“There's always a shot ... you just have to find it.”

EY and KBC extend iGMO Prime Foundation Partnership

Put together the knowledge and experience of experts, academics and, especially, fellow entrepreneurs and your next ‘shot’ will be a whole lot better. Learning from each other, that is what the Impulse Centre “Growth Management for Medium Sized Enterprises” (iGMO) is all about. At the beginning of this year, Marc Cosaert, a Partner at EY, and Patrick Couttenier, Director of Corporate Banking at KBC, extended their iGMO Prime Foundation Partnership with Vlerick. They and Professor Hans Crijns explain why.

Your iGMO Prime Foundation Partnership goes back a long way, nearly 25 years. What is the strength of this partnership?

Marc Cosaert - EYMarc Cosaert: “Just before iGMO started, in 1993, we launched the EY - still Ernst & Young in those days - award for the Enterprise of the Year. Medium-sized enterprises with growth ambitions are exactly our target group and this was a good way of highlighting that. But we wanted to do more and all the themes we were working on were also dealt with by iGMO, an initiative that Vlerick launched around that time. So, it was only logical for us to join it. In the meantime, we have covered a lot of ground together. Continuing is the obvious choice.”

Patrick Couttenier: “Growth companies are a very important target group for us too. At KBC Corporate Banking, 70 to 80% of our clients are family companies. Not only do they need credit or financial advice, but they also see us as professional partners with whom they can discuss a variety of issues. For example, they expect us to help them professionalize their management skills. By involving our employees in iGMO, they not only learn a lot, they also make valuable contacts. Everyone is carried along by the special dynamic that drives the centre.”

Hans Crijns: “That’s true. In iGMO we work with a particularly interesting target group, entrepreneurs who are also owners or co-owners of a medium-sized company. That sort of company is usually in transition and benefits enormously from the dynamic. They all face issues such as ownership, professionalization of the board, stock-market flotation, internationalisation, etc., and they can all learn from how others deal with the situation. We are delighted that EY and KBC, who were believers from the start, will continue to participate in iGMO. Over the years we have developed close ties with each other and we all attach equal importance to the continuity of this project.”

“The solidarity within this group, the fact that they all have a similar mindset and are all eager to learn, is extremely positive in our opinion.” Marc Cosaert, Partner at EY

What is the strategic importance of this partnership for you?

Patrick Couttenier: “Do you remember the slogan, ‘The bank from here’? KBC has always been close to its corporate clients and with iGMO we are literally among them. There is an atmosphere of openness in this community that you seldom see. Entrepreneurs share positive as well as negative experiences, find a sounding board and trust each other.”

Marc Cosaert: “That is how we feel too. We want to show the outside world that this segment, the middle market, is our playing field. We have never hesitated to prolong the partnership, because we simply don’t want to miss it. Our employees are seen by their clients as trusted advisers and iGMO gives them a platform that makes it possible for them to hear from the entrepreneurs themselves how they think and what they struggle with.”

What is it specifically about iGMO that you appreciate and why?

Marc Cosaert: “We all learn a lot from it. As an iGMO partner, but also as a member, you have a direct line with the academics at Vlerick. You know what subjects they are working on and you have access to interesting knowledge and insights. In addition to knowledge, though, the relational aspect is a big plus too. The solidarity within this group, the fact that they all have a similar mindset and are all eager to learn, is extremely positive in our opinion.”

Patrick Couttenier - KBC (right)Patrick Couttenier: “Indeed, the spirit is very important too. The goodwill factor among the members is huge. Everyone wants to get ahead. And for us this is our ‘close, personal and smart’ strategy in practice. A good basis or reinforcement of the relationship of trust that is so very necessary if, as a bank, you want to make progress with your client.”

“For us this is our ‘close, personal and smart’ strategy in practice.” Patrick Couttenier, Director Corporate Banking at KBC

Will the emphasis shift in the renewed partnership?

Hans Crijns: “Yes, after 25 years, iGMO is now a mature platform, so we are taking advantage of the opportunity to go a step further. Firstly, there’ll be an emphasis on diversity: gender, geography, sectors and new founders, too.”

Patrick Couttenier: “To begin with we had a lot of company founders. Together we helped propel them to a higher level, and now we provide support for them and their successors. But we certainly shouldn’t overlook the new founders.”

Marc Cosaert: “That’s right. Not only has the profile of entrepreneurs evolved enormously, the business models also look completely different these days. So we must include these ‘other entrepreneurs’ in our ecosystem as well. And just look, for example, at the role that private equity plays in the middle segment these days. Ten years ago it barely existed, but now it is an aspect to be reckoned with.”

Hans Crijns - Vlerick Business School (middle)Hans Crijns: “Secondly, we must continue to devote adequate attention to research. Making contacts and building networks will continue to be part of the iGMO’s DNA, but so will academic research. The Belgian High-Growth Monitor, which we publish annually with iGMO, is a nice example of that. And finally, we will introduce new forms of learning into iGMO. Our inspiration trips are well supported, but digital learning, in the form of webinars, for example, is becoming increasingly popular too. iGMO wants to continue to provide leverage for healthy and strong companies and to contribute in the years to come to progress in society as a whole.”

“Diversity, new founders, other business models and digital forms of learning. That is where the emphasis will lie in the renewed iGMO partnership.” Hans Crijns, iGMO Director and partner of Vlerick