Turning crisis into opportunity

Unlike many companies, for whom the 2008 financial crisis spelled disaster, Gimv used the opportunity to undertake a programme of growth, attracting new talent and reinvesting in the company. Dejonckheere explains how this happened: “In 2008, there was the big crisis. Colleagues of ours had brought a lot of leverage on their balance sheet. They are still struggling with that, if they are still here at all. Others are changing their plans.”

“Our industry is based on liquidity and funding. We were in a quite difficult model, because we were listed on the stock market and we were starting to create some funds, but we were not dependent on the classic fund-to-fund management pools of money in London. This meant that we were outside of the usual benchmarks that said you should be pure play and make small teams. In fact many funds managed by small teams now have succession problems. With pure play, you are often looking at one-trick ponies. They are easy to benchmark. Gimv is a little bit more complex. We have all the contacts and networks and we work with them. We change all the time.”

Dejonckheere talks of the crisis as an on-going opportunity for self-evaluation: “The big financial disaster is still going on. A lot of people were waiting for the crisis to go away, but it won’t happen just like that. You could wait years. Of course, people need to do the urgent thing every day, but they shouldn’t forget to do the important things too. They need to take two steps backward and look at what the situation really is, then ask themselves, ‘Are we operating on fertile ground?’ Every business should do this from time to time. ‘Is this worthwhile?’ ”

“The second question to ask is, ‘What are the big trends?’ If you are working all the time and cycling against the wind, that won’t be very positive for the speed you can make. It’s a lot of effort, for very little results.”

It is by concentrating on their direction that Gimv were able to expand and improve during this period. Dejonckheere says, “We had the money because of our funding model. A couple of years ago, we started our growth exercise - not tapping the stock market, but making business combinations through funds we’d invested in on biotech and infrastructure. We could already double our means during the crisis, which was quite special. This growth in critical mass gave us the opportunity to grow our teams and attract new talent.”

“It’s interesting: 60% of people at Gimv have spent less than five years in the company. On the back of the growth, we made new teams and talent, and put them together with the DNA already in the company. We developed a snowball effect. Against the trend of a degrading environment, we managed to grow. On average, we managed to attract more than we lost.”

“We felt that the big question for us was: ‘We are big for a small region, but we are very small in the big world. So where should we be in ten years time?’ Maybe the best time to think through these things is during a recession period, when change is more natural and the workload is a bit lower. Deals, IPOs, listings on the stock market, refinancing: they were all practically non-existent. People were easily convinced that change was not only necessary, but also an opportunity.”

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Turning crisis into opportunity

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