Famous Belgian entrepreneurs
Belgian entrepreneurs with great talent, creativity and business acumen have set up companies that in many cases have developed into market leaders in their sector and are putting in a strong performance on the international scene. We briefly present a few of them on this page.
Jef Colruythas followed in the footsteps of his father in making the Colruyt Group a booming business. The Colruyt Group, which includes Okay and Dreamland, has a workforce of around 17,000 and owns over 260 stores in Belgium and some 40 in France, is one of the biggest players on the distribution market. In 14 years it has hired 11,000 members of staff, and in 2007 boasted a turnover of €5.21 billion. Jef Colruyt was ‘Manager of the Year’ in 2002.
Delhaize CEO Pierre-Olivier Beckers was an enthusiastic recruit to the distribution sector in 1983, when he joined Delhaize. He has held a range of roles in the company, including CEO of Delhaize America. He regards his main challenge as ensuring the company stays relevant to customers. In 2008, Delhaize Group recorded a turnover of $28 billion, two-thirds of which is generated by its American chains.
Bert De Graeveis currently the CEO of Bekaert, a global leader in steel wire products. De Graeve was ‘Dutch-speaking Manager of the Year’ in 2009. Before taking up his role as CEO at Bekaert in 2002, he was Managing Director of VRT and held a number of senior positions at Alcatel Bell. He managed to increase Bekaert's profits in a period of financial crisis.
Marcel Miller,Managing Director of Alstom Transport, saved the company from bankruptcy and has succeeded in making the company the international competence centre for AC convertors and railway signalling equipment in the Alstom Group. He is also Country President of Alstom Belgium.
Jan De Nuland the company bearing his name are global leaders in the dredging sector. Jan De Nul started out as a small contractor and in 1951 started dredging before expanding to a number of related activities. His boldness and vision have made the company grow into the giant it is today.
Pierre De Muelenaeretackled form recognition by computers in his PhD thesis. In 1987, his interest resulted in the establishment of the high-tech company I.R.I.S., which was a pioneer in OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and grew into a developer and global supplier of technology and products for intelligent document recognition and electronic document management. In 2008, the company’s turnover was €109 million.
Jan Callewaertis the founder and CEO of Option, the innovative wireless communicationcompany focusing mainly on portable computers. The company has built up a strong reputation by developing a number of ingenious new products that have radically enhanced the performance of wireless communication and the possibilities it provides.
Entertainment and leisure
Hans BourlonandGert Verhulstare proof that business can also be about fun. With Studio 100, they have built up a dream company that specialises in entertainment and leisure for children (Samson en Gert, K3, Plopsaland, etc.). They were voted ‘Managers of the Year’ in 2008.
Eric Dombwas ‘French-speaking Manager of the Year’ in 2007, transforming the site of a Cistercian abbey into the main animal park in Wallonia: Paradisio. Turnover increased by 20% in 2007, and the number of visitors that year rose from 485,000 to 635,000. In 2009, Paradisio had as many as 874,147 visitors.
Nicolas Steiseland Frédéric Rouvez set up the Exkirestaurant chain in 2001. The basic concept behind the chain was to sell natural, fresh products. With its 43 restaurants in four countries, the company employs 420 staff and has a turnover of €43 million. Steisel and Rouvez were ‘Managers of the Year’ in 2009.
Albert Frèreis 285th on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people. He started his career in the steel industry, but subsequently moved onto the international scene as a businessman and financier and considerably diversified his activities, working for example in the energy sector (Petrofina), the media (Editions Dupuis) and the banking sector (BBL).
Baron Roland D'Ieterenis the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the D'Ieteren Group, which – among other activities – imports Volkswagen to Belgium and operates Avis Europe. He is the great-great-great-great grandson of Joseph-Jean D'Ieteren, a master coachbuilder who founded the Brussels family firm in 1805. Nowadays the D'Ieteren Group operates in 120 countries. It had a turnover of €191 million in 2008.
Roger De Clerckstarted his career working with weaving looms. An upholstery materials business soon followed, and later factories manufacturing carpets and other floor coverings. Around 2005, Beaulieu International became the largest group for carpets in Western Europe.
A number of other entrepreneurs from the past whose name or achievements are still feted today include LeoBekaert (Bekaert, steel wire products), Paul Janssen (Janssen Pharmaceutica), Ernest Solvay (Solvay, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Group), Edouard Empain (Paris metro, Heliopolis), Georges Nagelmackers (Compagnie international des Wagons-lits, Orient Express) and Lieven Gevaert (Agfa-Gevaert, imaging products).