In conversation with Michael Wisbrun, outgoing chair of Delft University Fund

News - 29 July 2022

 After more than nine years of intensive collaboration, Michael Wisbrun is stepping down as chairman of Delft University Fund.  “What we have built together contributes to the mission of TU Delft.”

 A conversation with the outgoing chairman about his love for TU Delft, connecting and boosting.

 When he started nine years ago as chairman of Delft University Fund, the executive of Air France-KLM and also alumnus of TU Delft had to search for a while.  “A university is very different from a commercial company.  It's not top-down management, but working together, explaining your added value and looking for connections.”  Wisbrun learned a lot from this.  “First I looked for support.  There were many different departments dealing with fundraising and alumni relations when I came in.  It was a bit of loose sand, the cohesion was lacking.  If you don't have the basics right, it will be difficult to move.  Then you have nothing.  I quickly indicated to the chairman of the University Executive Board that there should be one University Fund.  It is than still sometimes difficult to move, but with all parties wanting the same you can create.  We really had to form one face and present this to the inside and outside world.  Luckily I got the space to move.”

We should dare to put a dot on our horizon.

Michael Wisbrun

A targeted approach

In 2015 the different sub funds within Delft University of Technology were integrated. The first pivotal step of Wisbrun as chairman. After the merger, a new goal was quickly set for Delft University Fund. Due to his commercial experience, Wisbrun is firmly convinced that you should always have a dot on the horizon to work towards.  “It helps with the mindset and gives guidance to ideas.” That is how he has shaped his leadership as chairman. “As a board, we got into the boat together, determined the course and operationalized activities step by step.  With advancing insight, we have always defined a different mooring place in order to reach the dot on the horizon in time. The participation of the Chair of the Executive Board, Tim van der Hagen, in our board has also been of great help. There is now and then tension between the interests of the TU, the University Fund and Alumni.  We have learned to hold steady and continue on.”

After the merger of a joint University Fund, the focus was on developing new, contemporary propositions. For example, under the motto 'Team up with Excellence', the Excellence Fund was esthablished to reinforce TU Delft's excellence strategy. And with the support of Good Friends of the University, the opportunity has been created to respond to current opportunities and challenges, such as the TU Delft Covid-19 Response Fund in 2020. Funds that contribute to groundbreaking research, education and talent development to enable students and scientists to excel, to be able to compete internationally and achieve social impact. Recently, the bridge to entrepreneurship has also been added to the mission of Delft University Fund. This option is mainly for students. “You used to go to large companies as a graduate.  You see now that it is much more individual. Fresh graduates want a challenge. They want to do business and make a difference themselves. That is why we set up the Graduate Entrepreneur Fund (GEF) last year as part of the TU Delft strategy, together with Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Erasmus Trustfund. The GEF aims to give Rotterdam and Delft students the opportunity to develop a good idea into a business case, test that business case and then see whether it has any further legitimacy. Our support from Delft University Fund is aimed at entrepreneurial students, with our experience, coaching and where necessary with funding.”  

“It couldn't be more beautiful. It's a win-win situation. Students are given the opportunity to develop and if a return is made, 10% goes to the University that they can spend freely and a part goes back to the investors. It's so nice that investors, mostly alumni, are stepping in because they are interested in new ideas and because they want to give back to the University.

It's so nice that investors, mostly alumni, want to give back to the University.

Alumni as a strategic asset

This new fund also gave Wisbrun the insight that in recent years much attention has been paid to fundraising and perhaps less to other forms of involvement by and with alumni. “Alumni are a very important strategic asset. The university develops all kinds of technologies and only gets them implemented through people in companies. In the past, alumni were defined as the product of education and research. Now alumni are increasingly becoming an integral part of the TU Delft ecosystem. TU Delft needs alumni to make more impact on society through technology.” In this way, Delft University Fund is building towards a central alumni platform to strengthen the connection between the TU and alumni and among alumni. “The platform keeps alumni informed of all great developments at the university, gives them the opportunity to coach students, invest in new ideas, get in touch with eachother and receive further training with MOOCs or Extension  School  lectures.”

It is not self-evident that alumni feel involved with the university where they studied. Wisbrun recognizes this in himself and in his son, who is also an alumnus of TU Delft. “As a recent graduate until mid-career, you always have too little time. Your focus is on your work and your family and friends. It is important for TU Delft to stay in touch with alumni during this phase. They need to know that there is a platform that has something to offer them in all sorts of ways. Real involvement and action often only occurs at a somewhat later age, when there is more space. That's fine too. We are here for life.”

Progressive fun

In addition to progressive insight, the chairman also continued to enjoy his role as chairman. Where in the beginning it was a search for his role and connections, he is now proud of the board and the organisation. That pride has grown with the content you create together and the movement you create.  What we have built contributes to the mission of TU Delft. The basics are now in order. Together we gave Delft University Fund a face. The Fund is recognized more, both within and outside TU Delft. We also have a lot of fun with eachother and can have good discussions. I can say that we have a fantastic team.”

He says about his own role and added value: “I have helped to provide an overview in a complex environment, to organize a dialogue, make things simple again and drive the choices in the Board. I looked for the right people and organized the processes around them. Being driven, not letting go and continuing to hunt, is not strange to me. But with the aim of connecting people.           
I am really into operationalising, but people we make the difference.”

Wisbrun's purposefulness is also apparent during the conversation.  He tells succinctly and summarizes his argument point by point.

Being driven is not strange to me. But with the aim of connecting people.

Confindence in the future

When asked if he would like to give the new chairman, alumnus of the year 2021, Karin Sluis, a message, there is silence. He has already shared his "legacy with observations and take-aways" during his farewell at his home. “The big challenge is to further activate the connection with alumni. I am firmly convinced that many beautiful things will arise from the mutual involvement of alumni and TU Delft. I have a good feeling about the future and I am confident that the new board and the team will do well.”

Michael Wisbrun's words and the way in which he speaks show his love for TU Delft. He is a true booster. Sometimes this causes some friction, but above all his enormous involvement is mentioned, his drive to really make a difference. Tim van der Hagen, Rector Magnificus/Chairman of the Executive Board, thanked him for his professional vision, dedication and perseverance during all these years. He called Michael a real example of 'TU Delft for Life'. Jasper Peterich, director of Delft University Fund, indicated that Michael has meant a lot to the fund “Michael has sculpted the current University Fund. Thanks to his great efforts, the various Delft funds have merged into one Fund.”

 At his retirement, Michael Wisbrun received his own Named Fund;  the ir. Michael H. Wisbrun Fund. This keeps him involved in Delft University Fund and the goal he always had in mind: 'Contributing to his excellent TU'.