Amrop is an executive search firm active in approximately 54 countries, and Benoit Lison, a Belgium-based managing partner, works in the firm’s global digital practice group.
It focuses on recruiting Chief Digital Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers and Chief Security Officers. “We work on all of those roles, and more, but always the number one or number two positions in a company,” he says.
As part of Amrop’s Global Digital Practice Group, Lison takes part in discussions on global trends and strategies for hiring people with digital profiles for leadership roles, but her primary geographic focus is Europe. . Naturally, he pays particular attention to his country of origin, Belgium. Because he only hires top executives, he has a big picture of how young people could one day reach those heights.
One aspect of the general business climate in Belgium is a rapid change in organizational structures. In the past, almost all companies had their entire structure in the country – including the CEO, HR, finance, marketing and all other major departments.
Today there is a mix of structures, with central parts of companies based in Belgium and support positions located in shared service centers in other countries – often in central Europe, such as Poland, where Shared service centers are becoming an important part of the economy.
“In the past, all these people were based in legal entities in Belgium,” Lison explains. “That’s not the case anymore. Now what we see is that the commercial activities are based here – and the C-level executives are here – but the transactional activities are in the shared services centers. Anyone who works for a Belgian company must learn to work within these new virtual structures.
Changing work environments
Of course, another reason work environments have become more virtual is because of Covid-19. Two or three years ago, very few companies were convinced that working from home would be possible. Today, almost anyone can work from home – and some of the latest technology is making it more feasible than ever.
Coming out of the pandemic, many companies are taking a step back and considering the importance of staff coming into the office and working with their peers. This notion is particularly important for young workers in service economies in countries like Belgium.
“In consulting companies, there has always been a kind of pyramid,” says Lison. “Before the pandemic, young people were always working for the client on site. They worked together in small groups of four or five people. When they worked together, they adopted the same culture, the same way of working – and they exchanged skills. This was on-the-job training.
“Today, when we see these young people working from home, there is no longer the same bond with colleagues. It’s less intensive. It is also difficult to develop a culture and to exchange know-how.
Many companies are looking for the optimal hybrid formula, with people working partly from home and partly in the office. But the challenge is coordinating schedules so that people who need to be together arrive at the office at the same time. “These are new parameters that will impact our daily working lives,” says Lison.
Wages on the rise but complex in Belgium
“In general, salaries are going up,” says Lison. “But wages are a complex issue, due to the high tax regime in Belgium. Companies had to get more creative in offering compensation packages. Many companies offer a fixed salary and bonus, supplemented by numerous benefits, including a company car, insurance and allowances for intellectual property.
“An unusual benefit often found in Belgium is a bicycle allowance, where the company pays the cost of a bicycle.”
Stock options and warrants may also be included in benefits. A warrant is a notional share of value for private companies and is taxed at rates well below normal wages.
“There is another special thing in Belgium,” says Lison. “We have indexing. If the cost of living increases by more than 2%, several categories of people benefit from an automatic salary increase of 2%. Over the past year, we have had three indexings. This means that people in certain job categories – for example, civil servants – got a 6% salary increase last year. In addition, we will probably have a fourth indexing in the coming months. »
But Lison adds: “This indexing increases the cost of labour. This means that economic activity in our country becomes much more expensive than in neighboring countries, which puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared to our close neighbors, such as the Netherlands.
Tips for starting a career
The first piece of advice Lison has for young people starting their careers is to go for well-funded companies. “When you’re developing new technology, you really need a lot of resources,” he says. “You see a lot of startups that don’t get reimbursed after the first year. They never last.
His second piece of advice is to always stay on top of technological developments. This is true for young people, but more generally for people of all ages. “I think there’s a huge chance for people over the age of 45,” he says. “They already have a lot of know-how, but they have to make sure they stay sharp. Otherwise, they might no longer be relevant for emerging tech companies.
“The world changes every day. There are so many new things coming. We need to stay open-minded and absorb lots of new ideas to stay up to date.
The third piece of advice Lison gives to young people – this time specifically for young Belgian nationals – is to opt for an international environment. “I think it’s really important to work with international cultures, to learn how to deal with people from different parts of the world,” he says.
“It is certainly a challenge for the Belgians because they are staying at home. There is a huge difference, for example, between Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch always go abroad. In Belgium, they stay at home.
Lison adds: “There are lots of opportunities everywhere, but it’s especially interesting for young people to see what’s happening in big countries, like India and China. It will be very important to keep an eye on these places in the years to come. People in India and China are very well educated, speak English and are open to working abroad. People from these countries will take jobs from young people in Europe.
“We will have a more competitive labor market in the years to come. Young people need to prepare. »