The remarkable past of Jon-Hans Coetzer, new CAO of Glion

Jon-Hans CoetzerGlion’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Jon-Hans Coetzer shares his views on communication skills and some surprising stories from his past.

Last month, Glion’s new Chief Academic Officer (CAO), Dr. Jon-Hans Coetzer spoke at the World Communication Forum in Davos. We interviewed Dr. Coetzer to shed some light on his career before the world of academia, and his stories were nothing short of remarkable.   

First, we asked why Dr. Coetzer was at the WCF in Davos, a forum dedicated to improving communications for the global development of the world. As we learned that Dr. Coetzer holds a doctorate of international relations, it began to make sense, but his explanation revealed a surprising element of his past:

“I was a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for years, and I also worked for the UN as a diplomat during active conflicts.”

That is why the Founder and Content Director of the World Communication Forum Davos, Yanina Dubeykovskaya, sent him an invitation for this meeting in Davos. And he went with Fabienne Rollandin, Director of Industry & Alumni Relations at Glion, to Davos to address specific challenges for entrepreneurship and crisis management.


Without going back to the beginning, Jon-Hans described the turning point in his life when he discovered the power of communication.

“It all started in South Africa, in 1982, when I met Princess Diana to work on this campaign to ban land mines.

He explained further, “Growing up in South Africa, with all the injustices, one can develop a chip on the shoulder. My mom said to me one day “Young man you need to get over yourself, nobody cares, nobody is bothered.” And Diana was someone who really represented that, she was beautiful, wealthy, and she didn’t need to get into highly controversial issues such as banning land mines, but she took them head on by getting the word out. That’s how I got inspired to use communication to eliminating suffering.”

Once he found this calling, Jon-Hans travelled extensively for the ICRC and the UN. In Liberia, he learned a valuable lesson about communication on his first day on a mission to open communications about transitional justice.

“I started with my UN speech, and the eyes of these people, ladies my mother’s age, were just staring back and I realized it was going to be a nightmare. The country was in ruins, they had all lost family members. So instead of speaking, I asked them: Why don’t you tell me your story? What justice did you or did you not get? And we ended up spending the time listening to one another’s stories,” he added:

“Experience has taught me that sometimes listening is the strongest communication tool we have.”

The humanitarian diplomacy chapter of his career came to a close in 2002, when Jon-Hans decided that it was time to reinvent himself. He studied in Europe, earning higher degrees in hospitality and tourism management, and then on to Geneva for his Diplôme d’Etudes Supérieures Specialises (D.E.S.S).

“My doctoral research in Geneva revealed the value of communication training with the specific emphasis on diplomatic training for leaders,” he said.

Among his many discoveries, Jon-Hans realized that good communication starts by communicating with people, not at people, a value that he is making clear in his transitional role as the undergraduate dean and soon-to-be Chief Academic Officer (CAO) at Glion Institute of Higher Education.

“Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of common respect built amongst people through communication. As they invited Glion to have a place on Advisory Board of the WCF in 2017, we will be promoting the importance of communication in education. This is built on establishing a clear set of communication skills to develop through education,” he said and then summarized,

“Every successful business person is a highly skilled individual and one of the most important skill sets is communication.”

In his new role as CAO, Jon-Hans is essentially looking after all aspects that relate to the academic quality, assurance, policies, processes, procedures and guidelines. He was eager to share one dimension that he will focus on this year.

“I’m developing a plan for inclusive talent development. Glion’s long term success lies in the hands of our people, in the longevity of their positions and careers. Developing academic talent development is strictly connected to our people strategy because Glion is as strong as its faculty. One aspect of my role is to ensure that all of the policies and processes link with our people (faculty and staff), and that everyone is clear about their responsibilities, and the values they embody in the 21st century,” he said. And to conclude, he left us with a very positive perspective:

“The Glion Spirit is about sharing across cultures and uniting for common strength, and we’re writing a new chapter for Glion. I’m very confident knowing we have the right people in place to keep Glion moving forward.”

For more inspiration, check out Jon-Hans Coetzer’s academic bio on our website, or learn more about his career path on his LinkedIn profile and connect with him directly.

Photo By: Alexstudio Photography

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