By the time Esther Hardi confirmed she was going to pursue an executive MBA, there was just a week to go before the programme began.

Having missed out on the preparation time enjoyed by many students, she had to focus hard when the course started. But it proved to be an early lesson in teamwork, she says — a prescient experience for the energy professional who now says so much of the EMBA’s value has stemmed from how her coursemates renewed her professional energy.

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Hardi has worked in the energy industry since graduating from Delft University with a masters in applied mathematics. “I wanted to do the coolest job I could find,” she says — and, back then, that meant working offshore as a geophysicist, analysing and processing seismic data to find oil and gas.

She worked in a number of roles in the industry before joining the Dutch regional grid operator Alliander in 2007 as a strategist and innovation manager. She “had a great time”, she says — leading her own team and beginning her move into renewable energy by structuring a deal to feed biogas into the Dutch network.

But she needed a change. “I knew I had the greatest job . . . but, at the same time, I also wanted more,” Hardi says.

A few factors had triggered this feeling. Changes in Dutch law had left grid operators less able to innovate, she says, and, while she had trained many colleagues, she also needed a “push for knowledge”. So, in January 2019, she started the EMBA at Rotterdam School of Management.

Esther Hardi stands in front of a barn with solar panels on the roof
‘The world is open again. You can choose whatever you want. You can do it,’ says Esther Hardi © Marco Hofste

Hardi recalls a conversation with Professor Murray Bryant, who taught her managerial accounting, about how the network was key. He encouraged her not just to study but also to invest time in her coursemates — going for a drink, exchanging knowledge and experience. “He was so right,” she says, “because I came [to business school] for a knowledge boost but, after two or three weeks, I thought it’s very nice but the value for me was the people.”

Working with coursemates refreshed Hardi, giving her a new lease of professional energy and a more fearless mindset. “Like when you start a career and you are very eager — I got it again and that was so lovely.”

FT European Business Schools Ranking 2023

Read the ranking and report

That is not to say the knowledge was not valuable. Hardi notes that, as a director with her own team, she was already doing much of what the course covered. You think you know it because you are doing it, she says, but actually “you do it without the background”. The EMBA gave her the context, structure and theory behind a lot of her work.

It also gave her a firm foundation in different areas of business. “I feel more in control because I know much more about finance, much more about marketing, much more about operations, much more about behaviour, much more about communication,” she says. “ . . . And I’ve worked with that before and it went well — but now you have the background, now it’s better structured.”

She also gained the confidence to combine her experience and knowledge to trust that what she thinks “is good”.

One of Hardi’s tips for learning is to listen to the lectures as podcasts, while most of her reading was done via audiobooks. She would tune in when she was travelling or even walking her dogs. “That was a game-changer for me,” she says.


2022-present Senior energy and climate strategist at the Institute for European Energy and Climate Policy

2020-present Founder of SDG Energy

2019-present Board member of, an energy co-operative

2007-20 Innovation manager and strategist at Alliander

2004-7 Senior adviser at Nuon Consultancy Group

2000-4 Energy origination and risk manager at Nuon/Vattenfall

1997-2000 Geophysicist at Schlumberger Oilfield Services (now SLB)

1996-1997 Mathematician at TNO

She also asks more questions — if she needs to find out about something, she will ask someone who is experienced and willing to share. All these factors — the theoretical foundation, energy, and support from peers to reflect on her next career move — have helped her pursue the change she needed. While studying a course on entrepreneurship, Hardi set up her own energy consultancy, SDG Energy. “I would never have thought about it before,” she says, “but I had so much energy and was so inspired, I went for it.”

The business went well but Hardi found that she needed a team to have a bigger impact. So she joined the Institute for European Energy and Climate Policy (IEECP) as a senior energy and climate expert and strategist, helping EU member states with their road maps and policies to support the green energy transition.

Alongside this, and her consultancy, Hardi is also the director of, a local energy co-operative in Stichtse Vecht, north-west of Utrecht. It aims to make the area energy-neutral by 2030 by consulting with residents and helping to supply renewable energy; its first project was to install 243 solar panels on the roof of a farm.

With these roles, Hardi has fully committed to her own energy transition. She says it is best summed up by an old Dutch saying: it is as if the cards are shuffled again.

“The world is open again,” Hardi says. “You can choose whatever you want. You can do it. And then you choose something — like I chose IEECP . . . It’s really a choice I made very consciously and I can go for it and I love it. But it’s like starting from scratch — the feeling that you can start whatever you want now. So what you choose is because you want it.” 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article