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Dr. Hans-Paul Bürkner

Until 2013 CEO & President von The Boston Consulting Group

Dr Hans-Paul Bürkner started studying economics and Sinology at the RUB in 1971 and successfully completed it in 1976, qualifying as a certified economist. He did his MA at Yale University in New Haven in 1973-1974 and his doctorate as part of a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford from 1976-1980.
Dr Bürkner's first position after finishing at university was at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt am Main. He joined the Boston Consulting Group in 1981. As a partner responsible for customers and as a CEO, Dr Bürkner has advised many financial institutions in Europe and all over the world in questions of business strategy, building up new businesses, reorganisations and restructuring and supported them in their implementation. Before he was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as of January 2004, Dr Bürkner was responsible for the worldwide financial services working committee and a member of the Executive Committee of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

You can do anything!

RUB Alumni: What led you to choose Bochum to study at?

Dr. Bürkner: Bochum was the place that catered for many of my interests: economics, development research and development politics, for which there was a special institute in Bochum, Chinese and Japanese and the history and economics of these countries, which were taught at the Institute of East Asian Studies.

RUB Alumni: Was your degree course crucial to your current profession?

Dr. Bürkner: Yes and no. Economics, development politics and languages had always been interests of mine. I originally wanted to go into development politics. But I first decided to go into banking because I realised while I was working on my doctorate how little I could actually achieve in development politics. I came into my advisory function more or less by coincidence several years later without having concerned myself with this professional possibility while I was a student. I have to admit I applied to BCG without knowing what consulting was or even who BCG were. So it became important to tackle new tasks about learning and working, and the abilities I acquired as a student certainly played a part here.

RUB Alumni: If you had to summarise your university time in four words...?

Dr. Bürkner: You can achieve anything!

RUB Alumni: How do you remember the university in Bochum?

Dr. Bürkner: I have always seen Bochum positively, unlike what could often be heard at the time. I can still remember the graffiti on one of the concrete walls: "Destroy this inhuman university“. The student council's introductory event for all freshmen had the same tenor. The psychologists warned about the high suicide rate at the Ruhr-Universität. I didn't find this funny, very intelligent or very psychological. I was always amazed how fellow students who had often only ever seen one university could arrive at such conclusions and be so convinced of them. The RUB campus was not as well connected to the city at that time and these large grey blocks were naturally not exactly inviting. But that also changed in time and an infrastructure developed around the university. Whether the buildings are now old and seem romantic but are not especially functional or whether they look impersonal and functional and actually are functional too is actually secondary. Basically, every place depends on the people you meet there.

RUB Alumni: Do you still have any things from your time at university?

Dr. Bürkner: Yes, I still have my Chinese text books.

RUB Alumni: Have you still got any links to the RUB?

Dr. Bürkner: Yes, at weekends I live close to Hattingen, just a stone's throw away. On some of my walks I can see parts of the university. And of course I know a whole lot of people who studied at the RUB, so both Bochum itself and the university are close to me in terms of physical position and memories. But at the end of the day it's people you connect with.

RUB Alumni: What would you do differently if you were Rector or Chancellor?

Dr. Bürkner: I don't know enough about current university politics, but I do think it would be important to mobilise teachers, students and former students to make the Ruhr-Universität a very special, outstanding institution. Of course, a lot of people will say the money isn't available. But the people are, and whether they simply "doing their jobs" or make some sort of special efforts to make this institution something special costs nothing more than the efforts of each individual. It is important to achieve identification of the students, teachers and alumni with their university. We, who are connected with the Ruhr-Universität-Bochum, should be proud of laying the foundations for our careers, researching or working here or of having done so for the time we were here. I think this mobilisation would be a very important task. Not only so that the Ruhr-Universität goes up in the rankings that are now circulating everywhere, but also to guarantee the future for this generation and the ones to come.

RUB Alumni: Have you got any ideas about how the people could be mobilised?

Dr. Bürkner: It's possible to formulate goals for the university as a whole and for individual faculties. "What do we want to achieve in terms of both teaching and research? How can we achieve outstanding results?" Both those who are currently at the RUB and those no longer there must be involved and a clear claim must be defined and implemented. Most German universities have not been able to achieve this yet. At many universities in the UK and USA they keep very close contact with their former students, guaranteeing support, including financial support. I think this idea is also possible here. The idea of networking, especially with former members, is incredibly important. We former members are also personally responsible for ensuring that the location of Germany and the institutions we are benefiting from to this day continue to develop. If you always just rely on the state you are misreading the situation. We must all assume responsibility; we must invest, especially in education and research.

RUB Alumni: So as a former student you would like to give something back. Do you also have any ideas about what you would like to see from the university?

Dr. Bürkner: The university could offer more opportunities for people to meet or even work together on projects. Students, teachers and alumni must be brought together and motivated to achieve something together. There are bound to be projects that connect the university with businesses that former RUB students work for. Such projects could be of an economic, social, cultural or political nature.

RUB Alumni: What tips or advice would you give today's students?

Dr. Bürkner: Studying is the biggest investment in one's own life and the time should be used accordingly; both for personal development and to learn how to learn, go about tackling things, developing new ideas and implementing them.

RUB Alumni: Thank you for talking to us.