Imparting the Science of Tackling New Business Challenges

Stefan Descheemaeker and Pierre Deville belong to the new generation of professors. The common denominator of their distinctive academic and professional paths is a will to generate a positive and lasting impact on society.

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Given their high level of expertise and dedication to their subject, it was no surprise that colleagues and acquaintances of Stefan Descheemaeker and Pierre Deville should be keen to advise them to lecture at the SBS-EM. Bruno van Pottelsberge, the previous Dean, a full-time Professor at SBS-EM and Senior Research Fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based Think-Tank, invited Stefan Descheemaeker to consider the role of lecturer in Business Strategy. Stefan, Chief Executive Officer at Nomad Holdings, a leading packaged foods company, thought it was a “fantastic topic” and immediately considered it. And encouragement from his family and relatives reinforced his decision to take on the role. Similarly, it was a friend of Pierre Deville who spotted the opening for associate professor in Data Management and Analytics just a week before the deadline and strongly encouraged him to apply for it given his professional background.

Pierre Deville was new to the SBS-EM, but his strong publication record along with his background as Co-Founder of Swan Insights (which was recently acquired by the Bisnode Company) and his current role as Head of Analytics at Bisnode Group Analytics, must surely have caught the School’s attention. Pierre admits that as he got to know the SBS-EM he was left “amazed by the business dynamics around the campus, which is something I was not entirely familiar with. Besides the standard courses for students, many other types of events, such as professional workshops, training sessions for companies and executive master’s are also often taking place”.

New knowledge and passion

Pierre Deville was soon persuaded that this was the role for him: “This position was directly associated with a new course on topics in which I have a high level of expertise”. And it would also allow him to approach this field from a different angle to the one he was accustomed to in his daily work. For Stefan Descheemaeker, the impetus to take the role was the “principle of giving back and, ultimately, the great opportunity it offered to interact with the next generation”. He recalls that when he himself was a student at the SBS-EM, one of his professors, Pierre Scohier, former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Belgian Investment Fund Cobepa, had been inspirational in sharing his passion for business with him. Nowadays, as a lecturer himself, he knows that he too will take pride in transmitting this passion to his own students. He believes: “Business can and should be fun. Obviously you need rigour and discipline but also instinct, imagination, emotion, energy and empathy”.

Real Life Business Solutions

Through his new role, Pierre Deville aims to inform students about “the different challenges offered by the big data revolution and provide them with the necessary tools to understand and build solutions for the challenges they will face in the near future in their professional careers”. These challenges might be to build an application or a business solution, an exercise which may perhaps seem tedious given the numerous and fast-evolving technologies available. Which is why Pierre Deville’s course “aims at introducing and training students in different technologies related to big data and data science and covering a wide spectrum of aspects such as data acquisition, data cleaning, data storage, descriptive analytics and finally, predictive analytics. For all these aspects, we present the different technologies and methodologies available. This enables us to look at the advantages and disadvantages associated with one approach over another”.

IT IS OUR ROLE AS A PROFESSOR TO HELP STUDENTS COME UP WITH THE RIGHT SEQUENCE OF QUESTIONS

Though his Data Management and Analytics Course only started last February, he and his assistant have already identified potential improvements within the curriculum, such as “focusing further still on economic and business aspects through additional practical projects”, he explained. Similarly, Stefan Descheemaeker’s key objective is “to prepare the students to present a Strategic Recommendation to top business leaders”. To do this, he now focuses on developing his students’ capacity to “sell” this content (of the curriculum) and their debating skills”. Recognising SBS-EM content as “best in class”, what he seeks above all to instil in his students’ minds is the importance of building strong interpersonal skills, which are paramount to succeeding in the business world. He and his assistant, Guillaume Dasnoy, make use of applications such as Moodle to achieve this objective.

Business and Society

Stefan Descheemaeker goes further, stressing the vital role played by the interconnectivity between companies’ business activities and their surrounding society: ‘”Everything” becomes increasingly connected to “everything”. As such, the business and society connection is getting ever larger”, he explained. He feels that the current generation of students, is more fully aware of this fact than was his generation and that it is his role as a professor to “help them come up with the right sequence of questions” in this regard. On his course, he therefore looks at the implications that the people dimension has on a company’s outside and inside environment. As far as Pierre Deville’s own career is concerned, it was a desire during his studies to explain society’s behaviour mathematically that led him to produce a PhD thesis entitled “Understanding Social Dynamics through Big Data” and later to co-found Swan in order to see the impact and value of his research on real customers. “Given the recent advent of Network Science and the availability of large scale data describing human dynamics, I was convinced about the opportunities to discover new laws from new unstructured datasets of this kind that would help bring new insights into how society behaves”, he explained with enthusiasm.

 

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