The life of an Independent Chairman!
Independent Chairman is a position that is probably the least well-known of all the different positions within Asset. The ironic thing is that this is actually a consequence of our success. With about 650 active members and 42 board members divided over seven departments, Asset is such a large organization, that many of you do not really get in touch with the organization of our association on a faculty wide level. This is exactly the reason why I was asked to write this blog: To illustrate what is going on beyond the borders of your department.
“Are you not lonely?”, is probably the question that has been asked to me most frequently over the course of the year. And I can understand why people might think this: The General Board of Asset consists of the chairmen of the departments - who spend 50% of their time on Asset whilst managing one of the General Board portfolios and 50% of their time on their department - and me as the only full time Asset General board member, which means that I am not constantly surrounded by my board members and which also means not that many active members step by. However, reality turned out to be the opposite of this widespread expectation.
The end of May I heard that I had been accepted for the position of Independent Chairman and a week later, I had my first meeting with my predecessor, Joep Paumen. I got handed over a piece of paper with a long list of dates and times on it. “Hello Lina, here are some important meetings and drinks I would like you to accompany me to, so you can start building your network”. I became a little pale and stumbled that I still had to finish my thesis. Joep started laughing and reassured me that I did not have to start full time right away and could take my time to finish my thesis, while at the same time joining him to his important meetings and drinks from that point onwards. Five minutes later I realized that this meant going to ten announcement drinks, the Asset champions league and a TiGeAk drink, all in one month. As you can imagine, this period was quite hectic. However, this month was also one of the best months in my board year. During the drinks you get to know all the other board members, which basically boils down to making a lot of new friends. The last announcement drink was the one of the General Board and without going into detail (because well, it is nice to keep this a secret for all future General Board members) I can say that this was a day to never forget, which forged a strong bond between the General Board members.
After a summer of learning the ropes, getting to know the association and forming my contacts - both internally and externally - it was time for Joep to say goodbye and for me to take over the lead. Board members always joke about September being a busy month and they laugh at the candidates for underestimating it. We thought this was nonsense and just as every year, we underestimated it big time. September is the month you realize you do not know enough to run an association, you are not ready for this and you will never finish all your tasks in time. It is therefore the perfect bootcamp to learn all the skills you will need badly during the rest of your board year: Time management, learning to prioritize, dealing with responsibilities and accepting the blame even when it was not your fault. Besides this, you find out that you do not know yourself as well as you think. Just as all the people who returned from exchange, I was under the impression that the cliche “You really learn who you are when you spend half a year abroad”, was more than just that. And if you live the rest of your relaxed student life just as you did before, it probably is, but under this amount of sudden pressure and responsibility you are forced to reconsider. I remember answering that I was “pretty good” in stressful situations and that stress would not “get the better of me” in my application interview. However, when during my first week in charge our policy still needed to be finalized, the GMM was not finished yet and we all of the sudden got a letter that we had to pay an invoice for multiple thousands of euros that we had never seen before, which was due that Friday, I was far from calm. Luckily, you learn to deal with these situations and now I can honestly say that I am “pretty good” in stressful situations.
After the stressful weeks of September all board members had found their place and that meant that I had to spend less time on the management and internal coordination of our association, and that I could spend more time on the other part of my function: Representing Asset to external parties and stakeholders. Outside parties view our associations differently than most of our members see it. Where members see their department working almost autonomously, outside parties see us as one big collective, which is centrally governed. Therefore, many outside parties consider the Independent Chairman, as the person in charge. The truth lies in the middle: The General Board constitutes the most important decision making body and thus holds the central power and as Independent Chairman, you represent the opinion of the General Board. In this capacity I had meetings with among others, the dean of Tias, the rector of our University and the Management Team of TiSEM. Representing Asset is a strange sensation: On the one hand you have the weight of Asset behind you, on the other hand you are also expected to take responsibility for being the biggest study association. An example of this was when the rector questioned why we organize only department and faculty specific events as study associations. Why did we not organize a university wide event together? At that point we, as Asset, were kind off expected to take the lead and investigate this possibility.
November was a month filled with events, both at a department and at a faculty wide level. We organized one of our biggest events: The Asset Inhouse Days and that way we provided many students with the opportunity to meet their future employer. At the same time more study specific events were organized: The Finance Expedition, the Consultancy Days and many more. Besides the formal events, some informal events were organized as well. Especially the Asset Gala was a highlight for me. Just standing there, looking around me and seeing about 250 active members and board members enjoying themselves, while drinking a nice glass of wine.
In December it was time to initiate a new General Board tradition: The semi-annual team building weekend (more commonly known as the chairmen escalation trip). We all took our Friday off and we hopped on the train to Eindhoven Airport. At the airport we reunited with one of the chairmen who had missed the train and together we took the plain to Poland. We had a lovely weekend there on which I am not going to elaborate, because “What happens in Poland, stays in Poland”. Altogether this was a great ending to a very successful first semester in our board years.
January constituted a great start for 2018, as the very first Asset Ski-trip took place. I love to go skiing and thus gladly joined. Together with 37 people we went to Superdevoluy for five days of fun, snow and a little après ski. Besides just fun, the trip was also a great way for the participants to get to know active members from other departments. This cohesion between departments is something every General Board strives to increase and although we have seen a rising trend over the years, it is great to have a new event that helps kick-start it. I am already looking forward to the 2019 edition of the trip!
As study association, you carry the responsibility to represent the interests of your members in all kinds of matters. One of the organs used for this is TiGeAk; a kind of Union for (study) associations aligned to Tilburg University. When during the beginning of February a couple of the TiGeAk associations heard the rumour that it was likely that the university council parties would not reach an agreement to reduce the harassment of students during the elections, we decided it was time to step up. Together with many other associations, we wrote a letter to the president and rector of the University, saying we wanted them to stop this nonsense. A letter seems like a small gesture, but when signed by so many associations, it becomes quite a powerful tool. It turned out we had enough influence to steer the parties back to the negotiation table. Hopefully it will be enough to continuously improve the elections for the students.
Normally, Asset has two General Member Meetings per year; one in September and one in February. During these gatherings we explain the policy progress we have made so far. The semi-annual GMM was a little disappointing. It is not that we have not made a lot of progress over the course of the year, but a lot of that progress stems from projects taken on later in the year, when the policy had already been written. The biggest focus point of our policy was to increase the amount of study support to our members. However, this point had not improved much, since many of our ideas had faltered. Luckily, the Media Coordinator of the General Board had worked very hard on his project: A new website. This meant that half of March I had the pleasure to chair an extraordinary GMM to vote on the plan. These steps will help us professionalize Asset even further.
April is a good month for board members. This is the month you participate in the Economics Business weeks Tilburg, our biggest event. This is also the month you really start to notice the personal development you have made over the course of your board year. Looking back at your behavior in September or even in June and now, shows quite the difference. At the same time you also see the value of doing a board year reflected in the amount of activities you are chosen to participate in during the EBT. Companies seem to notice the steep learning curve board members experience.
All together, the past ten months have been amazing. The position of Independent Chairman has offered me the opportunity to manage and represent a big organization. A chance that will not come along in my professional life for the next couple of years. It has helped me to become more confident, professional and proactive and has basically increased all of my soft skills. Besides my personal development, it has also given me the possibility to make friends for life. It is strange to see it is all coming to an end. The next couple of months will be all about finishing my projects and enjoying my last months as a board member, while at the same time looking for my successor and making sure that he or she is ready for this experience of a lifetime.