Judith Behrens: the rise of a passion

Judith Behrens works at the intersection of entrepreneurship, innovation management and strategic decision-making. Her professional encounters, quest for international experience and a bit of luck have shaped her path and paved her way to academia. Now a faculty member in the School, she looks to connect with the Belgian entrepreneurship network and educate its future leaders.

Judith Behrens
Judith Behrens: "As a researcher you always compete for grants, and rejections are very high in the publication process."

Unlike most of her academic peers, Judith Behrens first cut her teeth in the banking sector right after graduating from high school, at the age of 19. For the next three years, she trained as a bank clerk through an apprenticeship programme with Deutsche Bank AG in Germany. The experience she acquired at the Bank, together with « a bit of luck » as she likes to note, would soon work towards her desire for an international career: she landed a bank clerk job at American Mortgage Express in the United States. However, during that year she would make a life-changing decision by deciding to attend university.

Early Stages of her Career

Once immersed in the academic world, Judith Behrens climbed all its steps – from graduating with a Master’s degree to a Ph.D., and from habilitation to professor. When asked why she embraced an academic career, she smilingly responds that « an academic career became an exciting option while I worked on my Ph.D. proposal. I had the chance to be a visiting scholar in the United States, which allowed me to attend international
conferences such as the Babson conference ». This convinced her to stay in academia, and she was lucky enough to get her first job after her Ph.D. with Prof. Holger Patzel, « an amazing entrepreneurship researcher and a habilitation mentor who provided me with outstanding resources and support at the Technische Universität München », she reminisces.

Commitment to Academia

Her appetite for continuous learning, competition and international experiences have certainly defined her career path. « I like challenges and that you always can improve your expertise. Changing career roles such as moving from Ph.D. student to postdoctorate, and then becoming a faculty member of course affects what you are doing in your daily life. Besides, I have always been interested in working in different countries and gain international experience. In this regard, I have to admit that I have already been fortunate to study and work in different parts of the world », Judith Behrens notes about her career.
In 2017, as she was on her way to winning the Johannes B. Ortner Prize for her habilitation project in Germany, she stumbled upon an international job newsletter which advertised a job opening at the School. Some months and a Prize later, she joined the School as a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. As a relatively new SBS-EM faculty member, she looks forward to better understanding the Belgian entrepreneurship community. Indeed, her short-term goals are to connect with the « inspiring and very European entrepreneurial network we have here in Brussels », as she describes it, and to « write applications for Belgian grants, as soon as possible ». As far as the long-term is concerned, she hopes « to work more with Ph.D. students on research projects and raise grants ».

Judith Behrens
Judith Behrens

Judith Behrens: the Researcher

Along the way, she has honed her analytical skills and sometimes surpassed her own limits, notably by facing rejections, which is part of the academic research game in which one has to constantly find the next research topic or method that would be of interest for international reviews and journals. « As a researcher you always compete for grants, and rejections are very high in the publication process. However, it is the best job I can think of at the moment! », she asserts.
Dr Behrens always enjoys answering interesting questions and chooses the most appropriate research methods for doing so, whether these be experiments, surveys or cases. She illustrated this by mentioning the paper published in the ‘Journal of Business Venturing’, in which together with her colleagues she developed a scale called « Perceived Project Transition Support », which is aimed at investigating how management can ease employees’ transitions between entrepreneurial projects.
Time can fly when one is busy wearing various hats, and Judith Behrens has added an editorial position to her various roles. Together with some of her colleagues, she is the editor of a Springer book titled « Interfaces between Digital Technologies and Entrepreneurship », which is currently in press. In addition to this, she is also a member of the editorial review boards of ‘Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice’ and ‘Journal of Product Innovation Management’.
This role requires her to review several papers per year and determine whether they should be accepted for publication in the journal.

Judith Behrens: the Professor

She says she is « passionate about entrepreneurship, innovation management and strategic decision making ». This passion helps her to incite her students to identify and develop entrepreneurial opportunities, or to work on remarkable and innovative business plans. So far, her experience at the School has brought her great satisfaction. During this semester, she has had the « chance », as she says, to teach to two talented classes of management and engineering Master students. She also finds the interaction with the students to be constructive: « when I work with cases in the area of social entrepreneurship, the students are creative in identifying social venture ideas », she recognizes.
This interaction is also the outcome of Judith Behrens’ teaching method, which encourages active student participation. She is convinced that students will not learn and understand the concepts of the courses if they are simply asked to fold their hands and sit at the back of the class. This approach only helps students absorb some information, which they will share at the first opportunity that arises. « My teaching philosophy is based on active learning, which involves asking students to solve problems, formulate and answer critical questions, and debate during class. This is complemented by cooperative learning, where students need, for example, to put themselves in the position of an investor in a social venture. My ultimate goal in my teaching is to train competent future managers, entrepreneurs and responsible citizens in an increasingly digital global world ».

Life Philosophy

Dr Behrens very much appreciates the academic freedom she has as a professor and researcher, that she can work on topics she has a passion for and develop them with her team. « Every day is different in my job and that is what I like », notes Dr Behrens. The foresight she has shown in pursuing paths that give her great satisfaction is probably the result of the sound advice she once received from her professor at the Witten Herdecke University. During an economic class, he asked the students: « Imagine you sit in a rocking chair on your terrace after you just retired. What do you want this person to see when s/he looks back at life? ». This turned out to be a wonderful exercise for Dr Behrens, which she keeps thinking of whenever she has an important decision to make. It certainly helps her « to clarify and select priorities in life », she conveys.

Judith Behrens: professional experience

Judith Behrens
Judith Behrens
  • 10/2017- present: Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, SBS-EM
  • 2011-2017: Postdoc/Habilitand, TUM (Germany)
  • 2009, 2012, 2014: Visiting Scholar, Kelley School of Business (USA)
  • 2005: Intern at Kostal Electrica (Spain)
  • 2003: Bank clerk, American Mortgage Express (USA)

Judith Behrens: education

  • 2008-2011: Ph.-D, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management (Germany)
  • 2006: General Management, Stockholm University – School of Business (Sweden)
  • 2003-2007: Diploma in Economics, Universität WittenHerdecke (Germany)
  • 2000-2003: Apprentice bank clerk, Deutsche Bank AG (Germany)


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