ULI Belgium Young Leaders hold Career Development Roundtable

ULI Belgium Young Leaders gathered on the 31 March to discuss the career paths of two young Real Estate entrepreneurs in Belgium.

Our first speaker was Mrs. Anneleen Desmyter, the youngest CEO of a Euronext listed company called Quares Retail Fund.

Mrs. Desmyter spoke vividly and with great passion about her career path, starting at Eurinpro (sold later to Goodman), under the guidance of Bart Verhaeghe, as project manager of business parks and office developments in Belgium. After 5 years, at the young age of 28, she teamed up with Freddy Hoorens and started her own company, Quares Residential Agency. With “Quality in Real Estate” (QUARES), Mrs. Desmyter aimed to increase professionalism in the market of residential real estate services.

Later in 2006, again with Freddy Hoorens and with Herman du Bois, she founded Quares Group, which included a separate business unit focusing on commercial real estate in city-centre high-street locations, as well as property management services. Today, Quares holds Belgium’s largest property management portfolio with approx. 3.000.000 sq. m. in contract and employs 70 people with offices in Belgium, the Netherlands and recently also Luxembourg.

Mrs. Desmyter’s most entrepreneurial and known venture would be the IPO of Quares Retail Fund on Euronext Brussels in December 2013, the first REIT IPO since the 2008 financial crisis.

Her presentation ended with a clear message for the participants ‘Start young, stay young’, challenge yourself and learn from your experience.

The second speaker, Jan Jr. De Clerck, kicked off with an overview of his family background and the different companies and business units they control. Until a few years ago, the many businesses combined employed 3,600 people.  Nowadays, this has been reduced to about half, of which ca. 225 people are employed in Belgium.

The group is composed of three business units, ranging from the production of nylon (Domo Chemicals), Private Equity (Dovesco) to Real Estate Solutions (Alinso), brought together under 1 holding umbrella: the Domo Investment Company. Each business unit equally holds a very diverse portfolio of activities in various sectors.

Mr. De Clerck continued by sharing his career path, starting outside of the family group at developer Extensa (subsidiary of listed holding company Ackermans & van Haaren) and on to Prowinko, a privately-held retail real estate investor with very few formal structures. Having witnessed both types of organisational climates, Mr. De Clerck then joined Domo / Alinso in order to streamline the vast real estate positions and continue the entrepreneurial venture his grandfather and father pursued.

In recent years, Alinso developed over 160ha business parks and energy systems in Romania, and is now starting to optimise its real estate positions in Belgium. Recurrent cash flows, long term relationships with (B2B) clients, a ‘cash is king’ credo, values, bottom-up relations with city officials, healthy debt to equity ratios, the idea of a single point of contact, and an agile corporate structure are considered as very important guidelines by which Mr. De Clerck makes his management decisions.

After both presentations, attendees engaged in discussion around the topics of maintaining focus as an entrepreneur, deciding which entrepreneurial venture to follow, and creating office space for scale-up companies. Mrs. Desmyter emphasized the importance of investor (and banking) relations and the importance for QRF to focus on the golden mile for their retail portfolio. Mr. De Clerck pointed out how crucial it is to install and make use of an external Board of Directors, even to a family-run company, in order to make well-considered decisions.

Both guest speakers finally underlined the importance of the long term in all their ventures, including giving long term incentives to members of the management team.

On a personal note, both speakers agreed on how important it is to attract young people and allow them to seize opportunities and grow within the company, so as directors, they can further develop future strategies for growth.

This post was written by Philippe Verschorren.