Academic and business insights

Academic and business insights

An Interview with Dr. Jean Louis Steevensz, chair of the research group “Business Innovation” at Fontys University of Applied Sciences

Today, besides being a lecturer, Jean Louis Steevensz is chairman of the research group “Business Innovation” at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Venlo. Jean Louis has a PhD in Marketing and shares a lot of his professional insights, experiences, and accomplishments in this interview.

There are many takeaways, and not only for business students!

Did you intend to become a researcher from day one?

No actually not, I first studied electrical engineering and then started my career in the design environment. After a couple years as a product designer, I started to work at Phillips in medical systems. My main task was to install MRI-Scanners in hospitals all around the world. Here I really learned how to represent Phillips and my passion for marketing slowly emerged. Shortly after, I decided to start a master program in marketing and supply chain management. I was fascinated by the width of marketing and what it encompassed. I was very dedicated towards my studies and worked ambitiously on my thesis. Eventually, after my graduation I could continue with a PhD in marketing at the Open University, Heerlen (NL). For me this was a major opportunity. Because I combined my work with a PhD study it took me six years. Once I obtained my PhD and spent many years working in the high-tech industry, I discovered what research really is. How important it is in daily practise and how much joy it brings to me. Here I realized that “I can do something I really like!”.

What was your most striking project / achievement?

I was involved in many projects and every project was striking in its own way. But when I need to pin it to a couple major achievements, I remember my time at Anteryon. I started at Anteryon (A company that emerged from Phillips) in September and already in November I managed to close the biggest deal in the company’s history. It was a research & development project over the term of two years and around 2 million € in revenue.One recent achievement was my appointment to chair of the research group business innovation at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in 2019. I decided that I want to spend the last 20% of my working career passing over my knowledge to the next generation of businesspeople. But it was not easy to find a job as a lecturer. Finally, in the fall of 2019 I succeeded and three months later I was even appointed to chair of the research group (interim lector).

Eventually, I am especially proud that I obtained my PhD at a later age. I even like to believe that this is one of my biggest achievement. Kind of special was that I based my dissertation solely on case studies from my own work experience. Surely, this brings many issues regarding reliability and ethics with it. However, I managed to construct such a methodology that my research proposal was accepted. In fact, it was based on a theory developed by the University of Hertfordshire (UK).

I believe that sometimes you really need to be stubborn and “when you believe in something you need to push through!

What 30 years of experience can teach you as an IBA freshman!

What are the benefits of conducting research at a university instead of in a corporate setting?

The corporate setting is fundamentally different from the academical setting. The main issue in the corporate setting is the pressure of money. Companies want to see results quickly, since the research needs to lead to a new product. Further development and product launches are desired as soon as possible. Researchers are stimulated via an incentive scheme, based on filed patents.

On the contrary, in the academical setting this pressure of money is not as present. Time horizons are usually longer (around four years) and money comes continuously instead of one time investment like in the corporate setting. However, in the current COVID-19 situation we notice that funding is now more problematic.
Still, I value the working conditions in the academical environment. Some projects just need their time, and sometimes you cannot do it perfectly under pressure.

In your book “Challenges Developing Customer Orientation in Technical Oriented Organizations” you mentioned that the concept of future does not exist and that there is only now. Can you elaborate?

To provide some background, I lived for some time in Japan and there I learned a lot of the culture and in particular about Zen Buddhism and meditation. This is very philosophical and personal but the main point I like to make is that I criticize the mainstream theorem of constant view on the future. Personally, I believe that one should focus on what is happening right now. Describe things as they are today and investigate what one is doing now. When you transfer this to my current research group, where we help companies to rethink their business model: start with what you are doing now and most importantly why you are doing it!

As a professional researcher, what advice can you give the average IBA student on conducting research?

In my opinion students have the tendency to start business research too quickly. It is so important to really think about the research and not to start with analysing and forcefully trying to apply learned theorems just for the purpose of analysing. Students who start too quickly often overlook perspectives and need to go back later in their thesis/projects. This costs them twice the time and effort… 
Hence, my advice is to extensively think about what you want to achieve, the main idea and then reason backwards. “First thinking, then conducting”

Written by Cedric Boxberg, IBA student from Hückswagen, Germany

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