Gert-Jan de Vreede leads Muma College of Business through empathetic leadership

Having coded stickers on his computer as a kid, Interim Dean of the Muma College of Business Gert-Jan de Vreede has always had a passion for finding solutions. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Beyond leading the Muma College of Business, Interim Dean Gert-Jan de Vreede enjoys listening to music, especially tracks and records in the progressive rock genre.

Part of what attracts de Vreede to music is its power to organize sounds to accomplish different goals. Some tracks use layered instrumentation to construct a big crescendo, while others may employ longer run times to tell a story, according to de Vreede.

His favorite album comes from the English rock band Genesis, whose 1983 self-titled LP found new ways to hone the sounds of progressive rock, according to de Vreede. Although it’s aesthetically different from classical music, de Vreede said he admires how its quality composition pays homage to the genre while forging new ways of producing rock tracks.

De Vreede may not be a professional musician or rockstar himself, but he said he has always had an affinity for quality composition. In his own career, de Vreede has had the job of organizing people and systems to execute a specific task, similar to how a composer arranges instrumentation to achieve a particular sound.

Having his Ph.D. in information systems, de Vreede said most of what he’s done has included figuring out what needs to be accomplished to reach a desirable level of quality and efficiency.

After attending college in his home country of the Netherlands, de Vreede got into researching systems management. He realized down the line that researching could be much better with a community of people while helping organize their tasks to achieve a goal, as opposed to doing it alone.

“I found out it’s fun to do research by yourself. But it’s even more fun to do research with a group of people that are all engaged and passionate about that research topic,” de Vreede said. “I started getting more and more involved in organizing things so that as a team, we could work together.”

De Vreede made his transition to the U.S. after receiving an invitation to work with a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Omaha. It wasn’t until he developed some leadership experience there that de Vreede was asked to come to USF as interim dean of the College of Business on the Sarasota-Manatee campus in 2018.

A common thread of all of de Vreede’s roles is his enjoyment in facilitating the roles of others and figuring out ways for people to excel. Director of MBA programs at the Muma College of Business Eric Douthirt said part of de Vreede’s skill in doing so is his ability to cultivate a healthy work environment.

Outside of their casual conversations about rock music and work discussions, Douthirt said de Vreede is always in tune with how his colleagues are doing on a personal level. De Vreede never fails to make an effort to check in on peers before diving into work, according to Douthirt.

“[De Vreede] cares a lot for the people that he works with, he cares a lot for the students and just really sets a culture of the individual first, and we all lean on each other,” he said. “He has this incredible ability to do both like he’s extremely proficient with work, but at the same time, he understands that we’re all human.”

Promoting de Vreede to interim dean was an obvious move for the university, according to Douthirt. Considering de Vreede’s innate ability to bring the most out of his team and always being able to see things through, Douthirt said he will only add to the momentum the college has.

“The culture that [de Vreede] creates fosters delivery on those expectations, almost naturally, no one feels overstressed to deliver on what he’s asking for,” he said. “He’s decisive. He doesn’t waver on things. He comes to a decision in a very methodical way that is backed by what’s best for students and what is best for the college.”

Speaking to a college dean can be intimidating, but accounting professor Jacqueline Reck said part of what makes de Vreede a good leader is how approachable he is. Reck said his effective leadership makes everyone work super hard, however, he is still just like everyone else.

“He’s just a regular guy … it’s just kind of the way our culture is over here, it’s our environment,” Reck said. “He always remembers that family comes first. It makes him even more human than he already is because it makes you realize that he understands that there’s more than just the job.”

For de Vreede, becoming interim dean is just a more expansive opportunity to do what he loves — working together for a common goal. The position is a lot of work, but being able to continue the momentum of the college and pursue ambitious initiatives is a privilege, he said.

“It’s really nice to be in a situation where you can make a difference because if you make things easier for everyone, then everyone benefits,” he said.

“If you just make it easier for yourself then you’re the only one that has that benefit. So, I am passionate and get satisfaction from knowing that what I’m doing may make a difference for the academic and business community as a whole.”