It essentially happened that quickly, that simply.
Maxim Vanhencxthoven, facility manager from Houston, Texas, by way of his native Antwerp, Belgium, decided to alter both his life and career by attending business school and earning an MBA. On his request-for-information form with the Tepper School of Business, he was asked to select which school clubs interested him. He checked the Out&Allied Club. He was officially out.
In the midst of this Pride Month, in the still-emotional days after the tragedy in Orlando where at least 102 people were shot in a gay nightclub and 49 were killed, Vanhencxthoven (pronounced van-HENXT-hoe-ven), MBA ’16, is moved to share his story. He talks of the importance of the openness, the inclusiveness, the welcome he found in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Tepper School.
“That set the stage,” Vanhencxthoven, 31, said last week, while he takes off a few months before starting in September as an associate management consultant at A.T. Kearney in Chicago. “Some students, when I was applying, reached out to me with information, support and answers for any questions that I had. I have to say, Tepper was one of very few who did that.”
“And when I came to campus to interview and again when I came to Welcome Weekend, and with the conversations I had with people, I felt I could be who I really was – which proved again how welcoming everyone at Tepper is.”
In January 2010, his Belgian employers – an industrial-service provider – moved Vanhencxthoven to Mexico, and again moved him a few months later to Beaumont, Texas. He worked there for two years and for another year in Houston, where he oversaw warehousing and logistical operations for clients of the petrochemical and fine-chemical industries. He asked if he could remain in the United States and ascend the company’s ladder. “The answers to those questions weren’t what I was hoping for, so I decided that I wanted to look at a couple of options,” he said.
There were the alternatives of: finding another job in the U.S., which would require visa and immigration solutions; returning to work in Belgium; or pursuing an MBA.
“You really do some introspection at that time,” he recalled. “It was clear that I needed to make a change professionally and, yes, personally. I didn’t want to hide anymore. I wasn’t out at work, except to one of my colleagues – she was LGBT herself, which made it easier.
“I felt good with who I was. When I came to Tepper, I made a choice for myself: I was going to be out and not lie or avoid the question, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’”
The Out&Allied Club, fellow students, faculty and staff, as well as the overall atmosphere at the school allowed him to adapt and transition.
“It’s an open invitation,” he said. “I found Tepper to be welcoming in general. I think that definitely helped.”
His recommendation to all prospective MBA students: “Yes, the MBA is quite a choice – most people leave their job, their family, their comfort zone, a familiar area and are making quite a jump in the dark. My general advice, whether you’re LGBT or not, is to find yourself and go after your dreams the best you can. This is the time to do it (in your 20s and 30s, with no family ties or while children are young) ... it’s a time to definitely learn about yourself, find who you are. The best way to do that is to meet as many people as you can who are both similar and different to you. Try to ‘do you,’ to say it in an American way.”
A European upbringing infused Vanhencxthoven with an international perspective on LGBT issues. His native Belgium in 2003 became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, two years after The Netherlands and 12 years before the U.S.
“Yes, I think there’s definitely a difference in inclusiveness in the U.S. from Europe,” he said. “In Europe, you have legal protections for everyone who is LGBT, and that only happened last year in the U.S. Then you see these things (such as the Orlando shooting) happen....
“I think it confirms what I thought about the U.S.: it is a country in which extremes coexist, with all the frictions that come with it. One positive is there is a vigorous public debate going on, which I don’t see happen this way in Europe.
“My time at Tepper has helped me to see the world from a more nuanced perspective. Besides skills both technical and interpersonal, I believe Tepper gave me the ability and courage to impact the world around me for the better.”