A tribute to the IAA President who built relationships and inspired innovation at INSEAD
At around 2 meters tall, Roger Wippermann MBA’66, President of the INSEAD Alumni Association (IAA) from 1989 to 1992, was often the tallest person in any given room. But, despite his height, Wippermann never looked down on anyone, friends and colleagues say. Instead, Wippermann, who passed away on 9 March 2018, was known for his relationship-oriented leadership style, true to the spirit of German Gemutlichkeit.
“Roger was open and inclusive. He had this personal warmth and would always pay attention to you. He also could be direct and engineering-like, in search of solutions,” remembers Ludo Van der Heyden, Professor of Technology and Operations Management, who served as INSEAD Co-Dean during Wippermann’s tenure. “I remember him as someone continuously smiling.”
Wippermann, who among other professional accomplishments, helped build Arthur D Little Europe into a mighty consulting team, leaves behind a legacy of fierce loyalty and a spirit of innovation at INSEAD.
During his presidency, Wippermann pushed to make sure that alumni were recognised as key stakeholders in the school, and worked to ensure that the INSEAD Innovator Prize, which he established while serving as President of the National Alumni Association (NAA) of Belgium in 1986, became well-known in Belgium and also across Europe.
“Roger was not someone who tried to catch the limelight, but he actually did, because of his success,” remembers Baudouin Contzen MBA’89D, a friend and colleague, who also served as IAA Treasurer during Wippermann’s presidency.
Wippermann’s contributions can still be seen today in the close working relationship enjoyed between INSEAD and the school’s alumni. Yet, when Wippermann started as President of the IAA in 1989, alumni were not a central focus of the school, recalls Van der Heyden. “INSEAD did not have much time then to take care of its alumni,” explains Van der Heyden. “We didn’t get many donations then and had to pay a lot of attention to the business of running the school—enrolling MBAs, increasing applications, hiring faculty and creating Executive Education classes that would bring in additional revenue.”
Many graduates, like Wippermann, felt that alumni deserved to have a much stronger voice in the school. “Roger believed that alumni were an important part of INSEAD, who could and would play an important role in shaping INSEAD’s future,” Contzen says.
As President, Wippermann ceaselessly pushed the administration on this point. “He was nicely critical,” says Van der Heyden. The warm relationship that now exists between INSEAD and its alumni was a direct result of Wippermann’s behind- and on-the-scene efforts. “He successfully brought INSEAD closer to its alumni,” explains Van der Heyden.
Wippermann was also the brainchild behind the National Alumni Association of Belgium’s prestigious Innovator Prize, given annually to a person who has demonstrated creativity and dynamism in a corporation or public organisation and made a lasting impact on the Belgium or the international community. Previous winners include such luminaries as Gerard Mortier, then General Director of the Opéra de Paris, Baron Daniel Janssen, Chairman of SOLVAY, and Marc Grynberg, CEO of Umicore.
“Roger initiated that award because he was an innovator himself,” Contzen says. “When he created the award, innovation was not in the limelight in most companies. He really felt that it should play a key role.”
The prize also lifted INSEAD’s profile. “It positioned INSEAD as a key contributor to innovation,” Contzen says. And funds raised from the event each year, which Wippermann pushed to promote, went to help create an INSEAD scholarship that still exists today. The scholarship hopes to encourage more students from Belgium to study at INSEAD. “This is the monument to his contribution,” Van der Heyden says.
For Wippermann, the presidency was never about his own glory. “I think he had a higher purpose, eager to contribute to something European and innovative,” says Van der Heyden.
“He cared for the institution, contributed to shaping what it is today, and aimed to elevate it.”
While some presidents served their terms and went on to other things, Wippermann continued to attend INSEAD meetings for the rest of his life, Van der Heyden recalls. “We all miss him.”