“After 30 years of profit, now it’s time for 30 years of non-profit,” said Michils.
The 59-year-old studied marketing at Ghent University, then earned an MBA at Vlerick Business School, before getting his first job in advertising at Brussels-based agency VVL BBDO. When he got the job, he once said, his motherin- law reacted with shock: “Marc wasn’t such a bad student as all that,” she said.
That was the beginning of the 1980s, and advertising was seen as no job for a decent young man; but that was before the industry changed, turning its practitioners into Masters of the Universe, the leading examples being the Saatchi brothers.
In 1991, Michils set up his own office with three colleagues; the agency Quattro was later acquired by Saatchi, and Michils became CEO. It became a leader in the industry, winning nine Effie Awards (the Belgian advertising Oscars) for campaigns for Carrefour, the CD&V party, Canvas and the milk industry.
At the same time, however, Michils also gave his agency’s attention – often working pro bono or close to it – to marketing campaigns for the telephone help-line Tele-Onthaal, the development charity Vredeseilanden and the popular democracy movement G1000. In 2005, he became deputy chairman of VLK, and he is now taking the director’s chair over from Leo Leys, who is retiring.
Michils has lost his mother and a niece to cancer but told De Standaard in an interview that he’s “not coming to the VLK because I haven’t worked through the death of my mother,” he said. “That sort of personal motivation isn’t enough. My motivation is management ambition: I want to be a leader and help the organisation grow.”