Gijs Mensing has quite a bit of insight about Inkom, the weeklong introduction event filled with parties, a city tour, educational activities and more for new students at Maastricht University. It’s not because he experienced his own Inkom as a freshman in 1999 or even because he led Workgroup Inkom as chairman in 2003. It’s because this year, Mensing will attend the event for the sixteenth time.
The past two years were the only breaks in his otherwise perfect attendance. This year, he’s making the trip to Inkom 2016—by way of a conveniently scheduled meeting for his current employer Business Models Inc.—simply because to him, Inkom is “magical.”
“[Inkom] is about emotion,” Mensing says. “It’s about socialising. It’s about experience, and really the transformation from high school to student life…Inkom always has been and still is kind of magical for me. It’s a week full of positive vibes, of emotion, of getting to know new people.”
Don’t lose that lovin’ feeling
Ever since he experienced his own Inkom as a new student, Mensing says he has tried to hold on to the Inkom vibe—and not just as a party guest. In his second year of study, he volunteered as a guide; his third, he was a driver for the crew. Though Mensing claims he was not particularly active in student life, he applied as chairman for Workgroup Inkom—a high-profile, intensive year-long position that puts studies on hold—to gather real-life experience in a “playground” environment.
The five-member Workgroup team leads all the planning and logistics for Inkom’s events and activities. It’s supported by Central Post, which executes the activities planned by Workgroup, the Inkom crew and mentors. Because Workgroup is in charge of everything from the tour of Maastricht to the many parties in the evenings, the selection process for the team — comprising a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and logistics manager — is similar to that of real-world job, requiring a motivation letter, CV and interview.
But “it’s not real life yet, because you have the university backing you up,” Mensing explains. “It really is a playground to experiment and learn. But it’s not only playing, because you deal with real companies and real logistics parties and real suppliers . . . I think I learned as much in that one year of Inkom as I did in five years of study.”
Besides the academics, participating in Workgroup was also a social experience that led to the development of lifelong friendships. Mensing still keeps in touch with the other four members of his Workgroup team: Francis Langenberg, Linda Palmen, Eveline van der Waarde and Karin Kasteleijn. And when he attends Inkom now, it’s less about meeting new people and more about reconnecting with old friends. And the vibe he has been chasing is still the same for him and for the new students at Inkom.
“I think it’s a great first week to start student life,” Mensing says. “It’s been going on for decades now. It’s a tradition. There are parts of the program that started at the first Inkom that…are still in the program. The dynamics around the week and in the preparations and everybody involved — that’s a continuous thing that repeats on a yearly basis. I think that’s something that student life really values. It’s really owned by student life and Maastricht, so I think it’s a valuable thing for the whole student world.”
Even with all the planning, scheduling and headaches it took to plan the parties and events at Inkom, it allowed Mensing to do more than gain experience or bond with his fellow Workgroup members. As chairman of Inkom, Mensing was able to tap into his self-described innate desire to entertain.
The passion for performance is one of the reasons Mensing fits in so well at Business Models Inc., a strategy design firm he joined in June 2016. The firm works with established businesses and start-ups worldwide to analyse and redesign their business models.
“I’m a positive thinker, so I really think in possibilities. And that’s what we do. We help companies innovate,” Mensing says. “The job requires a lot of on-stage presence and working with groups, giving training, giving keynotes, really triggering people. It has a kind of performance aspect to it, and that’s something I really like.”
He may not be organising weeklong celebrations and a parade, but he’s still working to energise the people around him. In fact, at his previous position at the stereotypically buttoned-up PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), he still found a way to use his talent for entertainment.
“When I was doing sessions, I was using music and drawings. My role within PwC and also ING was that of the rebel—thinking [in another way] and giving different perspectives. I was very aware that, ‘OK, I’m in a corporate environment. That’s not really my natural habitat, but I can really add value,’” Mensing says. “The great thing about Business Models Inc. is that I’m more in my natural habitat. And now it’s actually my job to challenge things.”
Though he’s only been at the firm for a few months, he had been on the company’s radar since 2011; the stars just hadn’t aligned until this year. Two years ago, a friend at Business Models Inc. told him about a vacancy at the company, but Mensing recommended someone else for the job, as he had just signed with PwC. Then, in December 2015, the same person he had recommended—who had since successfully joined Business Models Inc.—finally convinced Mensing to join as well.
“I was really enjoying myself at PwC, but this is totally different. After 11 years in a big corporate, it’s really great to be part of a small company,” Mensing says. “We’re working on strategy and business model innovation together with companies, and we’re really doing that in a highly energetic, visual way.”
Testing the waters
Before PwC, Mensing spent nearly a decade at financial services conglomerate ING. It is a long time for someone who says the corporate world is not his natural habitat, but he was never stuck in the same role for long. Not only did ING provide an external coach to help him discover what he wanted out of his career, Mensing says, ING’s sheer size allowed him to test the waters.
Early on, he was a marketing manager and later, an international recruiter. He then managed a department of 15 people before moving to his final role as a programme manager driving organisational change within ING. But even years before—in fact, “from day one,” Mensing says—he knew that he would eventually leave ING.
“I didn’t want to spend my whole life in financial services,” he says. “That was my feeling and that got confirmed along the way. . . . Then you need to accept that it’s time for something else.”
Mensing made the most of his time at ING, however, using his natural talent as an entertainer and the skills he cultivated since his time with Workgroup Inkom. He started an “employee movement,” asking the employees of ING themselves how they would personally effect change within the organisation. The project also produced two TEDx sessions, which Mensing hosted.
A personal performance
The coaching provided by ING showed Mensing three goals he wanted to achieve in his career—organisational flow—and in his personal life. Being an entertainer and source of social inspiration, as it turns out, are pieces of the puzzle.
“I want to trigger my surroundings, to look at things from a different perspective,” Mensing says. “That is especially [true] for my three kids, but also my wife and my friends, and also business-wise. In my role at ING and PwC, I had been triggering people to think differently. Now at Business Models Inc., that’s all I do.”
After a year of the training, Mensing wrote down those three targets and how they would look in the future, which he says gives him direction in life to “make choices where to spend time and where not to.”
With a busy schedule and three young children, he hasn’t been able to spend any time performing in his personal life just yet. Mensing plays the saxophone, but a lack of time and soundproof space has limited the possibility to practise. But he’s got a different plan in motion.
“I had the idea to create my own theatre show,” Mensing says. “I’m always looking for something to be creative with in my work and in private, so I am playing with ideas of how I would do this show.”
There still aren’t concrete plans—besides a new baby and new job, he’s yet to learn to play the piano he purchased—so the theatre show has been delayed for now. But in the next year, Mensing says he would like to be on stage somewhere, “trying to entertain the audience for a while.”
At any rate, there’s always the chance that Mensing will be acting as entertainer somewhere—whether it’s at his own show or at next year’s Inkom.