Discover the dream of Bert

What was your dream when you were little?

I knew early on that I would do something in the field of sustainable development. I was fascinated by nature − I read World Wildlife Fund magazines and I was very ecologically-minded.

Do you feel that you've achieved your dream today?

I feel I’ve partially achieved my dream so far − I’m working in the sustainable development sector. 

What do you do now?

I work for Durabilis − which wants to inspire the planet with a more human form of doing business. Our slogan is ‘Happy Food for Everyone’ − which means that we want to provide food that everyone in the stakeholder chain is happy with.

Durabilis is based in Ghent, and with our 3 business units included, the company employs about 2300 people. 

What projects are you working on?

We have an established business in Guatemala (where everything began for Durabilis) − we work there with about 1000 smallholder farmers. To create a similar business in Peru − starting with about 20 farmers − we made a transition with the same team, exporting our knowledge.

What is your role in the company?

Durabilis has a very innovative approach towards management. We empower the local teams as much as possible and we’ve implemented a system − called Holacracy − which is quite different from traditional hierarchical management systems − it calls on individual leadership from everyone.

People often play several roles in Durabilis. Although I entered the company through the sustainability perspective, I have taken on the HR role as well and am very much involved in governance. One of my tasks is to distribute the Holacracy system and train the people in how to use it.

Where did you acquire the knowledge to perform these roles − was Vlerick an influence?

My background is scientific and technical: I studied Bioengineering at university. But when I did my Masters thesis in Guatemala, I was suddenly confronted with very modest, friendly farmers who had to make choices not on a technical basis but on an economic basis in order to survive. That’s where I realised that, if we want to achieve sustainability and change the world, it’s not a technical challenge but rather a human challenge.

When I joined Durabilis’ Executive Committee in 2012, I felt I lacked in-depth knowledge on how business is actually done. I had ideas, but not the knowledge to defend them!

So Vlerick helped me a lot − I participated in the Young Management Programme, which deepened my financial knowledge and took me forward to develop more personal skills. Since that programme, I feel I’ve been able to contribute much more effectively to the functioning of the Executive Committee.

What is your ambition?

To be honest, I have no idea what my future should look like. Durabilis is such a dynamic organisation − an inspiring meeting or new insight can change things overnight − and, with our Holacracy management system, my role can evolve in many different directions according to the company’s needs.

Maybe someday I’ll be old and wise and a master of my domain − but that’s not yet the case, and the learning itself is such an interesting and enjoyable journey that I just want to grow along with it. But one thing is certain: my path will always be related to sustainable development.

Have your Vlerick studies helped you realise your dream?

Vlerick has enabled me to work in a much more professional way. I learned a lot of technical skills, financial management techniques − but above all, I feel my focus on personal skills has helped me a lot as we take Durabilis to a higher level of functioning.

Do you have any special memories of your time at Vlerick?

Yes, one of my fondest memories is the 360° evaluation that we underwent, where you are evaluated by your colleagues − this is something we had never done at Durabilis. The experience gave me great insights into how I relate to my colleagues and it gave me a lot of takeaways for my real-life job.

Do you feel you can now apply what you learned at Vlerick?

I apply what I learned every day. Every module was useful − from technical management skills, to HR, to finance, to team management − and all of these elements come up every day in the workplace.

The effect that Vlerick has had on me was noticed at Durabilis, and some of my colleagues have decided to study at Vlerick. It’s had a snowball effect on the entire organisation.

What would be the main message you would like young managers to take away from your dream story?

Never take things for granted − Growing up as a very scientific person, I needed to learn that there are other realities as well, and I had to adapt my behaviour to that. From the sustainable development point of view, we see that business as usual is not working, and we need to adopt very different perspectives and find other ways of doing things to achieve better results: not only on a profit level but also on the societal level.

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