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Bruno Colmant to the NextGen: "Be humble, take a step back and keep learning"

Degroof Petercam - Marketing & Communication Specialist
Does a CEO eat lunch? Maybe…, probably…, but on Thursday 28 May the CEO of Degroof Petercam Bruno Colmant dedicated his lunchtime to talk with members of You Are Tomorrow, our Young Gen community. He answered their questions on what the role is of a CEO, what it takes to become one, and how the new times ahead influence the way of working. A very open, honest and transparent conversation, with good advice, tips and insights that we would like to share with you.

Bruno Colmant explains, "Becoming a CEO felt like ecstasy"

A lot of NextGen has the ambition to become a CEO one day. So how does one become CEO? Bruno Colmant explained: "From early years on, my dream was always to be an academic researcher, and in a way, I am living this dream. I became CEO through hard work and coincidence. When I was appointed the CEO of ING Luxemburg, I was proud and in ecstasy. At that time, the responsibility was light. Today, the job of CEO for Degroof Petercam is a severe responsibility: It was clear that it wouldn't be a tourist job, but a 24/24 commitment and interaction with many people. My biggest challenge as a CEO? Pacifying people and bringing trust and confidence. It's all about bringing the opposing forces together. The qualities you need are good interaction, teamwork and being able to make a sound synthesis and share a vision. The essence of the job of a CEO is to prepare the company for the next CEO."
Is what you study very important in your path to a CEO position? Is an MBA an absolute must? Here is what Bruno Colmant had to say: "An MBA, going abroad, that's important, the experience helps a lot. I studied at Purdue University (Indiana), and I learned a lot from the American way of viewing things. I would say: go abroad, exchange and learn. But also keep learning! Take time to step back and to gather knowledge. I take every year a week for education and learning. It makes you realise that companies are not a closed book with no interaction with the outside world, on the contrary."

“Be patient and take on more risk"

"Take a step back!" For Bruno, it is a crucial sentence that helped him along the way and still today. As he explains it: "Isolation from busy days is a good idea. Listen to music, take time to reflect and let go of the working days at the office." But also "taking a step back allows you to gain perspective, to make sure you keep the overview and to make better decisions. The impact of Covid-19, for example, caught everyone by surprise, there were and still are many unknowns. To judge the situation correctly and to tackle this crisis, it is a good idea first to take a step back." And what about the errors, what can we learn from the mistakes Bruno shared? "My biggest mistake is that I was too impatient and took too little risk. It might sound contradictory—my advice: Use your time well, dare to be different. But time is essential. Don't spoil it; it is your real capital; it never comes back." The combination of academic life, business and family, isn't easy. Bruno Colmant, himself a father of a beloved 20 year daughter, admits on some occasions, there was not enough time for the family.

New times ahead, “a human-sized company”

The pandemic took the world- and Belgium- by storm, what about teleworking and the strength of the company? Bruno Colmant states: "It was apparent that swift measures were necessary to protect the clients and people of Degroof Petercam. Teleworking worked; it was already an operational standard before the crisis started. So, we anticipated and now teleworking is the new normal. But there are some disadvantages: the separation between business and family is gone, coming back to the office might be difficult, and the online gathering can take away the creativity, to name some. The way we dealt with the crisis shows the biggest strength of Degroof Petercam: Telework is only possible if there are trust, collective intelligence and easy access to all levels of management. I would call it a human-sized company."
And what about the world outside Degroof Petercam? For example, what's the impact of the crisis on collective debt obligations in Europe. Bruno Colmant: "Mutual debt is not substantial, because the problem is not financing but restarting the economy. In the end, purchasing power for the people is the key to the solution." Can money on the dormant savings accounts, so many in Belgium, play a role? As the CEO puts it: "There is a need for a big incentive, there is a lack of risk-taking, everybody is prudent, which is understandable." And cryptocurrency, will that e-money play a vital role? "The e-currency is still marginal, and it started in 2008 as a rebel currency that opposed the banking system. In the future, cryptocurrency will play a role due to its control. Cash leaves no trace for the government, but e-money is entirely traceable. That will make a difference in the long run."

Keep playing music like the Beatles

A CEO office can be cold, severe, decorated to impress … in Bruno's office, three big pictures of The Beatles hang on the wall. Something that the participants to the webinar noticed. So what's his link with the Beatles? What's their influence? The CEO answers with a smile: "I like them! The Beatles created a musical revolution and through that, a civilisation revolution. The Fab Four, with all of them a different background, came together and reinvented music. So, they conquered the world. If companies would be like the Beatles and have the same strategy, the results would be beyond expectation. Of course, there is also a bit of nostalgia involved ..."
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