Business leaders share secrets of their success with students


CEOs and directors of some of Flanders’ biggest and most famous organisations are visiting schools across the region this winter to convince students to think differently

Ensuring a bright future

If you were at the same table with Pukkelpop founder Chokri Mahassine, what would you ask him? How about Katrien De Nolf of Roularta, the media giant behind Knack, Trends and VTM?

Some 10,000 students in secondary school and higher education in Flanders are going to get the chance to quiz the region’s most famous entrepreneurs and business leaders as part of Ondernemers voor de Klas (Entepreneurs in Class). The annual event kicks off later this month with Mahassine regaling students at a Sint-Truiden school with tales of founding one of Europe’s biggest rock and pop festivals.

And though it’s fun for students to meet CEOs they’ve read about in the papers, it’s also useful for these local business leaders to introduce them to their sectors and the functions therein. The speakers, who will be travelling around to schools and colleges for eight weeks, get two hours to essentially pitch their industry to Flanders’ future business leaders.

“The students and teachers submit their top three choices of entrepreneur they’d like to have talk to the class,” explains Nathalie Roels of Vlajo, the business innovation incubator responsible for Entrepreneurs in Class. “And the entrepreneurs can also choose in which region or at what school they want to present themselves. And then we match them up.”

So while some business leaders in, say, steel production in West Flanders might want to focus on local secondary schools, others, such as lingerie giant Herman Van de Velde, might choose to go anywhere he could reach students of fashion and textiles.

Tackling bottlenecks

Vlajo works with several partner organisations to find business leaders who work in their sectors. That’s why you’ll find much attention paid to the care sector in Limburg this year: The province’s economic development agency Pom is looking to address shortages in hospital staff.

Pom has arranged for top personnel to visit BSO secondary schools and nursing and related care programmes in higher education. This way, Pom goes right to the source of future staff.

Vlajo’s goal is to encourage today’s students to start their own businesses but also to pay attention to “intrepreneurship” – an entrepreneurial attitude in the company of their choice. The idea is to stimulate the students to think innovatively – whether they own the company or not.

They talk about what businesses are expecting from today’s graduates

- Nathalie Roels of Vlajo

Guest lecturers touch on different topics depending on what they want to communicate, but often, says Roels, they focus on “their own career story, what they studied to prepare for it, what businesses are expecting from today’s graduates and what kind of skills are necessary to run a successful organisation”.

What makes the talks interesting is that these CEOs, these industry giants, these celebrities of Flanders’ economy, casually share personal stories – “and even failures,” says Roels. “I think the students really appreciate hearing from the mouths of the entrepreneurs themselves how their careers have developed – the ups and the downs.”

Following the talk comes the “fun” part for the students, she says: “They can ask questions of these top business leaders directly.”

And the interaction has the potential to continue outside the class: Sometimes business leaders follow up by inviting the students to see behind the scenes at their companies.

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.

million school-going children in 2013


million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013


percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma