Journey to the top
Hans Fischer’s LinkedIn profile reads like a journey to the top, followed by a lengthy stay in the upper echelons. He held various positions at Hoogovens and Corus in IJmuiden before taking his subsequent steps on the career ladder at Salzgitter AG in Germany, and later at ThyssenKrupp Steel Americas. He then returned to Tata Steel, into which Hoogovens had been merged. Hans’ most recent operational position – up until 2019 – was as CEO of Tata Steel Europe, which saw him divide his time between IJmuiden and London. Now, retired, he remains involved with Tata Steel Europe as a non-executive director. But he's also taking on a new challenge: working to help current and future generations. In becoming a Fund donor, Hans is keen to assist our heroes of tomorrow with advice, action, and his network. He would like to see them benefit from the opportunities that were available to him when he was a student, here at TU/e. Because the journey that led to a C-level executive position in IJmuiden started in Eindhoven. Fischer acquired more than knowledge during his time at the university, as he explains: “I learned an awful lot, outside of lectures too. I'd already completed Technical College, so I had a head start. Although I only got a few exemptions as an undergraduate, I had enough time to do things on the side.”
Altogether, these ‘things’ make an impressive list. To name some of these roles: Hans was an excursion officer in the board of the Simon Stevin Study Association, chair of the Eindhoven Federation of Study Associations and a member of the University Council. He managed a student housing complex, supervised other students, completed student residencies, and as part of a political group debated improvements at European level. “Everything that you could do on the side was what made studying so worthwhile. You learn about people. You learn to deal with successes and setbacks. Such experiences give you a head start as a student, and you are more likely to land the interesting jobs,” says Hans.
Breeding ground for technological developments
Hans thinks that having the opportunity to get involved with extra activities and explore your options as a student typifies TU/e. “It goes without saying that today's TU/e is not the same university it was decades ago, but the culture remains. It's in the genes. It is, and will remain, a breeding ground for technological developments. And that is something we must cherish.”
Technology serving society
Hans would now like to see current and future generations benefit from the same broad experience. Which is why he contacted the University Fund to explore the options. Hans has a strong preference for projects that directly support students in their development. “Their initial projects are certainly not that large or complex. So, a small contribution can achieve a relatively great deal. I mean ‘small’ in comparison with the major projects that receive lots more funding, such as Philip de Goey's Metal Fuels project.” To this end, Hans would like for some of his donation to be used for these smaller projects. He explains why: “They are ideal for students to practice ahead of larger projects. Scientific projects involve a lot more than just science. You need to plan, secure funding, get people on board, and more. I would like my donation to help students gain early experience in these fields. They will then be better prepared for the larger, truly career-defining projects.”
Instead of making an anonymous donation, I would prefer to stay connected. I would like to get to know those who benefit from funding and help where I can. Like establishing a network to encourage others to donate. And to keep people connected. As you can imagine, I have built up quite a network, and I have many years’ experience. If I can use that to help people, or to offer advice, I would certainly like to. In my final years at Tata Steel, I was actively involved with those just starting their careers: I personally welcomed nearly all university and college students who joined the company. I told them about my career, and the dynamics of the world of steel. What they did or do with the information, is of course up to them. And I'm taking the same approach when it comes to my donations. The TU/e Fund decides what my money is used for, and I do not want to get under their feet, but the same applies: if I can help, I'm ready to do so.
Hans explains his personal motives for donating to the TU/e Fund. The cliché goes that the older generations sometimes complain that things will never be like they were in the good old days. But when it comes to studying, Hans has a few home truths regarding how oppressive new rules and stipulations can be. “The earlier you can help young people, outside of the standard program, to learn more about life after and alongside the degree program, the better. Help them to do extra projects. Help them to broaden their horizons and develop their talents. If you ask me, things were easier for the previous generations of students. There were student grants, it was easier to hold down a job alongside your studies, and there wasn't the pressure of the credits system. The main problem now is a lack of financing and possibilities for students to develop more broadly. What I would like most is for my contribution to help facilitate the good things from the past and pass them on to the new generation.”
The ideal outcome
Hans has an idea of the returns he would like to see on his investment: “I hope that in a few years’ time, there will be a network of people who inspire each other.” He prefers not to comment on precisely how things should look, a conscious decision to avoid working towards outcomes. He does have one condition: sustainability needs to be a cornerstone of the developments facilitated by his contributions.
Hans: “I would like to concentrate on one specific direction, to avoid the risk of fragmented focus and effort.”
Politics vs technology
People often complain about the political world and the associated lack of long-term vision and funding, but Hans prefers to appeal to society. He calls on us, the citizens, to do more. And of course, to give more: “Fortunately, there are plenty of politicians and parties who think in the longer term. They also realize that a great deal of change is driven by technology. We can call on them, but I prefer to look towards the United States, where Private Funding is a lot more common: individuals making contributions to support research and projects. Let's follow their lead. We also have an obligation to look at the world in the long term. But our focus often lies elsewhere. And that is also down to how our society is informed. It is rare for an article on a fine, promising technological innovation to rise above the stories about the issues of the day. I think that is a shame. Because a shift in focus could really make the difference.”
The world we leave behind
“You want to leave behind a world in which the folk who come after us have the chance to do at least as many great things as we did,” says Hans, when asked about his wish for future generations. “We, the generations before them, did that with at times questionable resources. So we now need to switch to the sources that do not cause more damage. That switch will probably take two generations.”
During his time as CEO, he had a keen focus on sustainability, which he also communicated to the outside world. That being said, he is pragmatic about the room for maneuver he had: “As the CEO of a large company, there was less scope for me to be idealistic. It was an area of tension where I was constantly exploring what I could get done, often only in the short term. And that’s why I think this role with the Fund is perfect: I can truly look to the long term.”