‘You should avoid snap judgements’

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Last summer, the former Shell chief Jeroen van der Veer was appointed as the new chair of the Supervisory Board. Van der Veer graduated from TU Delft in 1971 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He replaced Gert-Jan Kramer, who served as chair for two terms.

How does it feel to return to your Alma Mater?
“It feels great. I am honoured to be able to give something back to this university, which I have always valued highly.”

What is your vision for TU Delft? Is the university moving in the right direction?
“I’m not going to state my opinion of TU Delft in the newspaper. I prefer to work in the background. That is my role. Moreover, at Shell, I learned that you should avoid snap judgements. You need to first understand what is happening and investigate where your personal doubts are. That’s the phase I am in at the moment. What I can say is that, when I was working for Shell, TU Delft graduates were thought of very highly there. And that is still the case. We shouldn’t do anything to change this.”

You prefer to work in the background. Should we assume that we’re not going to hear much from you in the coming years?
“I won’t be providing much copy.”

Unless something goes wrong at TU Delft; then the minister would call you to account.
“Yes, in extreme cases, I could become the mouthpiece for the university. But you shouldn’t aspire to be the university’s face to the outside world.”

Your predecessor, Gert-Jan Kramer, had to explain the high salaries and expense claims of several supervisors. Such discussions flare up periodically. What do you think of that?
“We must realise that we are a state university. The government is a shareholder, and they are entitled to make demands. I do think that the level of compensation has an effect on the talent that you are able to attract. One should be able to see both sides of a story.”

TU Delft is focusing on emerging economies, including China, which is making major investments in research. Do you see any other developments that the university should use to its advantage?
“It is good to look at geographic changes, but there are also changes taking place right here. For example, a new manufacturing industry is emerging, due to robotisation, developments in 3-D printing and the advancing automation of machines. Producing products in small series is becoming possible again here in Europe.
The built environment also offers many other opportunities for improving the way we deal with energy. In ten years, construction will look very different to today. This is also a source of opportunities for TU Delft.
Developments in medical technology are another interesting area to focus on. I am excited about the idea of collaborating with the universities of Leiden and Rotterdam.”

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