 22 months in myself. If I can’t make it to your birthday party, please don’t take it personally.’

In addition to spending a long weekend attending classes in Utrecht each month, she devoted a great deal of time to independent study. Ashley: ‘Once it was time for me to write my thesis, I really had to buckle down. I won’t deny it.’

Helicopter view

When asked about the advantages of studying at TIAS, Ashley cites the university’s personal approach and the quality of the lessons, which are taught by an international team of experts. Ashley: ‘I wanted to improve my research skills and develop a ‘helicopter view’ of operational management. I found all of those things and more at TIAS.’ Using this new helicopter view to examine both her customers and her own organization allowed Ashley to develop new perspectives. She saw how both viewpoints complemented and strengthened one another. The flexibility of her study program was another major advantage for Ashley, as it meant she was able to continue working full-time. ‘What you experience in your job resurfaces during the program, and you can immediately apply what you learn during the program to your job. That part in particular makes it so valuable.’

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