Where do Erasmus University students end up? In this section, graduates share their stories about their career and life: what have they learned along the way? In passing, they’ll give you a few tips about the dos and don’ts in building your career.

Rob de Winter (55)

Study: Master’s in Public Administration (2007-2009)

Current job: SAP Project manager at the Ministry of Defence: an integrated business operations system that supports multiple processes, including logistics, technical maintenance, and financial processes. “I’ve been working with SAP at the Air Force since 2006. I’m now fine-tuning the system to prepare it for implementation at the other three organisational elements at the Ministry of Defence. Half of my time is spent doing this work as a working foreman and the remainder of my time is spent on managing a team of 29 people.”

Career path: Following his study at a school for higher education in economics and management, De Winter joined the Air Force in 1983. Because of his higher education background, he became a training officer after about a year and held a command position by his mid-twenties. At the Ministry of Defence, employees change jobs every three years. This meant a number of different positions at various departments until he was deployed to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. There, his team of almost 100 people was responsible for a number of tasks including the medical service, supplies, and communications.

Painful mistakes
“The Ministry of Defence immediately puts officers in charge of a group. You simply have to get on with it and that’s to the organisation’s credit. After you make a few painful mistakes, you quickly develop leadership qualities. I still remember what it was like to be in my mid-twenties and commanding a group of men, some of whom had much more experience than me. I quickly learned the secret of leadership: have faith in the group. As a manager, your most important task is to create a good group dynamic. I was able to successfully do this during my mission in Afghanistan, thanks to the professionalism of colleagues. My duties went smoothly and even though it was an important mission, I quite enjoyed my five months there.”

Am I doing it right?
It’s part of a good manager’s nature to always look for ways to improve. That includes one’s own performance. After every meeting or situation I still ask myself: Did I do it right? Could I have done better? I am deeply aware of the fact that every decision affects a person and that person’s family.

“Now that I think about it, perhaps I could have stood up for my people more often. That’s why I’ll continue to learn by stepping out of my comfort zone. That can be scary and it’s not always fun, but personal development is a painful process.”


More confidence thanks to my study
“I deliberately chose to study at Erasmus University. Even though I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel after the mission, at that time I still felt I needed a more solid theoretical foundation. During the Master’s in Public Administration, some of the things I learned were to approach things more analytically and to better express myself in writing. That boosted my self-confidence so I can perform effectively at this level.”

Cherry on the cake
“The Ministry of Defence is a microcosm of outside world. All disciplines are found here, such as HR, finance, engineering, ICT, or process improvement. Back then, as now, this makes the organisation an interesting employer. The rank hierarchy also makes it a transparent organisation. Everyone knows their place. This is crucial when decisions have to be made quickly in a crisis situation.

The fact that I’ve attained this rank is the cherry on the cake. As a rookie, my goal was the rank of Major, but I’ve gone one step higher.”