Reflecting on Into the Northern Light confrence and Steen Treumer

Last Friday we had the Into the Northern Light conference, celebrating the life of Steen Treumer and the launch of this book in his memory. It was beautiful and poignant at times, much better than the equivalent in Portugal. Waiting in the panel for my turn to speak was hard and all I focused on was choking those tears down. As for the conference in general it was a blur, too tired and emotionally moved to be able to focus much. But it felt great to be with friends I hadn’t seen in over three years. I missed them. These feelings last.

In August 2021 I explained Steen’s importance for my career. Having to write a chapter for the book (available here) and the presentation (here - but it does not really work outside the delivery) over the last year gave me the opportunity to revisit his work, our connections and my emotions. Partly due to Carina Risvig-Hamer’s gift of my own thesis where Steen had scribbled his notes. How did he never throw it out? 11 years later made its way back to my hands. A random set of photocopies in a cheap binding for anyone, but not for me. Priceless.

I divided my presentation into two parts: a trip down the memory lane which was nothing more than a ploy to tell stories and anecdotes about Steen. And a second part more focused on today to give something of more tangible value than my ability as a raconteur. But stories are all that remains once details wash away, aren’t they?

I told four stories about Steen which I think warrant being told in writing - even if they will not land as beautifully as they did Friday. But I rather do this rather than risking forgetting them. In fact, I am writing them now for me, not the future.

The first story is about the start of my Ph.D defense. Pleasantries over, Steen decided to start with a question about a quote I had written in my introduction. There, I referred to Moltke’s aphorism that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’. The context of the quote in my thesis is easy to explain. It is simply how I felt when starting my empirical research stage and gathering data via interviews. Life came at me fast.

Steen, ever the amateur historian, could not resist quizzing my knowledge about the topic, was this a quote from Moltke the Elder (the uncle) or Moltke the Younger (the nephew), both celebrated Prussian and German generals? I had no idea on how to answer and flipped a coin in my head. The uncle, of course. Steen smiled and praised my knowledge of history. Until Friday I did not know if the coin toss had been successful or just that Steen was gracious enough for me not to start the defense in the back foot. Martin Burgi put my 12 year doubt away by confirming I was indeed right. But would have Steen behaved differently had I failed the question? Somehow I doubt it.

In my presentation I showed some pictures from Steens handwriting on my thesis. He kept repeating: ‘but what is his opinion’ throughout. He was right and called my bluff. The reasons for my hedging and bluffing are not to be put in writing - yet. Those in attendance understood very well my reasons for doing so. But hedged my bets were, in part due to my professional upbringing as a lawyer.

The second question Steen had for me came from my hedging. Loaded, about the grounds for use of competitive dialogue under Directive 2004/18/EC, ie the ‘particularly complex’ contract test. I knew said question was coming and was unavoidable but it is easy to explain why it was coming. In my thesis I simply described the two polar opposite views of the topic, one put forward by my supervisor the other by Steen. ‘So Pedro, what is *your* view?’ The lawyer in me threaded the needle between those two opposing views. Neither was right and the correct interpration being one with elements from both. Steen waited while I tied myself into knots before delivering a smile and saying ‘but Pedro, my views on this matter have evolved’. Which, indeed they did and that is something reflected in his subsequent writing on the topic.

From then onwards the Ph.D defense was a breeze and Steen way too generous in his assessment of my work. I remain indebted to his generosity to this day. After the defense we adjourned for lunch with the internal examiner (Ping Wang) who left us early but not without remarking there was a celebratory bottle of prosecco at the Law School staff room. This is a room where I had never entered into because Nottingham saw Ph.D students as just that, students (I’m glad CBS treates them differently). We then had an afternoon to demolish the bottle between the two of us and talk about life. Detailed memories of the afternoon evade me, but life was good and opening ahead for both of us in different ways. For me, very much with his mentoring and support. Little did we know back then.

This next story I did not tell at the conference. It wasn’t appropriate, but perhaps the dinner would have been a good chance to do so. But I was tired, dazed and in no mood to conjure the bard in me again. Especially not after Roberto Caranta taking us through 7 years worth of emails with the love and tenderness that only he can muster. Roberto’s eulogy on Friday evening illustrated his stoic character. He never complained about the disease and some of the passages are not just gritty but an example on how to deal with adversity, a lesson I should do well to learn.

But l’esprit de l’escalier hit me and is yet to go away. I visited Copenhagen twice in 2012. In early 2012 I attended a procurement conference at CBS. By then Steen had left CBS for Copenhagen University a little over 2 years previously and the pain was still raw, with expletives used when he was mentioned. At the time I didn’t really understand why, but now maybe I do. In my second visit in 2012 we had lunch and I asked him why moving from CBS to Copenhagen University. With his smile and a disarming frankness he delivered a killer: ‘well, Pedro for more money and a better reputation of course’. Perfectly valid  and logic. He was a Professor with Special Responsibilities at CBS and Head of Department, moving to Copenhagen University as full professor was the logical step up.

Steen’s move across town left wounds, scars even. It is only now I think I understand them beyond the ‘he did this or said that’. Steen was for CBS Legal Institute one of them and their leader as HoD for four years. In the small world of Danish academia, a move like this in a system which does not foster cross-polination or moving around could only end with people feeling hurt, very hurt. But time mellows one resolve and by the time I joined CBS in 2020 that fire had died out and attitudes changed. At his funeral in August 2021 I was glad not to be the only CBS Law member of staff there.

The final story I told at the conference came at the end of my presentation  illustrated with a picture from my office window. Steen lived across the yard and his reply upon knowing about my move to CBS was “[s]peaking of windows - then I better behave. But there are not that many working in their offices every day at CBS. At least not if you take lights on in the dark winter as an indication.”

I can see the wry smile in his face writing those sentences. Tusind tak, Steen.

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