The story of an EMBA student & doctor in times of Corona

COVID-19 Strategy & Innovation

Gert Van Esbroeck, eMBA student in the cohort 2019 and orthopedic surgeon writes in four chapters about his experiences during Corona. About the fact of being tested positive himself, being obliged to go in quarantine at home, about following his classes online and trying to get structure in his days and how everyone's adaptability is being tested. 

How quickly things can change

For certain things I am not quick to decide. So it was well into September 2019 when I enrolled for the executive MBA cohort 2019-2021.
First, I'd had a good look around to see what the market had to offer.

My age excludes me from Olympic medals in virtually all disciplines but studying... doing something different... broadening the horizon, yes, that sounded enticing.

Boogkeers picture

Opening minds to impact the world!

So this mind opened, and as an orthopaedic surgeon I was literally and figuratively drawn into a different world.  It came with its own jargon (Ebitda, WACC, NPV, etc.) and followed a strict rhythm of preparation, lectures, assignments and exams.

The next hurdle, on March 26, 2020, was corporate finance and I set up a planning to study for the exam on March 26.

It is nothing like surgery! I work with two partners and seven employees. My weekly schedule consists of consultations (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays) and operations (Tuesdays and Thursdays). In addition, there is the follow-up on operated patients as well as recurrently being on call (there is a 24/7 schedule) to take on trauma patients. Contrary to what was predicted a few years ago, the administrative Alps had transformed into the Himalayas. It is unbelievable how much gets added year after year. A classic workweek is not full-time, but all-time.

But it is a known fact: 'If you want to get something done, ask a busy man to do it.'

So... Corporate finance it is! ...Not.

During this eMBA year, the COVID-19 – Corona world is no longer the same world: systematic risk of a different order. Next to all other cancellations and adjournments, the corporate finance exam was also postponed.

Exam postponed, but also scheduled surgery, consultations, planned check-ups postponed! Then came a tsunami of phone calls, letters, regulations, meetings.

As doctors, we are always exposed to several risks and luckily the majority of the population is not aware of that. For example, in the initial HIV models, Polish surgeons calculated that a surgeon with a 30-year professional career would probably have a 100% chance of being HIV-positive as a result of faulty surgical gloves and/or needle-stick injuries. Which eventually turned out not to be true.

The medical world also has its jargon: HIV, TBC, CPE, MRSA, MRSE, HPV, etc. and you had already guessed: none of these acronyms bode well.

On Friday March 13, I was on call and late that evening I was operating on some traumas. My wife is a doctor-dermatologist. She did not feel well the previous day and recognized the symptoms of COVID-19. Reluctantly, that morning she got tested in an Antwerp hospital by a young colleague who works there. A phone call later confirmed that she tested positive for COVID-19.

And since that day, we have been in quarantine. As I too started to develop symptoms, I got myself tested a few days later: COVID-19 positive.

The work schedule I mentioned earlier completely went out the door. Between the spells of fever, I try to do some studying and keep some structure in our household with two teenagers.


COVID-19 is no joke. Hopefully my family will stay on the good side of the COVID-19 statistics.

Follow the advice you are given, as doctors/nurses we must be in the front line but everyone else has a choice.

Jeroen Martens asked me to write a blog about my experiences. We set off on an uncertain journey.

Take care of each other.



Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions! I've never taken this many pills in my life. I've never coughed as much either, or had such a sore throat, or so much fever, or been so fatigued. While reading this, you should really get a cough indication for every 'cough barrage', like in a score.

So, quarantine. Locked up in your own house. Today and tomorrow there is a virtual eMBA session. It is good that things continue. Although you do feel some uneasiness in the virtual conversations.

virtual call-1

'Hi, how are you doing?'

'Not great, I tested positive for COVID-19 and I am in quarantine.'

'But you have the light version with just a few symptoms, right?'

'I wish that was true, but since I have been coughing and nursing a fever for over 7 days, I guess I am in the less fortunate group?'


Gone is the relaxed atmosphere. It doesn't really matter. In India some doctors have been threatened because they were treating COVID-19 patients and in Spain a convoy with COVID-19 patients was pelted with stones. That is quite a different kettle of fish.

These days, next to studying, catching up on my administration, taking my medication and my temperature, I can fill up my spare time with The Economist, Knack, CNN, VRT News, BBC World News, NBC...

If COVID-19 does not make you feel miserable, these news channels will. The tragedy in these news items cannot be captured in metrics. 

In the past days, I have been looking in amazement at how the American president talked the Boeing share over 20% up and simultaneously indicated that the COVID-19 approach was going very well.

That brings us to the essence of this global crisis. Many things in the current economy and politics are driven by perception, which will not be the case for how COVID-19 is handled.

On the other hand, in addition to science and civilization, a reactive industry will be needed to stop this issue and then start healing. Intentions will not achieve anything, resources and actions will.

The mathematical models will demonstrate the chilling logic of COVID-19, and just like with the Boeing shares, these numbers can also be talked up. But at this moment, the whole world is watching the whole world and its leaders. Wrong perception talks have the potential to ruin many lives.

And everyone knows: 'Those leaders don't know what to do.' They are just as frightened as you and I, although their reasons may be different. There is of course plenty of reason to be frightened, but there are no reasons to not do anything.

Those who have symptoms go into quarantine. The others do what is asked of them and provide the resources and actions, with one clear goal: getting past COVID-19.

Once we do get past it, there will always be a 'before' and an 'after'. What is the ideal world?

Meanwhile, today I have celebrated personal success twice. You have got to hold on to something when you are in your second week of quarantine. First, my fever dropped below 38°C. And second, I received some very flattering feedback in a personal evaluation from several fellow eMBA students. Nothing is ever all black or all white.


The ideal world

Saturday, eMBA day: Dealing with conflict and Leadership Effectiveness Analysis. Learning about giving and receiving feedback, discovering your own leadership style and discussing it with your fellow students.

Yesterday, at the end of the blog I wrote: The Ideal World. It is crystal clear that at this moment we are far from it and a lot can be learned today.

de ideale wereld

A lot has already been written about the ideal world, and we've had some practice on its execution. So far, with no success.

When looking back, many of us will assess the pre-COVID-19 period - too late - as 'not so bad', but it definitely was not an ideal world.

Simply being able to breathe, no fever, being able to smell and taste, no pills, and waking up without the question: 'Has it gotten better... or worse?', is definitely part of my ideal world. A man can have his ambitions.

Health means nothing when you have it and everything when you are sick. Health cannot be bought. That's another thing you often hear. The WHO has its definition of health and we probably each have our own idea about it. A bit like about that ideal world.

Would top football teams still exist in the ideal world?

It would probably have nothing but top football teams!

But then, who would decide which team Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, etc. play for?  Would there still be a use for a person who calculates NPV (net present value)?

Will cash still rule in an ideal world, or not at all?  Only the question that is asked can be given an answer.

Now I am going to connect to Antwerp Management School, virtually that is. My HP laptop as a window out of my quarantine world. At this moment, to me that is a little piece of ideal world in the making.

online course

In any case, you should never stop thinking about the future today. Because tomorrow, that is all that is left of today.


Adapt and keep going!

Yesterday and the day before classes continued. Antwerp Management School is following the virtual policies. Will this be the future? A lot can be done virtually, but looking at how much of our communication is non-verbal and considering our evolutionary 'wiring', real human contact will resume its rightful place. 

Still, I am impressed by the adaptability and the energy to keep going.

 emba les

This screen shot of my computer nicely sums up the past two days. My own office as part of Antwerp Management School. Yes, it fills me with a certain pride and paradoxically my world is bigger than it was before the eMBA. For example, concerned messages arrive from colleagues in Moscow during these virtual classes. The COVID-19 reality is starting there as well.

Back to the class!  First, our program director who will have lived a memorable first year. It is to be feared that our program director and his students will need some creativity, extra effort and energy during this eMBA cohort 2019-2020. My first community project for Muco.be is not compatible with COVID-19. The second project with disabled people EDGA-Golf Flanders has also been stopped. It won't be any different for the others.

The image above brought back memories from my school years. In those days, friars, nuns and priests were still (omni)present.


Apart from some style differences, still very recognizable, don't you think? An all-seeing eye and, in both cases, conflict management.

Adaptation and conflicts, the axis that people and organizations will have to pivot around intensively in the months to come. On top of that, they will need to give it the best they can.

Taking care of themselves and thus taking care of others, because those others are part of our herd.

You heard Mark Rutte and Boris Johnson and even the pope mention it.

'Herd immunity', science or religion, education or resignation?

The Roman Catholic church has a patent on powerful images, like recently the papal Urbi et Orbi on an empty St Peter's Square in Rome.

Rome paus toespraak 2020

A herd with no sheep. The problem of this leader is currently also the problem of his colleagues.  Who listens, who stays?

Some continue to believe in 'survival of the fittest'. No, not Darwin, but that other biologist, Herbert Spencer, came up with that one-liner. In the case of COVID-19, herd immunity in a way means survival of the fittest. But I prefer the Belgian approach that stays much closer to a correct reading of Charles Darwin. Due in part to a loss of faith after his beloved daughter Anne (1851) (see photo) died, he wrote 'On the origin of species (1859).'

Darwin dochter

This publication indeed mentions a 'natural selection'. However, it is not the strongest or the fittest who makes it. It is he who adapts best.

“Le droit du plus fort”. Jean Jacques Rousseau also had something to say about it in his 'Du contrat social ou principes du droit politique'(1762): Justice depends on the harmonious actions of the individual and the authorities and the mutual fulfilment of moral obligations.

In other words: take care of each other as best we can.

So continue to care, study, teach, produce...

Bring out the champion of adaptation in us.

And in view of all the cross-cultural references, I will end appropriately.



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