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Council Elections Case Studies

Thomas Spiller President

I am delighted to announce that I was elected President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium on the 27th of May. It is a great privilege and honour for me to lead such a thriving organisation and I would like to thank you all for electing a Council that has put their trust into me.

I moved to Brussels about 15 years ago after working in Paris, Washington DC and Tokyo. In the capital of Europe, I found the perfect environment for my professional life and have remained here ever since. French of Hungarian and Italian descent, I consider myself a true European and firmly believe in the importance of a strong UK relationship with Belgium and with continental Europe.

I have been involved with the British Chamber of Commerce for five years. A Council Member for three years, I have been offering my advice, expertise and time on a number of projects, including chairing the Ambassador’s Gala Steering Committee, CSR projects, brand development and recruitment of new members. As the new President, I will continue providing service and network of political, business and media influencers across Europe to the Chamber and its members. Together, we can ensure that the future of the chamber is even brighter. 

The challenges ahead

The Chamber has matured phenomenally in recent years. It has become more structured, more professional, and more ambitious. But many challenges lie ahead requiring us to remain relevant and continue to offer opportunities in a volatile economic and political environment.

  • Globalisation – We need to keep enlarging our membership and become a relevant voice beyond the UK and Belgium.
  • UK referendum – The Chamber should build on its reputation as an open and informal environment for businesses and become an essential voice in the debate around this momentous event.
  • EU’s future – Growing nationalist tendencies, scepticism towards the single market and apathy towards the future of the EU project are all potential risk factors for an organisation devoted to trade, business and prosperity in Europe.

What can we achieve together

The Chamber that I aspire to is a place where current and prospective members – large or small, innovative or more traditional, European or from abroad – all perceive it as an essential tool to increase influence, contacts and grow their business based on four pillars:

  • Increase visibility: We must further raise the Chamber’s profile in Brussels and abroad, involving players with whom we have had little contact in the past, such as MEPs and official representatives from Eastern European and neighbouring countries, as well as NGOs.
  • Expand the membership base: While maintaining and expanding our core Belgian and British base, we should work to expand our membership in Eastern Europe, the Baltic and Nordic EU Member States and businesses from outside the EU.
  • Enhance our offering: Networking, trainings, policy briefings and similar events constitute the bread and butter of the Chamber, and we must develop this offering even further while keeping the Chamber agile and non-bureaucratic.
  • Diversity: The Chamber should strive to adapt to our increasingly diverse world, as regards gender, nationality and age. I intend to boost our female membership and empower the Brussels New Generation Group with new trainings and skills development opportunities.

The last of our Council Case Studies comes from Sean Murray, who has been involved at various different levels of the chamber for more than a decade now. Today is the last day to send applications for Council elections, please follow this link for more information. Nomination forms must be filled in and sent to glenn@britishchamber.be by today (midnight).

I was introduced to the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium about 11 years ago by an existing member and good friend of mine. I soon recognised that the chamber provides an excellent and unrivalled platform for business engagement with EU institutions and officials based in Brussels. Over that time too, I have seen the chamber grow from an organisation run on a shoe string to become a very professional business association with proper resources and an ever growing membership.

Over the years, I’ve learnt that the more you put into the chamber, the more you get out. Consequently, I’ve been happy to serve as Vice Chair of the EU Committee, a member of Council, Chair of the Business Security task force and most recently on the Executive Committee as the chamber’s Vice President. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed working with other members of Council and the secretariat to develop the Chamber’s Social Responsibility programme and profile. We’ve identified a central theme – youth employment – where we will seek to focus our activities and build recognition of the chamber’s contribution. I’ve enjoyed building a good relationship with the European Youth Forum which will be a key partner in our efforts. Also I’ve had the opportunity to position the chamber as a key partner of the EU institutions in fighting contraband, counterfeit and organised crime which have such a negative impact on our member companies’ business and brand reputations. The first European Serious Organised Crime conference co-hosted by the chamber and Europol in February 2013 was a great success and the second ‘edition’ is scheduled to be held 22 April with very high-ranking speakers from the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Jill Craig

The chamber is actively dedicated to CSR, particularly youth unemployment, and that is something which Jill is glad to be part of. For more information on the Council nominations process and timeline, please follow this link. If you’re interested but want to know more about being a Council member, or standing for President, contact Glenn for an informal discussion. Nomination forms must be filled in and sent to glenn@britishchamber.be by 24 April 2015.

I first started at the chamber several jobs ago, around 1998, as part of a company who was already a member of the chamber. I quickly became a member of the EU committee and was on Council for two terms. I got involved because I wanted to be better networked and to contribute to helping the chamber move to a more professional model. I left my first job for another, but this company was not a member of the chamber and didn’t plan on being so I had to take a break away from the chamber. I then joined again 3 years ago when I brought Edelman into the Chamber.

As I got more involved, I was really pleased to see how much progress had been made in the time I had been away. The chamber is now a professional outfit, with leadership, a clear strategy and an energetic team. The chamber, since my time away, has found its feet and is an organisation that I was more than happy to showcase to Edelman and push them to join as a member. I am now back on Council and happy that I can help the chamber achieve its mission.

A strand of the chamber of which I am glad to be a part of, is the CSR group (that’s “Chamber Social Responsibility) to which I was invited by Sean Murray. This is such an important part of the chamber because it demonstrates that business is a vital part of its community in a focused, active and productive manner. We have decided to focus on youth unemployment specifically and have introduced a load of initiatives and partnerships to ensure that we achieve our mission and goals.

The British Chamber offers much value to me and my company. The chamber has strong business networking opportunities and is a great place to make connections and forge relationships. The chamber is also important to me as a public affairs consultant because of its EU committee. As an EU-focused business, the chamber’s events, task force briefings, Committee breakfasts and lunches are an excellent way to meet a plethora of leading policy makers. Here you can understand a specific policy in more depth, meet policy makers at an informal level, introduce them to clients, and it is also a great platform for junior staff to network and to understand the mechanics of policy.

There are plenty of opportunities at the chamber to get yourself involved in activities that appeal to your business or personal interests.

Paul Leonard

For more information on the Council nominations process and timeline, please follow this link. If you’re interested but want to know more about being a Council member, or standing for President, contact Glenn for an informal discussion. Nomination forms must be filled in and sent to glenn@britishchamber.be by 24 April 2015.

The British chamber was one of the first organisations I contacted when I was assigned 8 years ago to represent BASF here in Brussels. The chamber attracted me as a neutral and trusted platform with membership from a broad variety of organisations, and at that time I knew it would be important to benefit from such a network. It also offered a diverse range of events at which you could hear from and engage with policy makers at all levels.

The chamber is very international. As it has a tradition of not taking public positions, it keeps away from tension and controversy which can be divisive in other organisations. Holding events under the Chatham House rule, the chamber has developed an enviable reputation for providing a trusted platform for discussion. This is important as it enables the chamber to attract speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of influence.

Since joining the chamber in 2008, I have watched it expand and become more professional. It’s great to see how the membership has developed. It is now more balanced, representing the unique business community we have here in Brussels, with a mix of organisations and companies, ranging from entrepreneurs to large consultancies to multinational corporations. It demonstrates that the chamber is inclusive, reflective of the businesses community and that it is relevant.

The versatility of the chamber came into its own during the 2008 global food crisis, when it was possible to establish the Food Security, Safety and Sustainability task force (now part of the Food, Health & Consumers task force).  It was one of the first platforms available in Brussels to talk to high-level, well-informed, influential speakers from EU and international organisations, on this important issue.  Speakers included chief scientific advisers from the UK, US and EU and agricultural attaches from the world’s leading agricultural nations.  This was of great importance, offering members the chance to be part of this important and on-going societal debate.  It enabled the chamber to position itself and build a relationship with the UK government’s Department of Business Innovation and Skills.

Membership of the chamber helped me access an expansive network, which would have been had to achieve on my own.  Being an active part of the chamber and a member of the Council is has also enabled me to get to know like-minded people who face similar challenges in their day to day work, including people from unrelated business sectors.  Sometimes it is therapeutic to realise that we can face similar challenges and frustrations, and that we are not alone in this respect.

I would encourage members to stand for election to the Council. You have to be committed and dedicated to the job, but it is worth the effort.  The next term will be especially interesting as the debate about the UK being in or out of Europe is likely to become increasingly important, and this could have a profound impact on the business community. If re-elected, I would welcome the opportunity to contribute to Council for a third term, and to be able to help steer it through a historic period in relations between the UK and the EU.

Ed Read CuttingFor more information on the Council nominations process and timeline, please follow this link. If you’re interested but want to know more about being a Council member, or standing for President, contact Glenn for an informal discussion. Nomination forms must be filled in and sent to glenn@britishchamber.be by 24 April 2015.

My first encounter with the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium was in 1996 after I arrived in Belgium to set up a new business. I had previously been a member of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong so was aware of the potential network such an organisation could provide.

After joining as a member I sat on what was then the Business Development Group and moved on become the Chair between in 1997 to 2003.  At the same time I served two consecutive terms as Vice President before then becoming the President of the chamber for a two year term.

As with every business there are issues we were discussing in back 1999 that remain current today, often centered around the budget as well as the strategic direction of the chamber. On the other hand we have really progressed and grown in member numbers and revenue, in our identity, in our focus and in our influence. These have all been strategic objectives set by the current President I am glad to be able to help to achieve this.

The real jewel in the crown has to be the EU Committee, not just because of the revenue it creates for the chamber but also in terms of the influence it has in the European Institutions. The committee is transparent, balanced and fair. It represents our members interests well to the leading policy makers in Brussels and enables those members to sponsor, host and attend a wide range of events and discussions involving these policy makers.

Throughout my involvement with the chamber I have seen a reduction in resources available to the trade and services section of bilateral British Embassy serving those businesses importing into and exporting out of the UK.  During Glynis Whiting’s presidency (2011-’15), she has tried hard, and successfully so, to forge links between the British Embassy and the British Chamber with the chamber now supplementing some of those services missing from the Embassy   This has helped the chamber forge new alliance with other local and international business networks

Being part of a strong business network such as the one provided by the chamber has enabled me to make and maintain long-term friendships. It has also allowed me to profile our business and its services to its members: by sponsoring events, like the Expat Financial Affairs in 2013 & 2014, by being a part of the Accredited Service Provider programme and being a Networking Partner. The opportunities are endless for my business and I am a great believer in you can only get out of an organisation like the chamber what you put in.

If you’re a member of the Council you have to be engaged with the chamber proactively rather than re-actively. Everyone, from small businesses to large corporations, has something they can offer to the chamber whether that’s through sponsorship or giving up some extra time to participate in a sub-committee, and in turn the chamber has something to offer you. Being a Council member gives you that unique opportunity to have more input at a strategic level but only if you are willing to give up the time. As a Council member you are an ambassador of the chamber and thus have more responsibility to welcome new members and look after existing ones.  This in itself brings its own rewards. 

Max von Olenhusen

There are four ways in which becoming a Council member can be beneficial for you. At least that’s what Max has encountered since he has been involved with the chamber.  For more information on the Council nominations process and timeline, please follow this link. If you’re interested but want to know more about being a Council member, or standing for President, contact Glenn for an informal discussion. Nomination forms must be filled in and sent to glenn@britishchamber.be by 24 April 2015.

My personal relationship with the chamber started around 2009. At the time, we were already organising a number of events at Novartis with different trade associations as well as think tanks and had a good overview of the Brussels policy-making landscape. But I felt there was something lacking in terms of events and networking. At the chamber, I found what I was looking for.

The benefits of being a member are essentially on four different levels: one, you greatly expand your personal network to the effect that practical advice is only a phone call away.  Two, the chamber provides you with an ongoing birds-eye view of all issues but also allows policy “deep dives” whenever necessary. Three, the chamber offers sponsors a low-key way to get involved in events with minimal organizational hassle. Four, you get a level and type of interaction with the speakers that is unique in Brussels.

Since then, the professionalism and leadership of the council has been on a continuous process of maturity. A few years ago, some of us had a vision of the chamber and now that is starting to manifest itself into more a focused strategy of what the chamber wants to do and achieve in Brussels.

Indeed, the chamber is a great return on investment, and that is the reason I got increasingly engaged in its activities to the point where I decided to run for Council member, where I have been part of for two terms now.

Now, the chamber has become my main platform for institutional networking. Without a shadow of a doubt, my time spent as a council member has expanded my professional network greatly. To cite a few examples, I have been able interact with various MEPs at events in Strasbourg, have been more exposed to event opportunities related to the Belgian business environment and found new training programmes for our office.

Many people like myself have been living in Brussels for years and still have difficulties in understanding all the different complexities of the Brussels bubble.  But I like to think that if Brussels were an onion with many layers, the chamber acts as a knife that enables you to cut through many more layers  – (almost) down to its core.

There are so many facets of the chamber that as a council member, you can tailor them to your needs, but for that it is essential to be fully committed and involved in its activities. The chamber has grown and it has gone a long way since I joined. But the chamber still has a lot of unrealised potential, and that is definitely a very interesting prospect for anyone who wants to join the council.

Thomas SpillerThomas has been with us for a number of years now. As a council member, he believes that the value of being on the board has increased enormously over time given how tailored the chamber can be to one’s preferences. For more information on the Council nominations process and timeline, please follow this link. If you’re interested but want to know more about being a Council member, or standing for President, contact Glenn for an informal discussion. Nomination forms must be filled in and sent to glenn@britishchamber.be by 24 April 2015.

My relationship with the chamber started around six or seven years ago when I was invited to an event. The moment I was seated at the event, I knew that this was a place I needed to be. The chamber emanates a feel of internationality – it is a global chamber, not just British or Belgian. The flexibility of the chamber was also plus. There is not just one strand of interest; the events are à la carte in a sense. There is always something that will interest someone, somewhere.

Over the past few years, I believe that the chamber has become better structured, more professional and has clearer goals and missions. One of these missions has been to have better communication with members and the outside world, and to really improve the chamber’s brand. Having a clear focus has allowed the chamber to mature and professionalise over the time I have been here and the value of being a member has improved significantly.

The British Chamber has an important standing in Brussels. Britain is one of, if not, the most pro-business countries in Europe. This allows the chamber to offer businesses in Europe the advice and the platform to launch or expand their operations. The resources that the chamber has are far and wide and this is a very unique offering. From an EU public policy side, that is also key as member companies come accompanied with the pro-business halo that Britain brings.

Having a chamber which is more diverse and reflective of the world in which we live is something the chamber should strive towards – not just in terms of gender, but in terms of nationality too. If you look at global business trends, there is a heavier influence from the East European countries, and also from Asia of course. This is similar to EU affairs where the standing of East European, Nordic and Baltic countries has gotten bigger. It would be impressive if the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium was able to reflect this in their event programme as well as its Council.

The Brussels New Generation is important for the chamber too because it offers the younger generations a place to network and to grow and to bring their own sets of values, ideas and plans. Here they can be trained and be part of an organisation that is steered towards helping people and businesses grow and flourish.

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