Face of Flanders - Michèle Sioen
Th e concept of the glass ceiling is clear and concise, but you can’t help feeling we’ve come an awfully long way when the announcement comes that a woman is the new head of one of the country’s foremost boys’ clubs.
Th e Federation of Belgian Enterprise (VBO) was set up in 1973, the fusion of two separate industry organisations. It’s just one of several groups representing business owners, but it’s probably the broadest, with a membership made up of 25,000 small businesses but also large, international companies.
VBO’s departing chair, Pierre- Alain De Smedt, has a CV including Solvay, Bosch, Volkswagen and Renault. His predecessor, Th omas Leysen, is chair of Corelio, which publishes De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad and Flanders Today.
Last week it was announced that the new chair of the organisation, starting in April, will be Michèle Sioen, the fi rst woman to hold the post and one of the few female faces in top executive functions anywhere in Flanders. Sioen, 48, has until now been deputy chair, and prior to that was chair of Fedustria, the textile industry federation for Wallonia and Brussels. She’s an independent director of Belgacom and car dealer D’Ieteren
Sioen’s roots are in West Flanders and that province’s historic links with the textile industry. She’s the CEO of Sioen Industries in the little town of Ardooie – but there’s nothing little about the company. Th e family-owned Sioen is listed on the stock market, is one of the European market leaders in covers for trucks and protective work clothes and employs more than 4,500 people internationally.
Sioen took over as the company’s CEO from her late father in 2005 and has built a reputation as someone who invests in innovation, one of the areas where Europe can still compete with the low-wage economies. “As a company, you have to have the ambition to grow,” she’s been quoted. “If you don’t, you land in a negative spiral.”
At Fedustria, she’s also been tasked with social negotiation. The VBO is one of the main bodies involved in labour negotiations in Belgium, together with the government and the trades unions. Sioen’s fi rst term of offi ce will involve her in two important rounds of talks, one due to be concluded by the end of next year, and one by the end of 2016.