One has been in the legal profession for eight years, the other for thirty. Both have had a thing about research ever since they left university. Along with three others, Dieter Bruneel and Luc Wynant are the first participants in the Doctorate in Business Administration programme at Vlerick, Ghent University and KU Leuven. What convinced them to take that step? And what do they think of the course so far?
We met the two doctoral participants at the Vlerick DBA conference on research with an impact. They still have one week left in their five weeks of classes. Their doctoral work will take about four years in total. That is quite an undertaking, as their professional activities continue as usual alongside. But these two doctoral participants are certainly not lacking in will power. They share a hunger to contribute to their profession and the world around them through their research.
“As a lawyer, I look at what the law says today, at what procedures exist. As a researcher I can ask myself, what should the law be saying?”
“I initially studied law and then specialised in tax law. In daily practice I handle tax disputes both in court and by means of negotiations with the tax authorities. I have been doing this for the past eight years.
Besides my professional activities, I have always been an active researcher, which has led to several publications in legal journals. I wanted to use this DBA to give my passion for research a completely new impetus. My goal was to discover a broader perspective beyond the legal context I work in and open up my world.
The combination of my daily activities and my passion for research sparked off the idea of looking for better ways to solve fiscal disputes. It is important to try and solve this kind of dispute in a way that ensures the taxpayer pays the amount of tax that is actually prescribed by law, no more and no less. I’m intrigued by the idea that the procedures we use to arrive at a solution can have a major effect on the outcome. For example, the way we engineer fiscal procedures can minimise the use of ‘power games’ by tax authorities and can also contribute to the sharing of information more freely between disputants. In the end it is about creating procedures that are perceived as fair by both sides, ultimately leading to greater justice.
As a lawyer, I look at what the law says today, at what procedures exist. As a researcher I can ask myself, what should the law be saying? Are the processes we follow really adequate? How can they be fairer, more objective? That is what my doctorate will be about. I am nowhere near the point where I can sum up my research question in a single sentence. I am a barrel full of questions at the moment. But that is no obstacle to what I want to do.
In fact this is exactly what the programme does. The lecturers give you a researcher’s mindset. They provide all the methodologies and tools to start your research, to be able to penetrate that new world. And honestly, without those classes, I wouldn’t have known where to start.
“I have been working as a lawyer in a corporate environment for almost thirty years now. Very specifically, I work with private equity and venture capital. I want to use my doctorate to explore how management and investors can achieve an optimal takeover together in MBO (management buyout) situations. This is because I see several interesting patterns arising. In fact, I can almost smell them after so many years of practical experience as a lawyer. Not only do I want to trace those patterns, I also want to apply and generalise them in my research.
I was once an assistant at the university. At a certain point, I left that career path. I’ve now rediscovered its relevance, which is great. I am learning so much, in my own field and beyond. I came across this DBA when I was looking for a doctorate programme that I could combine with my profession. When I saw that Vlerick, Ghent University and KU Leuven were starting a course, I thought the time was ripe for me to make a choice. It has turned out to have been a very good one for me.
The five weeks of intensive lessons at the start of the programme prove their worth. You really need the techniques and methods you are taught to carry out your research assignment. I felt that the small class sizes were an advantage. You can’t allow your attention to wander or turn up unprepared. You have to be alert all the time. There is a lot of interaction with both your fellow students and the professors.
I can’t see myself hanging up my lawyer's robe for good. I like being a lawyer. I like the ‘people business’ of negotiations, drawing up contracts and developing concepts with clients and businesses. I see myself continuing for a fair few years yet. My research is an old love that has now been rekindled. That’s brilliant, I’m really enjoying it.”