An Inspiring Lunch with SMU’s President Professor Arnoud De Meyer

By the SMU Postgraduate Research Programmes Team

It is not every day that we get to have lunch with the President of the University. So, it was quite a treat for 13 of SMU’s PhD students when Professor Arnoud De Meyer took time off his busy schedule to meet with them over a casual lunch. The PhD students were all ears as Prof De Meyer shared more about his role as SMU’s President, the triumphs and struggles he faced throughout his professional journey, his passion for academia, as well as tips and advice for the students.

“I find Prof De Meyer to be a humorous and humble person. I truly enjoyed having this sharing session over lunch with him,” expressed Chong Wen Haw, a fifth year SMU PhD in Information Systems student.

During the session, Prof De Meyer shared that his responsibilities as SMU’s President include building and strengthening the reputation and recognition of SMU, as well as expanding the offerings of the University. “When I joined SMU in 2010, SMU activities were mainly catered for undergraduates. Since then, we have expanded our offerings for the postgraduate education. We now have about 180 students in our Academic Research PhD programmes and have established various programmes under the Postgraduate Professional Programmes that cater to the needs of the industry. SMU has also forayed into Executive Education, promoting continuous education to professionals through courses available at SMU Executive Development and SMU Academy,” he said.

Although he is generally touted as the figurehead of SMU, he credits the current success of SMU to the collective efforts and exceptional leadership of the Provost, Vice-Provosts, the Deans of the various Schools and programmes, and the dedication of the students. faculty and staff.

Prof De Meyer has also ensured that SMU promotes inclusivity, celebrates diversity and cultivates integration. One of the initiatives that the University has invested in is the support that is available for students with disabilities. He believes that “as long as you are capable of learning, the campus should be made as comfortable and conducive for you to learn.”


SMU PhD students listen intensely as Professor Arnoud De Meyer shares about his academic and professional journey.


Despite being busy with the administrative responsibilities of running a thriving university, Prof De Meyer continues to contribute to the academic world. “I still publish and do some teaching because I am passionate about academia and it is something that I enjoy doing,” he shared with the students.

“How then do you handle professional work while also contributing to academia, and still have time for your personal life?” asked Tony, a fourth-year student in the PhD in Information Systems programme. “With difficulties”, quipped Prof De Meyer. He went on to quote his organisational behaviour professor, “Life is like a pie, it has to be one-third work, one-third family and one-third leisure. From time to time, you can change the composition, but never on a long-term basis.” He told the students that the key to achieving balance in life is discipline, good planning and effective time management, which they need to learn to cultivate. He added that, “There will be times where something has to give, but at the end of the day the goal is always to try to achieve that balance.”

Cindy Zou Xin, a fourth-year PhD in Economics student proceeded to ask the question that was on everyone’s minds, “What advice and suggestions do you have for PhD students who are working towards building a career?” To this, he replied that dedication and hard work are crucial. However, he stressed that another factor that plays an important role is the environment that they are in. “For example, If you have the ambition to be an influential academic, you have to be mindful of the institute that you choose to work at,” he said. He suggested working with their advisors to identify the best path that plays to their strengths, as well as to tap on their advisors’ networks to find opportunities to connect with good institutions. He recalled the time his PhD advisor—whom Prof De Meyer holds in high esteem—convinced him to build a career in academia. Indeed, this advice has paid off as Prof De Meyer’s career has been a rewarding one.

Aside from his role as the President of SMU, his illustrious career also includes being Dean of INSEAD’s MBA programme, Executive Education and the Euro Asia Centre, as well as founding Dean of INSEAD’s Asia Campus in Singapore; and before that, the director of the prestigious Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. “Accepting the offer to be SMU’s President was a hard decision for me as I felt that I had reached the pinnacle of my career and was very comfortable where I was,” he recalls. However, he saw SMU’s potential for growth and felt strongly that by becoming SMU’s President he would be able to implement strategies that could elevate SMU’s standings globally. He added, “Every step I took in my life has been based on logical incrementalism, grasping opportunities that are present and going into it wholeheartedly.”


Professor Arnoud De Meyer with SMU PhD Students at the end of the sharing session.


Yang Boya, a third year PhD in Business student remarked that the sharing session has been an enlightening one. “The advice that Prof De Meyer offered is practical and useful for PhD students who are trying to pave their way towards a fulfilling career path.”

Sherry Xue Ying Ying, a first-year SMU PhD in Business student, was “impressed by his passion for SMU and felt extremely touched by the care and concern he has for all SMU students and feels proud to be part of the energetic university just like he does.”

Suffice to say, the students left not only with their tummies full but also thoroughly benefitted from the experience and wisdom that Prof De Meyer had imparted to them.