Like other employees, professors retire when they turn 65. But there are exceptions. One of them is the geophysicist and innovation consultant Prof. Guus Berkhout (73).
Yellow flooring and a painting on the wall, two leather chairs and a chess board – the furnishings of Berkhout’s office are not standard for TU Delft, and neither is its occupant. Berkhout will soon be leaving for The Hague to attend a discussion at the European headquarters of Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil suppliers and a client of Berkhout’s Delphi Consortium. Later that day, he will go to the Bel Air Hotel. That is where he likes to meet with project directors and PhD students.
Since 1982, the Delphi Consortium has been providing new geo-imaging solutions to more than 30 affiliated companies. ‘We are the new eyes of the geo-industry’, Berkhout says. By opting for a consortium of international enterprises, he and his 20 employees are able to avoid becoming trapped in the specific problems of companies while, in his words, being able to ‘stay involved with strategic, fundamental activities and work on the technology of the future’.
Berkhout points out one important difference between what he is doing now and his work before his retirement in 2005: the elimination of the ‘financial hassles’ and the meetings. ‘We have introduced so much bureaucracy at the university that people are too busy with protocols to have much time left to think calmly about what they are doing.’ The number of days has not changed (‘seven!’), and his current contract with the CEG faculty is valid until 2015.
Berkhout is working on three major projects. In addition to the Delphi Consortium, these projects include a model for social-economic development and a proposal for a new democracy.
The development model is a sort of natural law in social-economic development. ‘It is ingenious, because it shows what is happening in the world at a glance.’ The professor emeritus displays a chart with the y-axis representing the poverty rate in a country and the x-axis representing the national income divided by the number of inhabitants. All national economies appear as dots in the chart. What turns out? All of the economies are located in the same hyperbole: the poorest countries are at the upper left, and the wealthiest are at the lower right. As an economy develops, it apparently moves along the curve from left to right (more income per inhabitant) and from top to bottom (the poverty rate decreases). ‘If we succeed in reducing poverty, we will have an enormous shortage of energy, food and water.’
For Berkhout, this insight provides considerable clarity regarding the orientation towards the future. For example, TU Delft should profile itself much more clearly with regard to water and energy, given the enormous demand that will be emerging in these areas. ‘Now that is a vision. Without a strong profile, we will become mired in mediocrity.’
His political vision for the future also proceeds from this point. He advocates a programme of governance that is established by the population, that can be implemented by skilled professional ministers and in which citizens can participate as co-creators.
He sent us his motto by e-mail: ‘Always make sure you have a motivating goal in your life.’