On June 14, 2016, AmCham Belgium’s Young Professionals Committee welcomed Bart Verhaeghe, Founder and Chairman of Uplace and President of Club Brugge, to give the keynote address at their Young Professionals VIP Reception, hosted and sponsored by Vlerick Business School.
“Don’t go for the money, but go for your passion,” was Bart Verhaeghe’s first advice of the evening to AmCham Belgium’s young professionals, as “you only live once, and life is too short.” He told everyone how he remembers following lectures at Vlerick as if it was yesterday, even though it is almost thirty years ago already, and reminded us that “time is the most critical thing, the most valuable thing in life.”
“YOU ONLY NEED ONE DAMN FOOL TO WORK WITH YOU”
In his keynote address, Mr. Verhaeghe not only shared advice, but also shared his life story with the young professionals, from growing up around Brussels, giving up playing football professionally and on his father’s insistence attending university instead, feeling at home at Vlerick Business School, to getting his first, and only, job at KPMG in management consulting. Providing business advice to a wide variety of businesses, from a theater to VTM to a Christian union, it only took him nine months to decide he wanted to do this on his own. He no longer wanted to be paid in billable hours, but in shares. Mr. Verhaeghe was convinced his advice was so good, he could afford to wait until his shares paid out dividends – as he put it, “a completely crazy story.” So, he quit his first job and started his first company, with just one asset: his sister’s old car, which broke down on the first day. It was not easy to get his first client, but in the beginning “you only need one damn fool who’s willing to work with you.”
Nowadays, twenty-five years later, Mr. Verhaeghe’s business consists of five separate activities, all run independently from each other: real estate development (Uplace), real estate management, his own, private value investment fund, sports (Club Brugge), and nonprofit activities (Itinera Institute and a cancer fund). He divides his time between each of these businesses and needs to be very structured with his time. The surprising advice he shared here was: “don’t multitask when working, you can multitask in your free time.” If you want results, you need to focus on one thing at a time.
RESPECT ENTREPRENEURS AND TAKE RISKS
Mr. Verhaeghe concluded his speech with how he believes that entrepreneurs deserve respect and should ask for respect. They are the ones who are not afraid to take risks, who provide the added value and who make the money, not just for themselves, but also for the rest of society. In short, entrepreneurs take risks for a better future, for themselves, for their children and also for society. Therefore, Verhaeghe’s last advice to our young professionals was to really “be open for change, and introduce change for other people.” In his view, it all comes back to passion and taking risks: “Dare to dream, and follow your passion.”