Faculty Spotlight: Interview with Gordon van der Veen, MA (MGT) PGDBA

Q1: What courses do you teach at Lauder Business School?

I teach three courses: Management Accounting, Financial Accounting, and Performance Management. In anything I do I like the holistic approach.   My teaching method demands seeing the whole picture and then trying to convey an understanding of individual subjects that is firmly anchored in a holistic awareness of reality. Making connections with other subjects should be a routine part of every class.

Q2: Can you describe your journey from student to the prominent lecturer and international management consultant you are today?

This journey started right from my school days when I learnt soft skills and acquired insights which help me in being effective until today. From about the age of 9 I became a very, very mischievous student. My brother Darryl (I have five brothers and two sisters) and I grew up like twins, so we started school together and were always in the same class.  Together we were the biggest rascals (nice ones) who did everything but study and only moved to the next class because our teachers liked us. In our pre-final school year this whole thing changed around 180 degrees and we became model students. This left me with a wonderful grasp of how mischievous students think, their learning needs and how to reach them. I still can see the fun in their tricks and crazy ways. After all, they were once mine.

At the age of 11, the Harry Potter age, I discovered my magical world of debating and dramatics. A class teacher introduced a weekly debate class, where I excelled. As a child I loved debating, public speaking, poetry, drama, theater, philosophy. In college (where I studied Business) I continued all of this great love at a pretty high level, particularly debating, dramatics and writing. All of these have had a major impact on my development and my career: Connecting with people, communicating ideas and visions; and very importantly, listening with the inner ear.

Conveying ideas in a very short period of time, taking complex issues and making them easy to understand, were the skills trained since my early childhood. I use these skills today in teaching and consulting. As a consultant you have to be given a lot of confidential information, and in order to get them, you need to build up trust with the client. You need to connect.

Q3: What made the biggest impact on your career?

At the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, the economy was doing badly and finding a job extremely difficult. I was not interested in accounting, despite having a major in the subject and being very good at it. Naturally, the first job that I was offered (by a startup construction company) was “Cost Accountant”. I had never seen a ledger in my life. No one in the company knew anything about accounting. They had no accounting at all, just the raw data. With no one to help I had to set up two whole systems, Cost Accounting as well as Financial Accounting, on my own. It was the accountant’s nightmare assignment. I was paid next to nothing! But the experience I gained gave me skills and confidence which remain with me to this day. The stuff I did there became so much part of me that it never bothered me to go anywhere and build up things from scratch. Once everything was resolved, the challenge was gone and it all got mercilessly boring. So I left.

The fall of communism had a major impact on my career and me as a person as well, because it opened up many opportunities for people with expertise like mine. I was very much involved in the transition process in the economies in transition (management consulting and training) and this has been one of the most landmark experiences of my life. It has been a great privilege being a part, however small, of one of the most fundamental changes in recent history.

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Another experience that I must mention is that I went as part of a UNIDO mission to the Republic of Bosnia, when it was still a war zone in the 1990s. The major objective was to create employment and to examine the feasibility of turning several of the big state owned companies around. When I returned to Vienna, my wife told me “You’ve changed, you’re different.” She was right. Unconsciously, I came to truly understand there how fundamentally important the right attitudes and systems are if we are to live fulfilling and good lives, professionally or otherwise.

Q4:  What was the best moment of your career so far?

I ran away from accounting to a more dramatic space of project management, logistics and supply chain management, when I started working for the US Steel Group. In today’s money, this was a 21 billion dollar project and I was responsible for offshore transportation and vendor management. That was one of the happiest times of my career. There was never any routine. Every day was a thrill, like being a gladiator walking into the arena: you had no idea what kind of beast was going to attack you and you had to win.

Q5: What is one thing that students would be surprised to know about you?

A very important part of me is that I am a person of faith. My resilience and conduct come from faith.  As part of my Roman Catholic parish activities, I have designed and driven all kinds of projects which help people to help themselves e.g. funding a boy’s school in Zimbabwe or projects to help women displaced by war. That is very close to my heart. It is something more people should do and care about.

Q6: What do you like most about teaching at LBS?

I like challenges and building new things. What I like best about LBS is that here we are still building it up, here I can contribute, try and make a change. I like the attitude of the School which is very positive and allows you to contribute. There is on open ear for this, as well as a genuine desire to move things forward. This is the kind of place I like to be in!

Q7: Why would you recommend Lauder Business School? 

 This is a place where you are part of growing and there is focus on quality. Being an international myself, I think that the diversity of the student body is a great reason to come to a place like this because it contributes to acquiring very powerful non-academic skills: Learning how to deal with people who are from very different places, who speak different languages and have different mindsets, is a very good reason to come to LBS.

For more information about van der Veen’s career path, please refer to his CV.