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The other EU: a university and a network.

Back in Belgium, Dr Dirk Craen's father worked in the coated abrasive import business, and son followed father into the chemicals industry. In 1985, Dr Craen imported his ambition and entrepreneurial drive to Switzerland (he is now a citizen). I caught up with him to talk about the 40th anniversary of the European University, of which he is owner and president.

Right away, Dr Craen gives me feedback on the latest issue of Swiss News. He read it cover to cover before our phone appointment. Charmed by his impressive, take-charge approach, I ready myself with my interview questions. However, before I can launch into a journalistic question-and-answer session, Dr Craen starts to tell a story.

He describes to me "his one and only job interview ever", when at just 22- straight out of college- he dared his potential employer: "Hire me on a commission-only basis, you'll see how much money I'll make both of us." His out-of-the-box thinking was not typical for the large chemical corporation, used to heavy regulations.

I chuckle over this cheeky story from the abrasive salesman turned B-school president. Dr Craen admits: "Yeah, I had a big mouth back then!" Yet his ambition and work ethic served him well. Eventually, he "bought out the management" of what was the basics of European University in 1998.

Celebrating 40 years of diversity in education

Established in 1973, E.U. has nore than 100 nationalities represented across its numerous campuses, located in Barcelona, Geneva, London, Montreux and Munich. E.U. has expanded its business school affiliate programmes to south-east Asia and Russia, with course locations including Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Almaty, Astana & Aktobe, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shenzen, Shanghai and Beijing.

Founded before the European Union, which shares the acronym, the essence of the European spirit runs throughout the university. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, E.U. is always looking ahead. It has established ties across the Atlantic, offering academic curricula in collaboration with North American institutes. Dr Craen proudly tells me that he placed a Belgian student at an internship opportunity at the State House of Connecticut.

Dr Craen speaks about the various campuses with familiarity--almost as if speaking about a friend or family. Considering that each one of his three children runs one of E.U.'s European campuses, this makes sense.

The diversity of the alumni is equally fascinating. Rather than name-dropping celebrity alumni (though a little research in the EU yearbooks yields famous names from royalty to gastronomy), the university emphasises various family businesses and the entrepreneurial vision.

Walking the talk

Headquartered in Montreux, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, E.U. offers a unique business education. The focus is on entrepreneurship and running a family business (clearly an approach close to Dr Craen's heart). At first glance, this may all sound standard enough.

However, the university's drive for sustainability, for one thing, is noticeably different. On the surface, it seems sustainability is about making environmentally conscious decisions. "Do you really need to print this e-mail?" reads the signature on all E.U. staff correspondence. As I comment on this admirable approach, Dr Craen rebuffs my compliment.

"You have to walk your talk. How can we expect the new generation to take over if we don't lead the way? You have to run a business like a business. Show them how it's done."

All the university's printers are set to print double-sided, buildings are on an automatic energy saving mode, and all the brochures are printed on recycled paper. This appears to be organized effortlessly, giving the impression that E.U. has mastered carbon consciousness. No need for a big fuss --just get it done.

Sustainable thinking

Despite the current economic crisis in Europe, Dr Craen shares with me his optimism for the future. He openly talks about the recession--typically an unwelcome topic. Yet he speaks with heartfelt conviction about "investing in our children". How "our future is counting on it". That many companies do not have a proper succession plan. And how a business school programme can offer young people a "permanent education".

E.U.'s focus is currently on bachelor's programmes. With the popularity of MBAs, this came as a bit of a surprise to me. Apparently, 70% of the programmes are at the undergraduate level. Beefing up the bachelor's programmes, argues Dr Craen, gives young people the tools to get out and gain experience.

"Be curious, study every day," is the message he wants students to learn. The thinking he aims to communicate is that an education is a "lifelong experience".

Redefining success

Recently, Dr Craen set expectations at a graduation ceremony. In his speech he offered a new definition of "www": never mind the worldwide web, he warned: it would take 10 to 15 years of "winning, working, wealth" to become successful. This exercise was also a demonstration of what he urges the new generation to do--think creatively, go beyond the job description.

Essentially, the president's message is to focus on the journey, not solely the destination. Recent B-school alumni might complain about not making millions upon graduation. Yet their alma mater's president is telling them they hold the ticket to success in their hands.

Enthusiastically, Dr Craen tells me: "Having survived a world recession, I want the younger generation to understand one thing. Look into the world! Be curious. Be open to change." And, with a chuckle, "Experience the world. Stop checking your e-mail."

Positive thinking

I ask what new tools business schools hope to provide students in today's economic climate. Dr Craen points to core values and soft skills, such as transparency, as being key to successfully running a business. Traditional B-schools may not be able to provide the comprehensive knowhow needed to take over and run a family business solely via case studies, he warns.

Dr Craen himself takes on the approach of "personal coaching" to encourage students to take action. Ethics taught at E.U. are geared towards social leadership and co-ownership. But the buck does not stop there. Dr Craen takes on the professors and their responsibilities as role models too.

He says it's high time that traditional university professors "step down from their ivory towers or wooden teaching posts". He tells students, "Don't test, do it!"

Differentiation is defined by being "action-oriented", he says. As the world population increases into the billions, the challenge for the younger generation is greater than ever before. At the same time, the older generation is seeking competent people to take over their businesses.

"Society is greying," he reflects. "The human will always survive. Ambition is innate and humans are full of potential."

Reputation management

But the younger generation faces more risks than just those of recession and the environment. They risk missing out on life, and opportunities, through being glued to social media.

He shares the story of a student about to enter the job market. Dr Craen advised the soon to be graduate against posting "silly pictures" on his Facebook wall. Prospective employers, he reasoned, would be quick to judge and dismiss the applicant's priorities as partying. The president elaborates with nuanced catch phrases: the "willingness to work" and a "doing mentality". Obtaining a master's degree could be seen as a way to get a job and to cash in on better benefits. However, the road to success, he argues, is to take a hands-on approach.


A fellow wordsmith, Dr Craen spontaneously shares a new favourite: "eve"--olution. Since in Europe, there are fewer female CEOs or business owners than in North America, this is often a touchy topic. We chat the challenge of needing more women to rise to leadership positions. Again, Dr Craen practices what he preaches: his daughter, Ann Craen, is the managing director of the Neuchatel campus.

Passion, patience and persuasion

Sadly, as our time is up. Ever efficiently Dr Craen quickly sums up our conversation: "Entrepreneurs need not just intelligence, but a solid work ethic too." He suggests that patience, passion and persuasion are key ingredients to success."

And then he's gone, off to his next meeting ... and, one imagines, another opportunity to practise lifelong learning. I hang up the phone feeling inspired and compelled to excel.

European University Montreux

Le Forum Grand Rue 3

1820 Montreux 2


T +41 21 964 84 64

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Title Annotation:people: eu's dr dirk craen
Author:Frey-Hasegawa, Erika
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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