Trading Places

 Willem Kooyker (BBA, ’71), founder and chair of Blenheim Capital Management, came to New York from the Netherlands as a bright young trader. The Zicklin School of Business gave him the chance to grow and the opportunity to make the U.S. his home.

“It’s not merely education that makes you successful,” says renowned international commodities trader Willem Kooyker, founder of Blenheim Capital Management. “You need to be a self-starter.” That quality is what brought Kooyker to City College Downtown (the Zicklin School’s predecessor), where he studied for his degree in economics in the evenings and during summer sessions while trading commodities of coffee, cocoa, and sugar from the New York office of a Dutch company by day. The child of parents who were unable to send all their sons to university, Kooyker says he also yearned to trade a home in Holland, a then more class-based society, for one in New York: “The U.S. meritocracy very much appealed to me.”

At Baruch, where he joined fellow students who shared the lack of family privilege—many of them immigrants like himself—Kooyker immediately appreciated the opportunity of a then-tuition-free education, professors and bosses willing to mentor him, and the tremendous drive to succeed that surrounded him. With this education also came a promise. “I had to sign a letter promising to become a U.S. citizen after completing my degree. It took me exactly one second to say, ‘No problem!’”

“The seeds of Baruch built the foundation of my macro thinking,” Kooyker says. He launched Tricon Holding Company, Ltd., in 1984, directed towards energy and industrial commodities. Five years later, he founded Blenheim, named after Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, whom Kooyker deeply respects.

Giving others the opportunities he was given as a young man has become an important part of Kooyker’s life, through organizations like MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, as a member of the board of directors and immediate past chair. To ensure that the highest quality of education can continue at Zicklin, Kooyker, as vice president of the Monteforte Foundation (the philanthropic organization of Kooyker and his wife, Judith-Ann Corrente), generously endowed the Zicklin School deanship, which was named in his honor. Recently, Kooyker also funded the Global Leadership Initiative for Zicklin undergraduates, a program combining coursework and experiential learning that prepares students for careers in global companies and provides an additional credential on their résumés.

“Baruch was my launching pad,” Kooyker says. “And today the whole atmosphere at Zicklin continues to send out the right signals.”