More than 360 distinguished guests, including business leaders, government officials and foreign diplomats, gathered at the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s on June 22 for our #Yes2Belgium Event with Prime Minister Charles Michel and the International Business Community. Organized by AmCham Belgium and 10 other Chambers of Commerce, it was an opportunity to publicly re-affirm our commitment to Belgium as a place to live and work after the events of recent months.
“Trust is what made us come together tonight,” opened Prime Minister Charles Michel. “And I want to thank you for standing next to us.” He acknowledged the common challenge we face in terrorism and assured the audience of the government’s ongoing efforts to improve the safety and security of all residents and visitors.
The Prime Minister continued by enumerating Belgium’s strengths as a business and investment destination, before stating unequivocally: “We are a business-friendly government, and we want to support investors.” It was a perfect segue into the panel discussion with global executives from some of the largest and most important foreign investors in Belgium.
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) June 22, 2016
Panelists from Bombardier, BT, General Electric (GE), Pfizer and Toyota all confirmed that their companies are here to stay, and they have not been dissuaded by the March 22 terrorist attacks. “The best thing we can do as business people is to get on with our work,” said Mark Hutchinson, President & CEO of GE Europe.
Each company has industry-specific reasons behind their commitment to Belgium – the bioscience ecosystem in the case of Pfizer, good logistics in the case of Toyota, etc. – but all of the panelists were able to agree on the quality of the country’s workforce. Citing the knowledge, experience and drive of his employees, Per Allmer, President Western Europe, Middle East and Africa of Bombardier Transportation, said, “You can’t copy a culture.”
While Richard Blackburn, Regional President Europe, Japan, ANZ of Global Innovative Pharma at Pfizer, praised the “access to highly trained, highly qualified scientists,” the panelists also encouraged more uptake of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies and careers, especially as the digital revolution continues to transform industry.
The discussion often circled back to the theme of trust introduced by the Prime Minister. Another closely related theme to emerge was the need for predictability and stability in public policy and regulation. “Business does not like surprises,” explained Johan van Zyl, President & CEO of Toyota Motor Europe. “If we are involved in the process, then it’s not a surprise.”
Pressed by the moderator Étienne de Callataÿ to address some of the ‘traditional’ sore points about doing business in Belgium, such as high labor costs, the panelists demurred. It’s simplistic, they said, to look only at the cost side. “We always get the best value out of the people we have here in Belgium,” remarked Per Allmer of Bombardier.
For GE, the question is rather about processes than costs. On the topic of labor relations, Corrado Sciolla, President Continental Europe of BT, was quick to point out that “Belgium is not the most difficult [country]”.
The discussion continued over dinner, with Prime Minister Charles Michel taking the time to interact personally with many guests. After the meal service, everybody was invited to watch the Belgium vs. Sweden football match over dessert and coffee in a fun, collegial atmosphere. The Red Devils delivered a 1-0 victory, securing their spot in the round of 16 and providing another reason to celebrate Belgium!
We would like to thank the #Yes2Belgium sponsors for supporting this initiative: 3M, Altair Global, AWEX, Brussels Invest & Export, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, DuPont, EY, Flanders Investment & Trade, GE, Interparking, Janssen Pharmaceutica, JTI, MasterCard, Management Centre Europe, McKinsey & Company, Pfizer, Port of Antwerp, Telenet and VOKA.