Raised in the Caribbean, Borchert-Ansinger left the tropics at 18 to study Geography, Anthropology, Sociology and Regional Economics at the universities of Utrecht, Amsterdam and Belfast. She eventually earned her doctorate and began teaching at the Institute for Management and Business Studies in Utrecht.
In the late 80s, academia went through a restructuring in the Netherlands, which Borchert-Ansinger describes as unbearable. “I didn’t like it at all. I mean initiative was stifled; it was all very bureaucratic. And I thought ‘okay, I’ll start for myself.’ And I started my own institute.”
She set about seeking a program in England that could be brought to Europe and be run independently of government subsidies. The result of her research was an alliance with Bradford University in 1989. The union seemed to be beneficial for both, since NIMBAS could grow from the established foundation and reputation of Bradford, while Bradford could expand its association on to the continent.
Unexpectedly, as soon as Borchert-Ansinger signed the contract with Bradford, she suffered a serious illness -- a tumor in her adrenal gland. “Literally I thought I have to overcome this, and I was convinced that I didn’t want to die. It really started at a very difficult period of my life,” she explained. It took a year to recover, during which time she continued to work at developing the NIMBAS program, apparently determined to overcome both challenges at once. (The adrenal gland is responsible for, among other things, producing adrenaline, something that Borchert-Ansinger does not appear to lack even 14 years after this event.)
The first batch of students arrived that fall in 1989, and the school’s reputation soon followed. In graduate school rankings like the annual business school survey in the Financial Times and the Economist’s Which MBA? survey,
NIMBAS is rated highly alongside other top programs worldwide.
The program branched out to Germany in 1995. In a country Borchert-Ansinger describes as “difficult to penetrate,” NIMBAS now offers programs in Bonn, Berlin and Mainz. The expansion beyond the Netherlands prompted a name change from the Netherlands Institute for MBA Studies to an acronym and a more inclusive description of overall management: the NIMBAS Graduate School of Management.
What does Borchert-Ansinger’s program bring to academia that students were otherwise lacking? “If I have to describe our institute, it is very much geared toward quality -- of course; it’s customer friendly -- very important; and we are flexible, so if the person is full time and a dream job comes along, he can go part time. Or if a part-timer is sent abroad, he can become an executive student. So we are flexible in our approach and how we deliver.”
Part of the “customer service” means that Borchert-Ansinger makes a point to meet and interview all of the +400 participants in the program (the student body is extremely diverse with 44 nationalities represented). In fact, she insists, the whole team at NIMBAS is in close contact with the student body and takes a special interest in their success -- something she thinks is especially appreciated by the students. “It’s small; it’s intimate. But I would also say that it is prestigious.” However, she hastens to clarify, “It is not elitist. Because an elitist will say that only those with tons of money can come. We screen people and we look for people with a very good background.”
The institute also has a unique formula for staffing its programs. Rather than keep a full-time group of tenured faculty, it enlists professors from all over the world and does not offer tenure. “We have no fixed faculty, because then you run into a problem,” Borchert-Ansinger explains. “In Europe when people do not perform it’s very hard to get rid of them.” However, she says, “When people are good, they stay on for years and years. About half are with us since 1989. And the others, come and go depending on the situation.”
As a result, she says. “Graduates are exposed to a faculty that comes from across the globe. Not only Britain but also from Hong Kong, the Norwegian School of Management, Germany.… It’s a truly international experience.”
A flexible approach to staffing also allows NIMBAS to offer new courses as they become relevant, like a specialization in environmental accountability, which was first introduced in 1994. “You can act immediately on changes in the curriculum, the changes in the business world, the changes in the economy -- we can react immediately, because we are not hindered by structures that really affect a lot of academic institutions.”
For instance, recently the school began offering a degree in corporate governance, inspired in large part by the unfolding situation with Dutch supermarket giant Ahold, which overstated its profits by half a billion dollars, as well as similar corporate scandals worldwide. “We are always intrigued and motivated by the responsibility that companies have to the public and shareholders,” says Borchert-Ansinger. “Whether it is on environmental matters or whether this is in the area of governance and leadership. We are very much geared toward ethics. So it was a logical consequence [to introduce the degree].”
Perhaps the most valuable experience a student could gain from NIMBAS would be to study Dr. Borchert-Ansinger and her enterprise as a case study in entrepreneurship. As she says “We teach what we do and we do what we teach.” The school is unique from typical academic institutions in that it is entirely self-funded by student enrollment (as opposed to receiving subsidies or an endowment). “None of the other institutions are completely unsponsored,” she claims. “They may tell you so but they are part of the universities, and they can never go broke or into liquidation. But we can. So we really teach what we do. We’re not subsidized in anything we do.”
Borchert-Ansinger’s secret to success appears to be a willingness to identify an area of need and jump right in to finding a solution -- a challenge that clearly keeps her motivated. “Nobody is going to do it for us. We have to do it ourselves. And that is very, very exciting. It puts you on your toes. You’re always looking for opportunities. In another sense I’d be bored stiff.”
One area of opportunity that the program is currently investigating is the possibility to expand into China. “I would like to be, first of all, one of the leading schools for entrepreneurial development in China,” she says. However, she is not planning on exporting the brand all over the globe. “I will focus on China. I think I would like to concentrate on those areas where nobody goes. And that is outside of Shanghai of Beijing.”
As for her own plans, they are inextricably wrapped up in the future of NIMBAS, a situation that she seems happy to bear.