Interview drs. Dirk Leysen

Interview drs. Dirk Leysen

IBA students know him from his phrase: “profit is an opinion, cash is reality”. He has been a teacher at Tilburg University for more than 20 years and is still teaching. Of course I am talking about drs. Dirk Leysen. Dirk grew up in Dessel, a small village in Belgium 45 kilometers from Tilburg. He became familiar with Dutch culture from quite a young age by attending a European school in Mol where 70% of his class was Dutch. He was also nominated for the best teacher in Tilburg University. In this interview you will learn more about the background of the enthusiastic Financial Accounting teacher of Tilburg University.

Where did you study yourself?

I started university in 1975 at the RUCA which stands for Rijks Universitair Centrum Antwerpen. Today this is known as the University of Antwerp. I graduated university in applied sciences in 1979 after 4 years of university.

What were you like as a student?

The first year I was quite afraid and a little bit nervous if I would be able to succeed so I studied quite a lot in my first year. Accounting was difficult for me. I didn’t understand debit and credit and all the balance sheets. That is what I also tell my students. In the end I succeeded based on my study time. Later on I had more confidence and I spent more time playing sports and enjoying student life.

What was the most important lesson during your time in university?

The lesson that I learned during my first year was very important. You really have to spend your time by quite a lot of hours studying, which I did. For me this was very important because I started with the idea that I will never manage this and it worked out in a good way and I think it was based on my study time. In my second, third and fourth year my advice would be: enjoy.

How did you become a teacher?

It was a little bit based on my wife because she studied geography so she was predestined to become a teacher. I was very disappointed at that time that I had to do military service. My wife and I decided to get married so I could do the military service in Belgium. Together with my wife, who was already a teacher in secondary school, I discussed becoming a secondary school teacher as well. I started with a very small ambition to become a teacher in secondary school and got an offer for two years. After some time I received a call from a college to become a teacher there. Today that school is called the ‘Thomas Moore Hoge School’ and I am still an accounting teacher there. In 1999 I was reading an announcement that Tilburg University was looking for a teacher in Management Accounting. I applied for the job. It took one year of discussion between me and the university. In the end the university took the risk and gave me a contract for six months teaching Management Accounting. At that time I was not aware that it was actually Advanced Management Accounting in the first year of the Master. You can imagine I suffered quite a lot. To be honest, my first evaluation  was terrible. So I thought: this is the end. However the head professor at that time believed in my capacities. So just like my first year in university I started studying. My first objective was to improve my English so I just studied until I improved. The reason for doing all this at 43 years old was: ambition.

You were nominated for the best teacher in Tilburg University. What do you think about this nomination?

Of course I hoped to receive it. I was only nominated but of course it was a big pleasure to read the email from Jorna (Leenheer). I received quite a lot of emails from students in which they announced that they were happy with my lectures. I still remember that during my last lecture everybody remained online and nobody left and people told me that they loved my lectures. During previous years there was big applause after some lectures and after my final lecture. It really came out of the hearts of the students. Afterwards I was really emotional, it did quite a bit to me. I hope that I am still the simple guy with ambition. If you have ambition and you want to realize something you can go far.

Why do you think students like your lectures?

There are two reasons. I am a teacher by nature. I have some qualities and capacities that you are born with, you just have them. But besides that, every lecture should be prepared. Every lecture takes quite a lot of preparation time and energy. I’m still doing this so I know exactly what to tell, what the PowerPoint is about, I know every number by head, not because I have done this for many years but because I am still preparing. My daughters ask me why I still have to prepare my lectures, I tell them: yes I still have to prepare because if I don’t prepare, it will be a bad lecture.

Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?

Well I am very happy with my final period. In Belgium I was able to retire 4 years ago already but I decided not to do so. At 65 years old in 2022 I have to retire in Belgium so then I have to retire from Thomas Moore. Next year I will start my last academic year in Thomas Moore. My contract at Tilburg University ended in September 2020. I thought: OK I will retire and stop in Tilburg when my contract is finished and after I stop at Thomas Moore me and my wife will retire. But totally unexpected my head of department Stephan Hollander asked me to stay at Tilburg University. I was taken by surprise and asked him why. His answer was quite simple: If you are the best teacher in town why should we let you go. They offered me a contract for 4 more years, so until I am 67 and I accepted. So I will be in Tilburg University until 2024. I could have been retired already and travel the world. But I am still so enthusiastic that I am very happy to continue.

You are known for your stories about your friend Ronnie and his famous expression: Profit is an opinion, cash is reality. When did you start using this phrase in your lectures and why do you repeat it every lecture?

Ronnie (Leten) is a very good friend. He is the son of a miner and was predestined to become a miner too. He started university and became the CEO of Atlas Copco. At this moment he is the president of the Board of Ericson. He was selected as “Manager of the year” in Belgium in 2014. [DL1] He said: Please make clear to your students that accounting principles can be used to report profits and that profit is important to a company but that cash is much more important. Based on the fact that I would like to focus more on the cash statements instead of the profit and loss statement I asked Ronnie if he would mind if I took over his statement. I like the statement because it makes clear to students what accounting is. If old students remember me and my lectures they will remember that profit is an opinion and cash is reality.

“Profit is an opinion and cash is reality”

You have been teaching for quite some time now. What are the changes regarding students that you noticed in the years that you have been teaching?

Students have changed quite a lot compared to when I started. The Dutch students were quite direct from the moment that I started. I like that style, it’s right in your face. Then the evolution from Dutch students 20 years ago compared to now is engagement. 20 years ago students did not have the influence that they have now. It might be a little bit too much? Maybe, especially in mails for instance. Students want to complain and they immediately write an email. The confrontation is sometimes not ideal. Of course they know much more because of the internet, social media and so on. Students are more engaged. I think that is my conclusion if I compare students from now to students from then. My exam questions from 20 years ago could be solved by the students from now. Some people say that the level is going down and that the students don’t work anymore but I don’t agree with that.

What is your opinion on online lectures and how do you keep motivating your students?

I was very disappointed that I was not able to teach students in lecture rooms because that is my strength. My physical appearance is as important as my knowledge. I am moving, not staying behind my desk and quite a lot of body language. This is not something that you are able to do in your online lectures. I miss this part of my teaching very much. It proves students that I am enthusiastic and very accessible. Everybody can ask me questions, everybody can talk with me. But it seems that it still works and that students are enthusiastic about my online teaching. I try to copy my live teaching style to online teaching but of course I prefer live teaching that is my strength.

Do you have any advice for the students reading this interview?

Three things. Enjoy your life, every minute because it goes very fast. One blink and you’re 63. Do some sport, whichever one, whatever sport. It means be engaged it means everything that has to do with engagement. And the third one which maybe is the most important one. Remain enthusiast. When you are it is clear that you like your own life. I like to share that with people, also in my private life. Don’t think about the worst thing. Be happy and enthusiastic whatever you are doing. Three things and they all mean the same thing in different words.

Written by Fren Dummer, IBA student Tilburg University

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