Interview with Mr Emir Kir, mayor of Saint-Josse

EPN Team was glad to have the opportunity of interviewing Mr Emir Kir, federal deputy and mayor of Saint-Josse.

Mr Emir Kir is a young Belgian politician with Turkish origins. In 1995 he joined the Socialist Party in Saint-Josse, and in 2000 he became an alderman of this municipality. In 2004 he started working as secretary of State and he largely contributed to the development of Brussels city. In 2010 he became federal deputy, and in 2012 he ran in the municipal elections, obtaining the largest number of preference votes and becoming mayor of Saint-Josse.

During the interview, Mr Kir shared with EPN some interesting facts and stories about his life. The interviewers asked him also to give some insightful advises and to send a clear message to the young generations of European citizens.

  1. What are the reasons that pushed you to pursue a political career?

My family and my house were the reasons and the places through which I started my journey towards politics. For my father, it was important to transmit to his children the value of information and civil action; this is why since a young age I was involved in political discussions and analysis. Motivated by my family’s ambience and by my father’s beliefs, soon I became member of the Socialist Party in the commune of Saint-Josse. Interestingly, even if I was always involved in politics since a young age, at the same time I did not necessarily have the aspiration of being elected. Nevertheless, I followed the party’s expectations and I presented myself as a candidate at elections, pushed by the support showed in my favour. Another reason that pushed me to run in the elections is that at the time there was a lack of young people engaging in politics; therefore I felt the responsibility to commit for my party and for the society I cared about. In a way, it was something that came out as natural, as my father educated me to political analysis and engagement in civil society, being my first “political educator”.

  1. How do you feel about your career? How does it feel to be the first mayor with Turkish origins in the francophone Belgium?

It is a privilege for me to have the possibility to perform high offices; I am very proud to politically represent the people. It is rewarding to have people and colleagues who trust in your opinion and with whom it is possible to make a change. These last few years have been useful because the initiatives that my party promoted with me had several positive outputs and achievements. I firmly believe that it is fundamental to take part in civil society’s movements, associations, and political parties. It is the only way to promote and strengthen democratic representation.

Unfortunately, some forms of racism and extremism remain when it comes to perform high offices. Nevertheless, I hope that Belgium will always be a country able of welcoming people with different origins and backgrounds.

  1. Do you have a personal hero?

I consider my father as my personal hero. He came to Belgium to earn his leaving by working in the mines, and he was a man of strong convictions; he inspired me because I learned from him how to talk and interact with other people, and how to be against violence. Other people had an important influence on my life and career: my teachers and educators, and the politicians I met during my life. I was always inspired by people, and I have always liked to take small things form everyone, learn from them and then make them a part of who I am. I think I am the product of all the exchanges I had in my life, because people build their own personality through the others.

  1. What is the most important quality to be a successful professional?

There are two important qualities to be a successful professional. The first one is intelligence. It is fundamental to develop doubts on everything that surrounds us, and to constantly update our knowledge. The second quality is the capability of listening to other people. It is not possible to give a contribution if we are not able to listen to the others’ opinions and needs, in the first place. At the same time, this does not mean that we should give up on our convictions; it means that we have the opportunity to enrich them.

A third quality that can be added to the ones already mentioned is the willingness.  Some sort of “grinta” is needed. Some people have it and some people do not. Personally, I feel I can lift up the mountains. Anyways, I believe that a balance between intelligence, willingness and concreteness is needed. It is important to think, study and analyse, but afterwards it is also fundamental to act.


IMG_8857ridIf some issues and problems occur, how do you face them?

The most important thing is to listen to other people. Indeed, the consultation with the different actors among the civil society is the best way to face emergencies and solve problems. Only through the acquisition of technical information and benefitting from different points of view it is possible to responsibly take decision on all kind of issues, and make sure that projects match citizen’s expectations.

  1. Do you have any hobbies? How do you balance your professional and your personal life?

I am a politician, but I do not forget about personal like and hobbies. Above all, I consider my family as my first hobby. Even if I am always very busy, I try to spend as much time as I can with my loved ones. For instance, I always try to participate to my children’s activities. I can also say that my favorite hobby is the human being. It is really important for me to spend time with people because this gives me the opportunity to learn a lot and to enrich my spirit.

Finally, when I have free time I like to do some sport. I think that only with a healthy body it is possible to have a healthy mind. This way it is easier to feel better also in relation to other people.

  1. It seems you are successful in your personal and professional life. What is the message you would like to send to the young generations in order to encourage them on their path to a successful career and life?

In our contemporary world diplomas are essentials but not enough. It is necessary to add further skills which are not acquired at school. People have their own problems and maybe moments of despair, fearing they will not success. However, it is fundamental to keep in mind a few points: first of all, everybody has a place on earth; secondly, failure has to be considered as an opportunity to improve ourselves and to further focus on our goals. Indeed, the failure needs to lead people to a constructive logic.

Moreover, I believe that for young generations, it is fundamental to understand the importance of work and action. Facts shows that there are problems, thus people can make their own reflections and have different opinions; but the moment comes when it is time to act, to try to make a change. Therefore, I always try to show and to teach to young people the importance of commitment to important matters and to work.



EPN Team was glad to have the opportunity of interviewing Ms. Isabella Lenarduzzi, Social Entrepreneur in Employment and Gender equality.

Isabella Lenarduzzi started her social entrepreneur career during her studies when she edited two monthly magazines,  “Univers-Cité” and “Kampus”, distributed in the Student Welcome Pack to more than 1 million students in Europe. She then moved to Italy where she established a consultancy and training activity and held the position of deputy director at the Naples Science Museum where she created Italy’s “Guidance and Careers Resource Centre”. After coming back to Brussels, she set up the European Business Summit and the Brussels Job Days. In 2006, she launched JUMP  “Empowering Women, Advancing the Economy”. The goal of the organisation is to provide the adequate tools to women in order to help them pursue their professional career. It also advises organisations on how to establish better gender diversity within their management.

She won several awards for her inspiring work: “European female entrepreneur of the year” in 2010, “Femme d’Exception” (Woman of exception) in 2011 by the Belgian Minister for Equal Opportunities Joëlle Milquet, “” ‘Award for event communication in June 2011 and “Women inspiring Europe” in 2012 by the European Institute for Gender Equality.

During the interview, Mrs Lenarduzzi highlighted specific difficulties women had to face in their career. As women are responsible of most of the unpaid work (care keeping, children’s education, etc.), one could say they have a double day. This double workload decreases the time and energy they would normally deploy in networking.

Moreover, women are also less comfortable when discussing business and network differently. In fact, when women network, they usually favour the building of relationships over business relations. Mrs Lenarduzzi advises women to dare much more, to position themselves for business and to find different networks. Female networking is very important to reinforce oneself. Women give each other the energy, the assertivity and the self-confidence which will enable them to establish contacts and network with men.

Our culture represents women as the caregivers of the family and men as the bread-earners. Consequently, people feel uncomfortable when the roles are reversed. It can thus be difficult for women to stand for themselves and pursue their career. Independence and braveness are essential qualities women must have if they want to undertake something new.

Women should also broaden their horizons and try “male-oriented” professions such as engineering or bus driving. When a job is dominated by men, it is generally more valued and paid. Nevertheless, when a profession becomes increasingly feminised, the job itself loses its status and income value. This calls for a drastic change in the mentalities and the perception of jobs.

We were impressed by the eagerness and ambition Mrs Lenarduzzi devoted to her work and in the promotion of gender equality. She is an inspiration for young female graduates who may have lost their faith in this period of crisis. This interview reminded us of the gap that still exists between men and women and which has to be filled.


Here are the youtube links to her interview:

Cristina VICINI

Published in 2013

CRISTINA VICINI, born in Bologna, is an International Director, accredited by IFA (France, Québec) and Guberna (Belgium), and active in Europe and North America. She worked 25 years in the technology and innovation sector (ICT services, engineering, new and green technologies and media, advisory services). Cristina was Director of Sales Europe for the International Organizations with T-Systems; Global Business Development Manager with Microsoft; and Strategic Marketing Manager with Siemens Business Services, in Germany.

Moreover, her experience as an entrepreneur includes the international development of the family-owned company (electro-mechanical engineering and manufacturing for the medical sector) as a COO for international operations, international development, and innovation, leading a.o. to the award of a new technology patent in the USA in September 2010. In the non-profit sector, Cristina served as Chair of Boston University MET’s Advisory Board for International Programs, in Brussels, and as 2nd Vice President of The International Alliance for Women, a global NGO based in the USA. Cristina, fluent in five languages, holds a Masters of International Management from Boston University and a Masters with honors in Computer Science from the University of Brussels (ULB). Since January 2006, she is Managing Director and Founder of her own Management Consulting practice: VICINI STRATEGY & CONSULTING, which advises companies and NGOs to grow internationally and in a sustainable way.

EPN is delighted to interview such a remarkable woman with such an ample background as a professional. You are actually the first woman we interview and we are very curious about your life, career path and core values. We would like to know more about your experience. How did you reach your current position? What did you study?
vicini_new_1I entered university in the 80s and chose to study Computer Science for two reasons; first of all for the strong scientific content of the curriculum, which was my preferred area of interest. Secondly, but not the least, because at the time Computer Science was a new area and advertised as the future of the economy and the labor market. I was looking for a profession which would allow me to sustain myself and at the same time that would challenge me intellectually. For me, it was very important to reach and build economic independence.

When I look back, after many years, I realise how much my parents influenced my interests and choices. My father being a telecommunications engineer and my mother having a financial background, I was fortunate to be exposed to a good mix of complementary experiences. While I arrived in university with an idea of what I liked, it is only during the studies that I started to discover other disciplines, also thanks to the feedback of other fellow students and professors. They would tell me that I was good at marketing and communicating about new technology applications, which was a real surprise to me; or that I was really good at finding new business ideas based on technology.

That is when I understood that those skills would really help me to make the difference in my job. So, I drifted more and more towards what my mother had studied, starting from what my father had inspired me with, combining both models. Anyone you meet in your life has an impact, you don’t realise it straightway but you do later.

What kind of challenges did you meet on the way and how did you overcome them – as a woman and as an entrepreneur?

I was actually very lucky. I studied here in Brussels in ULB, and while in my cursus we were from the start a very limited number of women, I never saw that as a challenge. I was used to that ratio since highschool and I never felt any discrimination at all; to the contrary. People behaved really well around me and I thought all I was hearing about discrimination to women in the professional environment was something that had already disappeared with my generation.

Only afterwards, in the business life, away from the engineering and scientific environment, I started sensing that the fact that I was a female had an impact on the career options I was given, which I really did not understand. For me the challenges came when I started to discover different cultures and countries in which women were perceived in different ways, when I had to learn to deal with – not necessarily the prejudices – but at least the expectations. I had always valued myself as an individual and not as part of a category, so business life was a true “reality check” in that sense. Becoming part and then President of a business women organisation, I discovered first of all that I was not the only one in that situation.

At the same time, it has been an opportunity for deeper reflection on what motivates and drives people in business and if and where there are really differences in behaviours and expectations between genders, generations and cultures, learn how to generate positive and creative energy from that instead of frustration. The point is really about learning about and respecting each other; understanding the stakes; listening and really seeing how we can bring our brain together to achieve a better goal. This makes the quality in leadership.

When you are in a business environment, you are under a lot of pressure to deliver and to stay focused, but the day you invest the time to really know your team and the people around you, it is true that the collective performance improves dramatically.

I would like to ask you a more personal question. Are you married? If yes, how do you manage to combine your private life with your (we assume very busy) work schedule? In fact, we interviewed Mr. Baldinato, Member of the Cabinet of Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship. Whilst speaking about women entrepreneurship, he stated that when we specifically address the issue of women entrepreneurship we face a basic problem: women’s lack of time. He said and we quote that: “At the end of the day, a woman is confronted with her motherhood role and finds it difficult to combine good quality work with family, to be fully committed to business activities and caring responsibilities altogether. Do you agree with his point of view or everything is possible?

By definition everything is possible. I believe that entrepreneurship is not incompatible with a family life. Today we see many examples and testimonials of very successful entrepreneurs and professional women. It is true that in our society there is still more pressure on women especially around child care and education. However, the phenomenon is less pronounced in the new generations and the sharing of traditionally more “home-related” chores is more and more balanced between the man and the woman in the family. And there is a very pragmatic reason for that.
vicini_new_2 Our economies and social security systems expect each single  individual  to contribute financially, no matter if man or woman, no  matter if they  compose a family or not. This is a huge change c  compared  to the way  our  parents lived. Since men and women  must both be active in the  workforce to contribute in our economy,  accepting to  share parental  duties and responsibilities is the natural  evolution of  this century and  quite common in the new generations.  Once again, it  is Scandinavia  that has shown that such a lifestyle is  possible and not  demeaning for  anyone in the couple.

To the contrary: children benefit immensely from seeing both their  parents more often and learning from both parents about values,  family history and education, especially today that the “multi-generational” family nuclei (with parents and grand-parents geographically close), are more and more rare. Denying this is denying the evidence.. So it is possible for women to make the time for an entrepreneurial career or at least to make more time! In this sense companies have a role to play in allowing both men and women employees to take family time off and in encouraging mentalities to change and adapt to the new realities of our century. Women networks are also extremely important today, because of the experiences exchange new entrepreneurs can have with women that are already successful and that can “mentor” them, advise them, or even only encourage them. It’s very important to keep on learning and remain inspired. More experienced women also learn a lot from the mentoring exercise – sometimes even creating new business opportunities.

We visited your website and we have seen that the VICINI STRATEGY deals with international management. Your company supports enterprises to develop internationally and executives in different domains (to mention a few ones: International Business Development, Strategic Alliances, Enterprise Development, Strategic Marketing and Sales, Multi-cultural teams’ Management, Information and Communication Technologies and Services – Software and Telecommunications, Lobbying, CSR and Government Relations with International Organizations). How did you start-up your own business?

I must say I had always wanted to start as an entrepreneur even when I was in computer science at university. At that time however, there were so many opportunities coming from international technology groups – which by the way were also leaders in research and innovation – that it was hard not to join them as an employee. Vicini Strategy started therefore much later, when two things happened at the same time.

On the one hand the rapid shift of innovation potential from multinational groups to SMEs and on the other my desire to apply all I had learned to the fullest, while remaining close to my dear ones. So when my family company – a small medium business working for large multinationals in the electronics sector – needed to internationalise, my experience of how multinational clients operate became very handy. In addition, I was asked to become the President of a very interesting non-profit association, which had a lot of potential, but needed to be revitalized. I have to say it was a fantastic journey. So I started with these very challenging entrepreneurial projects and got hooked… What has been very important are both the building of something new and useful from the business side, as well as the sharing and transmission of experience with really great people.

We would like to know more about your work. What is the Vicini Strategy about in practice?

What I do basically is to help organisations to grow in a sustainable way. Sustainable for me means internationally, because there is no market that it is local anymore. Especially with the new technologies, every business needs new technologies and through that you have immediately access to the global market. I also help businesses to be competitive because they have to follow the beat and to think strategically on how they want to invest the resources they have. I also work with larger companies – as an independent non-executive director or as an advisor to CEOs, to find and implement a winning strategy in the global economy. It’s all about innovation, strategy, creativity and most of all people! Making the most of everyone’s talent. It is fun and I am really passionate about it, taking into account all the experience I accumulated in the past.

How did you make contacts to start your business?

Well, I had built many contacts before through my past careers. In fact, I now know that with everything you do, you build for your future; this is something that even if you don’t want to, it comes back to you every time. Especially in Brussels! It’s such a small world that you can always meet someone again. Brussels is a bubble ! You can also meet people in other countries that where in Brussels before, because there is so much transition. Brussels gave me the opportunity to reach out and learn a lot about networking. With new technologies now, it’s all exponentially fast.

EPN is a lot about networking and you cannot afford to take it for granted because it’s not easy…

Indeed it is not. One of the purposes of the network I was leading was to favor cultural exchange and also business exchange. A lot of people here in Brussels are international, staying a bit of time and then leave; when they arrive they don’t have necessarily someone to talk to. In my case, it was a network of women in business, mostly executive and at mid-management level who would have to deal with the new environment of the company without knowing anyone in their division because they were new here – or because they were the only women in a responsibility position.

So it was a great opportunity for them to meet other people with the same challenges, to learn from each other, share expertise, find role models and together learn how to cope with a society that was unknown to them as well as with diversity at all levels. It was not only a network for women though; I brought in corporations as well. So, both men and women were part of it because we are a mixed society and it has to be a normal environment.I am fortunate to do what I am passionate about and it’s also interesting how leadership styles have changed in the companies, what people expect from leadership and entrepreneurship developments; motivation and performance have been adopted also in large or small corporations as much as in the public sector. I think that now “it’s the right time”.

We first met at the ACCA Conference (Fighting inequality and supporting diversity: Europe’s big challenge?) where you presented the Global Board-Ready Women initiative. We already know that it is a great initiative consisting of a searchable database where companies can find women who already serve on a board or who are ready to take on a new mandate and have to meet a clear set of criteria of competences and qualifications. How everything started?
vicini_cover3Basically, the point was that there was this recurrent theme or excuse to justify that there were not many women on Boards of Directors because there are not enough qualified women, which was really odd, because when I was young, I was involved in a leadership program in a fantastic multinational group which was really engaged in preparing women to leadership positions. So, it was really happening! And surprisingly, 20 years later, we are still saying that women are not prepared and it doesn’t make much sense. I was also chair of the Advisory Board of Boston University here in Brussels and when meeting other people from the academic world I was hearing: << Look! Among our alumnae there are many qualified women with 20/25 years of experience and at very high-level position or top business owners. So, how come people still say that there not enough qualified women?!

Thus, we joined forces with other Business Schools through the European Business Schools/Women on Board initiative, lead by Candace Johnson (Advisory board of Sabanci University) and supported by EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, bringing together all the profiles that responded to the criteria, and we found out 2000 profiles in a few weeks. Now, they are 8000! We have made the initiative global, because the objective of this initiative is not only to find women that are qualified but also qualified women beyond national borders. Again our economy is international now, it’s global.

We cannot expect companies having people with one single nationality if they want to thrive worldwide. A lot of women here in Europe come from other countries, being them the United States, Africa or India; and if they are qualified, if they have the experience, of course they can be on boards and they should be absolutely considered as an asset by the companies.

Were you one of the founders of the GBRW?

It was indeed founded by Candace Johnson, who also is the founder of SES Astra satellite corporation, and after a lunch in 2010 with Viviane reading andMcKinsey, we then joined forces to launch it globally in 2012. We launched it as the EU business School – Women on Board initiative at first, and after, the 12December 2012, it became the Global Board-Ready Women initiative on LinkedIn, in partnership with the Financial Times Non-Executive Directors’ Club and the Forté Foundation in the USA.

What are the reasons for creating such a great initiative?

On one side you have this talented workforce and qualified people, and on the other, you all this talent is not reaching its full potential and seems invisible to corporation that could need them. When you are in the business sector and you see such a gap… there is something wrong! It would be unthinkable in such hard times to see that nothing is being done to break the barriers to the growth of the economy. With the GBRW, it is clear that there are qualified women: qualification is not really the issue! If someone wants qualified women for their boards they can check the database and see why there are strict criteria of governance, it can serve as a big incentive. We have a lot of adhering entities: business associations, chambers of commerce, universities and now also big executive search firms, and it is still growing. In the GBRW database, entrepreneurial women who could build a sizeable or very innovative business play a very important role.

It shouldn’t be about numbers but this issue is deeply linked to quotas. What is your sincere opinion about quotas?

Quotas are – of course – a sad thing, but they represent an instrument to accelerate change. It also depends on how quotas are being applied; every instrument can be used in a good or a bad way. In the case of women on boards when you look at the numbers of the members on boards, it would be sufficient to add one or maybe two women to reach the target ratio, so honestly it is not a big deal to find one woman out of 8000. If you are a creative leader, you can organise your team putting together the talents you need in a very mixed way, also by creating new positions and by using all the tools you need to bring the right talents around you.

That is one of the powers of leadership; leaders are there to make changes and give the opportunity to everyone who can make a contribution. The result today is that we have a big discrepancy between a talented pool of women and how they are asked to contribute. When you are in a leadership position you have the full potential to make a change and use these unexploited talents in the best way.

How would you attract more women to male dominated work fields like yours (i.e: entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering… )?

I truly believe role models are very important and I was very fortunate to have role models in my family; but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member. Role models can also be around us like teachers, entrepreneurs, today we hear about entrepreneurship ambassadors. A lot is being written about entrepreneurship in the press and that is very positive. It is really important to give the perception that entrepreneurship is good, that it can change the world to the better and that anyone of us can bring an added value and succeed. It is important to know that in our economy we can create new opportunities. You must be able to dream and see that your dreams can be fulfilled.

Do you have a role model?

I have many role models, men and women, inspiring from various walks of life or professions. Interestingly enough, some of these role models are in full contradiction with the usual stereotypes about men and women. Some men for instance can be more empathetic then women in average. It is not a gender issue: it is really about the person and how he or she can inspire by being exceptional at what they do.

EPN in collaboration with UNITEE, have organised an event for the 2nd of March based on NEW TALENTs, with this term we mean young talented professionals with migrant background. At the ACCA committee you mentioned “Companies have to stretch themselves not only by looking for new talents, but also by redefining what kind of talent they really need to build the company of the future”. How would you define a young talent?
vicini_new_4 You need the appropriate criteria to look for talents and  these  criteria evolve in time. We have to think about the  company of  tomorrow and it has to be in line with what the  world is today. An  example is for the selection of  supervisory board members: the  talent pool has expanded,  so why are companies using old  criteria to find their  directors? For me the real challenge is being  in line with our  times and use the full range of opportunities. We  need to  have a clear vision about what kind of talents we need –  technical and professional but also personal talents,  experiences  and skills and look everywhere for those. It can  be men, it can be  women, young or old … but the point is how they are going to help the company fulfill its current and future mission and create value in a consistent and ethical way.

Do you have any suggestion for young people wishing to start-up their own business? Any particular tip for our young professionals?

Here in Europe nowadays there are a huge amount of tools and organisations that can help you. But the most important thing: never stop being curious, educate yourself and surround yourself with the right people: people who are competent and that you trust – which is not easy and requires a lot of investment in time. Moreover, you can find today many networks of entrepreneurs who can help you with their experience. The most difficult thing could be access to finance at the beginning but if you have a good network and if you build a solid business case, it is possible. PHDs are also always valuable, because they give you more credibility and help to create a network you can start with. If you have the chance and means, go for it!


Josep Maria “Raimon” Obiols i Germà is a Spanish politician and Member of the European Parliament for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, part of the Party of European Socialists.

Ramon Obiols comments during the interview on EU-Turkey relations, the accession process and how the economic crisis is affecting Europe.


Last 21st of January we participated in the AFET Committee Meeting, which focused on the 2012 Turkey Progress Report written by rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten (Group of the European People’s Party) Its focus was on- just as the previous one- the interdependence between Turkey and the European Union (EU).

We also assisted your intervention as the Shadow Rapporteur and we would like to know more about your opinion on this topic. In fact, we shared with you the idea that “the EU-Turkey accession negotiation process in general is a positive experience even though the progress is slow” and we do hope that the EU and Turkey enhance their political understanding.

Besides that, as part of EPN, we are also very interested in your opinion on an economic level. In fact, we believe that the European Union needs Turkey’s economic dynamism.

Starting with a question regarding the Irish Presidency, we would like to know if you think the Irish Presidency’s priorities will change and affect EU-Turkey relations positively.
ro_2 Yes, I think so, in the sense that things are changing in some  national governments and their approach is becoming more  constructive. The French government is an example, especially the  new French presidency. The German position is changing as well,  it’s not a huge change but their priorities are shifting and it seems  that the next period in the negotiation process will be positive.

What about the differences between Irish and Cyprus presidencies?

Cyprus is certainly a controversial issue! It is one of the main problems; another one is the public opinion. Even so, we focused deeply on the relationship between Turkey and the European Union with a positive approach. Personally, I think that Turkey is in Europe, it’s a European country, therefore I hope there will be enough space for a compromise to reach some agreements in the future in relation to the accession in the European Union. This is my personal position but I am perfectly aware that there are a lot of problems. Cyprus is the main issue, but not the only one and here in the European Parliament we try to be positive. When I say positive, I mean to reach a larger majority and to help Turkey by adjusting the annual Progress Report in a positive way, thinking of the consequences that it will have on the EU and on the public opinion in Turkey. Even though, Turkish opinion is now more European orientated compared to the past years, there are still issues generating a sense of hypocrisy, such as the lack of progress in the negotiations. Here in the European Parliament, the majority is in favor and this is clearly encouraging. We have a good relationship with our colleagues in Turkey from all political parties and we try to be constructive.

According to Mr. Satoru Hayashi, President of the Japanese Business Council, Turkey is a gateway to Europe. What is your point of view on Turkey being a strategic bridge between Europe and Asia on an economic level? Do you think Turkey could bring something positive to Europe on an economical level?

It’s true that Turkey has a very good economic situation in this sense…

… Yes, because in Turkey, the society and the business community have had a lot of problems but there are stamina and strong energy – especially in the fields of education and business and it’s a very dynamic country. This is positive for Turkey and of course for Europe. On the other hand, Turkey has a strong power in the region but now it’s in a complicated situation because of the war in Syria and the never ending problem between Israel and its neighbors, to be precise Palestinians. We agree in general with the diplomatic and political approach of the Turkish government.

So do you think that the situation with the neighboring countries prevents the negotiation process to advance?
ro_3 No, no I don’t think so, I don’t see any problems there, on the  contrary, in Europe they believe that Turkey has the power of  stabilization in the region but there are a lot of obstacles  concerning Human Rights!



EPN, in collaboration with UNITEE, has organized an event on the 2nd of March based on NEW TALENTS, which means young talented professionals with migrant background. The aim of this event is to give advice and inspire these talents to work within the EU Institutions and to offer the possibility to discuss the integration of cultural diversity within these institutions. We also want to tell them that the EU counts on future generations to bring a new dynamism to business. Probably the most important change in the future of Europe will be marked by the transition to an aging population structure and this is already visible in several EU Member States. How do you think this will affect us? How do you think the EU should approach and facilitate the integration of migrants in relation to this issue?

Yes, I think that we need a liberalisation policy for visas and in general the mobility issue represents a challenging and important objective for us, but the governments are reluctant… the public opinion is concerned about immigration and the populist wave doesn’t help … We must avoid clashes on this issue in order to reach a positive solution and to facilitate progress.


As a member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights we would like to know what you think about the democratization process in Turkey. The Report seems to underline that the membership negotiations have helped the democratisation and modernisation process in Turkey. However, there are forward and backward steps which have to be dealt with such as the liberty of expression in the media, the Kurdish party, the nationalist groups and the exclusion of the ethnic minorities. What is, in your opinion, the priority for Turkey in 2013 in order to improve the democratization process?

I think there are two main problems in this context. One problem concerns the judiciary system in Turkey, the other one terrorism. Although there is an evolution and some positive changes, we must face the fact that there are problems of warranties in the application of the anti-terrorist legislation. This is what interferes – on the whole – with the current Kurdish situation in Turkey. They are conscious in the sense that these issues must be solved and we appreciate the start of conversations between the Kurdish groups and the government. We also think that it is a complex problem, but talking and negotiating is essential to put an end to the problem. We must try to change the routes of violence and we must try to avoid the explosion of violence at any cost.

What is your opinion on the terrorist attack in Paris where three women were murdered by the Kurdish?

This is the proof that the problem is extending but we don’t know who the authors were. It’s a very complicated and terrible problem. Turkish politicians and the EU altogether must try to solve this problem from the historical point of view. I remember a British historian; I think it was J.A. Hobson who said that the last national problem to be solved in the whole world will be the Kurdish one!!

… Are you optimistic?? I try to be in general, but I am conscious that the problems are huge and the situation is difficult especially concerning the Syrian issue.

As you know, Turkey is writing a new Constitution; what is your opinion on this process?

If the new Constitution is approved it would be a good step for Turkey. I appreciate the good will of the parties, but the negotiation of a new constitution is very difficult. I hope they reach an agreement!

Why do you think the European policy towards refugees and asylum seekers became an issue of security? What is your opinion on the recent changes regarding citizenship in Belgium and the application process?

In general, Europe is not being very generous and the problem of refugees is terrible. We try to push in order to raise the amount of money to help it … but it’s not easy. I agree that we should do more because it’s not a local problem but an international one, and the EU should contribute more.


Across Europe, austerity policies and cuts did not help to have a good perception about the EU institutions. People are worried about their future at the moment due to the crisis. They tend not to consider the positive aspects of the EU, such as the implementation of environmental directives, the efforts towards gender equality and the re-launching of enterprises. This feeling of insecurity intensified Euroskeptiscism at the Member State level and at the international level. According to recent polls, support for European integration among Turks has dropped from 73 percent in 2004 to 40 percent in 2007, with only 45 percent of Turks supporting enlargement in a 2011 Euro barometer.

Well, this phenomenon is very European! I think Turkish people are absolutely in tune with the whole of Europe. This is a problem concerning the relationship between the regulated economy, the austerity issues and the power of democratic politics. People in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain and probably in other countries are very angry and disappointed but this is a problem of correlation between political forces in Europe. To give an example, here in the European parliament, the left and the center left positions disagree with these austerity policies because we think they have not done enough to solve the problem of the debt and deficits. It touches me deeply … the risk of social explosion is a reality. The Italian elections are an example; we have seen the rise of different positions and to a certain extent they are positive. I don’t agree with the idea that Pepito Grillo represents just populism and so on. Berlusconi is more of a demagogic populist but the “Movimento Cinque Stelle” is a sort of “experiment”, a new form of political action, of participation and deliberation. It’s very new and fascinating! Because they are parties of the 19th century, with programs of the 20th century but with the problems of the 21st Century! In some way this represents a huge contradiction and it should be solved in the future, otherwise we will fall into new forms of authoritarian power. I think the renewal of the democratic life is essential.


In which way can the EU Institutions generate a more profound “European sense of belonging” among the member states? Especially in Spain/Greece/Italy where the crisis is particularly harsh?

To be frank, I don’t know, we are in a very difficult situation and Europe is responsible for dealing with this question. It’s not easy! But the solution in my opinion would probably be a midterm solution with the rising of a more political EU, in the sense that we, as Europeans, are the only possible answer. The most important element for people is to understand. For example, during the 2007 Presidential Elections in France, in my town – Barcelona – people started to follow the debate between Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal mainly because it was delivered on 2 channels and people were instinctively involve. They were able to understand the change of tendency in France! At that time it was absolutely a new phenomenon. Over the years, there has been a change of perception and people are getting more open minded. If, for the next year’s EU elections, there are transnational candidates, it will be a sign of positive evolution.


What are your expectations?

I expect a shift to center- left in the European Parliament and. I sense the dispersion of populist and euro skeptical candidates, however, I wish for a change towards more progressive and more pro-European politics.


How do you feel about the European years of citizens?

On the one hand, this year will be positive: there will be campaigns, activities and programmes on the other hand, we can also consider them marginal because the main issue remains the crisis and the politics related to the crisis.


Could you tell us how you reached your current position? And what challenges you faced on the way?

In fact, I am in politics in some way by accident because there was the dictatorship in Spain that pushed my generation to politics … to clandestine politics. Politics was clandestine for 20 years! … and then we had the first elections in Spain; I was a candidate and I was elected. Politics can be very addictive, interesting and frustrating in so many ways!

I started my career in politics in 1977 and I have never stopped ever since. The dictatorship was the main reason, because in 1959, when I was 19 years old, the situation in Spain was really hard! We were the “Indignados” of the era. Our goal was the political and democratic revolution; it was a sort of hybrid result between leaders of the power and the people. I am happy with the result of 35 years of democracy in Spain even though now we have terrible economical and social problems but that’s another story. Anyway the results were positive… during the civil war nearly 1 million people died, half million were exiled and then we made a change, a change towards peace and dialogue and I am more or less proud.

But of course now the situation is not good, we are in a globalized crisis and it has affected us and our neighbors from Wall Street in a question of seconds, it’s a very difficult situation. We are not used to solving these kinds of problems because they are global. The answer would be European politics… but it is very complex. We are always saying we are in crisis, but in some ways the crisis is not only financial and social but also political and moral. However, rather than thinking of a crisis, we must think of a change of tradition. A change of ERA, a change of moods, of people’s habits, of mentalities…

Do you think we will reach a political union in time? Well yes I hope so

Do you have any suggestion for young people wishing to have a career in the European Union? Do you have any particular tips for our young professionals?

No suggestions, I think they are clever enough to follow their own intuitions.


Massimo Baldinato, born in 1971 in Vicenza, is a law graduate from Padua University. He is currently a Member of the Cabinet of Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship.

We chose to interview Mr. Baldinato, as he inspired us at an event we attended on the 22th of January “Unleashing Entrepreneurial Potential in Europe”. In fact, EPN shares Mr Baldinato’s thought that New Europeans have a main role in unlocking this enormous potential for jobs and growth.

At the event “Unleashing Entrepreneurial Potential in Europe” on the 22th January 2013, we were inspired by your speech when you spoke about creating a culture for entrepreneurs. We also believe that improving education is the key factor for young talents to be inspired and develop their careers. On the basis of what you said during the conference “we don’t need only enterprises but also better entrepreneurs”. Could you please explain to us how the new action plan will help to unleash entrepreneurs’ potential?

We are working on building a closer link between the educational system and companies, between entrepreneurship and schools that can provide young generations with basic knowledge at an early age. We need entrepreneurs to be creative, to be able to solve problems, to be rapid and efficient decision makers and to be able to adapt to the market conditions. Having a pragmatic approach to whatever you do in life is something that is no exclusive for entrepreneurs but can be also useful for a civil servant or an employee. This is the reason why the Action plan can benefit not only our future companies specifically, but also European society in general… Improving the framework conditions of entrepreneurship for potential and existing entrepreneurs is the key to unleash potential entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need better accessibility to finance opportunities.
img_3 We are launching this platform in order to combine different actions at a  European level. They are quite poor at the moment especially in terms of  education. We can’t impose a model of education to all Member States  because  of their different educational systems, styles and traditions but  already the idea  of sharing and improving national curricula in order to  achieve this goal is a big  step forward.

The measures taken by Member States will be monitored by the European  Commission within the framework of the European Semester and the Annual  Growth Survey. This is a crucial point for Commissioner Tajani, who is strongly committed to actions and results, not small talk.


In the Action Plan, section 4.2.3 refers to migrant entrepreneurs and where it uses ‘Silicon Valley’ as an example. We know that ‘Silicon Valley’ in the US is emblematic regarding the contributions of multicultural talents. The presence of multicultural brains represents almost 50% of the total force there. In reference to this, how do you think we could build our own Valley of Talents? Do you think the EU could take the US as an example?


Yes, as you just said this is something that we mention in the  action  plan. Here, we refer to Silicon Valley and Israel as the two  countries  where certain immigration policies have allowed these  areas to attract  entrepreneurs from other backgrounds. Silicon  Valley is exactly  something that is in line with our objectives, but  we have to  acknowledge the fact that there are many components  to achieve a  Silicon Valley in Europe! Attention must be paid to  the integration policies that will allow these migrant entrepreneurs to have all the information they need and it is a quite complicated process. To conclude, I think that already having the ambition of transforming the European Union in an area which is very attractive for entrepreneurs coming from all around the world is something big! Part of our goal is to give more dynamism to our economy because we can’t remain passive (in relation to) against the international competitors.


We consider that social enterprises, as well as the European Commission, seek to serve to the community’s interest (social, common, environmental objectives) rather than achieving profit maximisation. They often have an innovative nature, environmental standards and they often employ socially excluded persons thus contributing to social cohesion, employment and the reduction of inequalities. We believe that social entrepreneurs can change the image of business for the better, above all New European entrepreneurs. The Action Plan aims at making entrepreneurship more attractive and orientates growth in Europe. So, how can social entrepreneurs help to achieve this objective?
img_2 Certainly yes, the main issue whilst talking about social  enterprises is that they are enterprises, which do not take  profit  as their exclusive goal. Once there is a clear  distinction between  the different enterprises, one can  asses in which area the social  business or social  entrepreneur can play a more prominent role.  Mr. Tajani  along with Mr. Michel Barnier adopted a Social  Business  Initiative in November 2011 and there is a clear  recognition of the importance of developing the right environment for social businesses.

Although we understand the characteristics of social enterprises, we should not create a new group of companies because they are not completely different from the rest. What I mean with this is that there is a percentage of their daily activity specific to them as social enterprises; however, there are many other aspects, which are exactly the same as the other companies. Therefore, we include them in our general policy.


EPN in collaboration with UNITEE, have organized an event on the 2nd of March called “New European Talents for the EU”, with which we mean young talented professionals with migrant background. The aim of this event is to give advice and inspire these talents to work within the EU Institutions and to offer the possibility to discuss the integration of cultural diversity within them. We also want to tell them that the EU counts on future generations to bring in a new way of life to business. From the perspective of the diversity, do you believe that New Europeans could contribute to Europe’s innovation and competitiveness?
img_5 In general, we need good ideas and good ideas can come together to  Europe with New Europeans, if the European Union manages to  become a more attractive place to live in than it is now! This is kind of  the same philosophy as the initiative “Missions for growth” leaded by  Commissioner Antonio Tajani, in which he is fully involved. Recently,  we visited North Africa and South America and in 2013, we will go to  Russia, China and India. The basic philosophy of these missions is of course to connect with growth markets outside Europe and improve the European enterprises to gain better profit from fast growing and emerging markets, to boost competitiveness and to create employment. However, we also want to show that we are not surrendering passively to decline: that there is dynamism! We need to show that we are dynamic, to attract new young energies in the European Union. If we just accept to cope with high taxes, difficult access to finance and so on, it is then clear that the attractiveness would remain quite low.

So, do you agree on the fact that New Europeans can contribute positively to the European Union?

Yes, it goes without saying that Europe needs New Europeans to contribute to our economy and our business reality. They represent a pool of potential business players. In the action plan, sections 4.2.3. and 4.2.4. address specifically this group. Certainly, specific visa policies should be elaborated as well in order to address the issue of mobility but this is another area…

About women entrepreneurship, how the European Commission will try to create a climate that is favorable to increasing the number of women entrepreneurs and the size of existing business women? Which priorities have you identified for the future of female entrepreneurship? Studies reveal that the empowerment of women belongs to “smart economies” and through diversity of leadership we are better governed and have more sustainable growth. What do you think about this issue?
img_1 Speaking about women entrepreneurship has become very  trendy these days but one should try to understand that if we do  not tackle this issue in very concrete terms, it will remain as a  subject for academics. What we need most is to be concrete; to  look at the reality of the facts. We always hear that we need more  women entrepreneurs in our economy because they are more  creative and certainly represent an added-value for our  companies, this is clear, but the real question is “what are the concrete actions that need to be deployed?”

Apart from all the actions that we are carrying out concerning gender equality and the equal representation of women and men at the top and so on, when we specifically address the issue of women entrepreneurship we face a basic problem: their lack of time. At the end of the day, a woman is confronted with her motherhood role and finds it difficult to combine good quality work with family, to be fully committed to business activities and caring responsibilities altogether.

Do you also think that this all issue has to do with courage or lack of confidence from women side? Do they feel intimidated?

I don’t think so. Maybe 20 or 25 years ago I would have said yes but now I don’t think there is a problem of being or not being brave. Today, as far as the education is concerned, women have a lot of possibilities to reach high-level of education and get important skills for their future. The main issue here is that when women come to a certain age, they have to face a key dilemma “will I invest in my family or will I invest in business?” Although this question can be considered as part of the life process, there are some instruments and representing ways to facilitate a fair balance between the two dimensions, without pushing women to renounce to one or to the other. This kind of questions can be – in my opinion – quite dramatic in a woman’s life. I believe, it is sad to see a woman giving up her professional career as much as to see her renouncing to the objective of having a family because of her work. Sooner or later, when her son or daughter grows up, the regret of not having achieved a career objective will come out. This is a critical matter and the online context can be further developed in order to allow women to deploy their creativity, their fantasy and their energy in another way.

Anyway, the Action Plan dedicates section 4.2.1. to women. It acknowledges that Europe has a lot of women who are qualified and high-skilled entrepreneurs and it explores online trade as a possible way to support business across borders and women in reconciling business and family.

.. and can allow them to work from home?

Yes, from home or at least partially from home, so that they do not need to stay out of their house for the whole day but only for a few hours. The future of online work is of course important but it has to be concrete and regulated. One might even say that an enterprise does not need a consultancy because there is plenty of information online… Sure, there is lot of information on the web but the quantity of information displayed needs someone who is specifically skilled to handle such a “jungle”! We need people who can master the online market and this is the reason why the trade market will not be an immediate market because it has to be properly developed. It needs to be translated into concrete business models.

During the conferences that we attended we saw that European citizens feel the EU– above all the Commission – far and unreachable. Is it a reality? This feeling has intensified during this period of economic crisis and insecurity. What do you think about it? How can the EU reach out to the citizens, professionals and the civil society in general?
img_4 There are many initiatives the European Commission is working on and lots of  activities that have been launched across Europe to be close to our citizens in this  difficult period. I would say that the European Commission is not particularly good  at communicating these activities; very often they remain unknown to the local  territories. I will take the EU funding as an example, in most cases it is distributed  by the region or by the local authorities; nevertheless very often companies or  organizations think that this money comes from the region itself whereas this last  one is just an intermediary.

The 2020 Entrepreneurship Action Plan is another very concrete initiative in favor of companies; some of the ideas included will be implemented by the Commission while some other will need the contribution of Member States and local authorities. But of course the ones that are put forward by the Commission have a certain added-value.

We would like to ask you some more personal questions and you to know that EPN dedicates a section of its website to “inspiring professionals of the month” in which we wish to take you as an example. We know that you are a lawyer, so could you tell us how have you reached your current position? And what sort of challenges have you faced on the way?

To be honest, it was quite by chance. I proposed my CV to my former head of cabinet at the time and he liked my profile. The fact that he already knew me for quite some time also helped because Mr Tajani – being a Commissioner – needed someone to fully trust. It looks very simple but sometimes this is how it works! Certainly, studying is very important, developing skills is absolutely necessary but one should never underestimate the capacity of having networking skills. One should prepare in the best way and show the rest of the world how good they are because if you are shy, nobody will realise it.

Did you do a traineeship here in Brussels?

Yes, in 2001 at DG Internal Market. It was a really good experience, so good that after it I decided to stay in Brussels. The period of a traineeship can be quite short but if it is really interesting, it can open new doors for your career.

From your experience, being an Italian living in Belgium, do you feel like a European Citizen?

Yes for sure. I always feel Italian and I will always be Italian but this doesn’t mean I don’t feel European. The European and national dimensions go well together … our origin, our nationality enrich our experience, don’t make it poorer!


Murat Kiran has a very interesting life story. Before he moved to the Netherlands in 1997, he had nothing to do with ICT and even didn`t speak any word of Dutch at that time. Thanks to his motivation and vision, he completed an external training on ICT and now has 25 companies throughout the Netherlands that have generated an outstanding growth percentage of nearly 7000 % in the last 5 years. His firm, namely CONCLUSION, was named as the fastest growing IT Company in the Netherlands in 2009.

Can you introduce yourself and your companies?

I was born in south-east part of Turkey, namely the city of Urfa and I moved to the West, the city of Izmir, at the age of 5 because of some family reasons. I was one of the 9 children in my family and 2 of them were dead already. The life conditions were really tough for me as well as my family. I had to do many different things in order to get one more bread to home and if I could, we were lucky that day. Later on, I graduated from Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir in American studies and worked almost every corner of Aegean and Mediterranean cost of Turkey in tourism field. There I met a Dutch girl from whom I get 4 children now.

Actually, this was totally not my plan as I was planning to travel to the other part of the world, namely south-east Asia and have an intrinsic life there. But it didn`t happen and I found myself in the Netherlands in 1997. Within almost 15 years, I have now 25 companies in different sectors. Besides ICT, I have companies in entertainment, real estate and textile sectors throughout the Netherlands.


 Why did you go into the ICT sector?

It is funny that I was thoroughly an anti-technology person and  even didn`t touch any computer until 1997. I didn`t feel myself    comfortable with technological things as I believed they were  alienating human beings from the real life in society, our real  responsibilities and of course from our spirituality. My first  connection with this kind of machines was in the warehouse of  Kodak where I was working in the stock and packaging the materials there. I somehow needed a copy of a document and people around me said that just go and print it in the printer. I said “What? How should I do that?” Unfortunately I didn`t know how to print a document. While I was printing I saw some vacancies on the wall with relevant requirements for the posts. I saw some words in the ads like word, excel etc. and noted them down. This is maybe the turning point in my life.

I was later on subscribed for computer courses in the municipality and the first lesson awakened my interest in computer and technological devices. It was so incredible that I could write down my name on the computer, make it bold, italic or even colorful. I read a lot of books on them and I so rapidly developed myself in computer. After the end of the course, I went to the municipality and said that I wanted to have a job that requires IT skills. The person there looked at me hesitantly and said “Hey guy you cannot have such a job just with a few months of external courses, you need much more time and skills for that”. Of course I didn`t give up and visited that person several times in one month trying to convince her that I had enough capabilities. She accepted to offer me a test at the end assuming that this was the only way to get rid of this insisting person. I did a great job in the exam and was finally employed in an ICT firm, which later on paved the way for other firms and even my own ICT companies. So, this is basically how I found myself in the ICT sector…


 You have immigrated to the Netherlands from Turkey  in 1997. Considering your immigrant background,  what  kind of obstacles have you come across if there is  any and what kind of advantages on the other hand?

I personally don`t think and didn`t experience that there are  really obstacles in front of people with immigrant backgrounds.  It is all about your capabilities and how you have developed  yourself and your skills. Additionally, your added-value is quite important. If you are convinced that you offer an added-value to the society, there is really no obstacles in your career and business life.

On the other hand, there are many advantages of being with multicultural background. It generally gives you more flexibility in approaching the issues and ability to look at the things from different perspectives and come up with different, innovative and creative ideas. In my case, I should admit that my life experiences in Turkey with all kind of deficiencies, struggles and real survival stories have played an enormous role behind my success story. These realities are motivating you much more and making you more hard-working and dedicated. I think in this sense, my different cultural background posed many advantages in my career and

I`m proud of it.img_05

 Your companies have achieved an enormous growth rate of almost  7000 % during the last 5 years. Do you think this is a healthy  growth as there are many examples of firms having so rapidly  grown but institutionally and economically suffering from this  rapid growth later on? Do you think you have taken necessary measures to avoid such trend?

I don`t think that our growth is not a healthy one as we tried to get the necessary measures from the beginning. I do respect the fact that there is this potential of having serious troubles when growing so fast as you have to find effective solutions in terms of structure, strategy and financial situation. You need to have a comprehensive business plan and of course dependable people around you with whom you work as a team.

I always say that “knowing yourself” is quite important. Knowing yourself not only means knowing your skills, expectations and needs but also knowing your business environment, your company, the need and the trend of the market etc. So, you have to know yourself very well.img_06 (1)

What do you think about making business in Europe? I mean does European or Dutch system really encourages entrepreneurship or discourage it?

I don`t believe that entrepreneurial skills and making business depend heavily on regions or geographical differences. It depends on you as an entrepreneur! It depends on how much you are motivated to do business, how much you know your skills and capabilities, to what extent you are aware of your business environment and market needs, things like that. In that respect, it doesn`t so much matter where you are to start any business but who you are!

Of course every region or country may have different implementations and rules, but it has a minor importance for me. You need to know your capabilities, you need to have a qualified business strategy and you need to observe the market trends well. Besides, you need to be on time, not late even a second!

What do you think is the key to your success in professional life and what would be your suggestions/advices to young professionals who want to be an entrepreneur?

Working really hard is the key to your success. There are of course other determinants, but you should put this on the centre of your achievements. I have personally worked really hard, even 18-20 hours a day and mostly 7 days a week. If you have big dreams, you need to sacrifice your time, you cannot just do the same as other people do if you want to prove something. Secondly, as I said before, knowing yourself is crucially important. You need to start from that, you really need to know what your expectations, dreams are on the one hand, and your abilities and competences on the other.

You also need to know your business environment, this means market needs, what are your competitors doing? You should have a well-defined organizational structure and management skills to ensure this structure is working well.


Thirdly, networking is also very critical. When I look at myself and my  companies` success story, I achieved them through networking because my  company was very small and I even didn`t have any website nor any business  card. So, the only way to make people know my work and value that I can  offer was through networking and good impression. I always say, “If you are  networking, you are really working”…

Finally, it is also very crucial that you act just on time. One inch can make huge differences! If you have a business offer on Friday, and you think that you can react it on Monday, you may lose the chance and don`t forget that others are waiting out there. For that, you have to be a good observer and work very hard as I told you at the beginning.

As EPN, we defend the fact that volunteering is so crucial and should be a life long process. How do you see the importance of volunteering during professional life? Is it possible to combine volunteering with a successful professional career?

Personally, I don`t believe in volunteering and things like that. In the same way, I also don`t believe in corporate social responsibility and such staff… For me, they are already embedded in our human being. It must be a natural part of being a human being, and should not be labeled as something different. If I see people in need I naturally react upon it, try to help as much as I can and that comes from my humanistic instincts. By the same token, it must be companies` core concern that everything they do should respect the human beings and the environment. There should be no need to label this sort of sensitivities and framed them as a part of social responsibilities.

What do you think the role of civil society organisations like EPN is for professionals?

As I said before, networking is so important in business/professional life. It enables you to open up to new opportunities, start up new initiatives and broaden your business capacities. NGOs like EPN are giving this chance to professionals particularly for those who are thinking of initiating his/her own business. You cannot initiate this kind of networking activities on your own, you certainly need some interlocutors and civil society organisations can play a crucial role here.img_07

Besides, such organisations contribute a lot to overall awareness-raising efforts amongst the targeted people. Concerning professionals, this is also important as they are the brains of societies with their educational and intellectual capacities, however they rarely involve in social issues and societal responsibilities. We need to make them aware that they have important duties for other people in their societies.

Thank you so much for your time and answers…


Sefik Birkiye was born in 1954 in Ankara, Turkey. After a well-travelled youth (his father worked for NATO), he went on to graduate from La Cambre School of Architecture (ENSAAV) in Brussels in 1978 and took his Masters in Town Planning from the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in 1981.

His firm, VIZZION Architects, won the prestigious MIPIM Award in 1998 and again in 2000 for Le Jardin des Fonderies apartment building and the Green Island office complex. More recently, the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, the only five-star resort in Monaco, was nominated for a MIPIM Award. A track record of more than eight million square meters already built or projected has helped VIZZION Architects to become one of the leading architectural firms in Europe.

In 1979 you founded VIZZION Architect, previously known as Atelier d’Art Urbain, a firm of architects and urban planners fully committed to the improvement of the urban environment. Then, in 1997, you founded VIZZION Europe in order to create a more global approach to architecture and to extend your direct involvement in the development stage of any given project. Can you tell us about your career?

Vizzion Europe is made of 67 companies, including “project companies”: for each project, one or several companies exclusively dedicated to a definite function are established. If the project is large, having several companies can be very of great help for the assessment phase. All this is handled through Vizzion Invest. All companies are grouped under Vizzion Participation, a holding company.

The originality of my work is that usually business leaders do not have assets in their own industry. There are only a few successful examples.

Being an architect is a vocation. In the past, a single coordinator did all that was necessary for the building to be the best possible. He had to think about the different ways to use the building, its ability to adapt or extend, its budget, the quality and type of raw materials. The architect had the prerogative to conceive the entire project and was present at all stages of its development.

Over time, architecture has become a design-oriented job. Specialities such as engineering, finance, programming, project management are now taking care of economical and technical aspects.
sefik1 In some countries, like France, the laws have changed because  of  insurance and liability issues. The architects have become  only designers and do not follow construction sites any more. I  studied and I started working in the 1970s, when there was  some sort of housing crisis because of excessively high interest  rates. I was  fortunate enough to be in an architecture school, La  Cambre,  which was working on how to build after  industrialisation.

I thought I was going to build buildings, but instead I realised that I was in a socio-economic environment where architecture and urban planning were only there to respond to problems that had actually nothing to do with spatial planning and construction. Construction was regarded as the consequence. These experiences made us see how important architecture and urbanism really are. We worked with the residents’ committees to determine their needs, to understand the urban struggles and conflicts of interest between the various social groups living together in a city. We studied the controversies from the financial and investment sectors.

We thought about how to integrate the different actors of the society in the city. The idea was not to harmonise them, but to make them live together with their differences.

For example, at that time, it was envisaged to demolish the entire Marolles neighbourhood. We asked ourselves: how can we keep people living in the Marolles area near wealthy neighbourhoods? This type of debate was spread in France, in the United States, and elsewhere, and it made me participate in major urban projects. I had since then the will to participate in projects of that size in order to have some influence on the solutions… I realised that I had to be able to achieve what I fought for. I had then so much success in the United States, New York, Chicago… And then I continued to work in France, Germany, Belgium and Turkey…

VIZZION Architects is one of the leading architectural firms in Europe. What are the key factors to your professional success in this sector?


I have never set long-term goals. Obviously when I read the books  of the most famous architects in the world, I was dreaming telling  myself that it would probably not happen to me. In order not to be  disappointed, I set smaller goals that I managed to achieve! I tried  to develop my company so that we could access major projects.  Then, I made a very big office without external association. Finally,  I managed to do a multi-disciplinary office in order to convince  customers and investors of the credibility of our projects. For example, I consider that even a small project must respect the general environment, parking should not be built on the pavement. The whole building must consider the materials and colours of the neighbourhood, even for a small building. We must seek to participate to the life of the city, its design, its management, the possibility of cohabitation…

These arguments are even more valid when talking about larger projects. A large building should not be built in glass, so that people can live and work in the same street. One should consider city architecture with multifunctional streets, with stone-made buildings, with fewer openings, rather than single-function areas, that increase the traffic. Dense cities are more economical, and they waste less energy. The ground floor should be open to the public as shops. I am against the development of the city to the countryside. The suburb development increases the waste of land to house fewer people, without the advantages that the city has. The total cost of infrastructures costs a lot to the national budget!

You worked in many countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Egypt, the Virgin Islands and Turkey. Why these countries? Which differences, which similarities do you perceive, at the consumers’ and users’ levels?
sefik3 In each country we must adapt to different regulations. It involves  making many efforts to be always accurate, complete,  multifunctional, since everything changes: the legislation, people’s  attitudes, social concerns, and available raw materials…

In 2001-2002 I started to make small investment funds, but at the  same time I continued my architectural firm. This process has been  widely criticised and created division within the firm itself. In 2004, it was necessary to stop the organisation, as it existed previously. The architectural firm was split into two, with one side with those who would continue the traditional architectural services, and on the other side those who would continue with me. We set up several real estate funds, which stabilised the structure very quickly, despite two years of crisis when we had to postpone some projects. Now, all of our projects are refinanced, and we begin a project every three months…

For each project, we open a small office in the city or the country concerned, and then we adapt the team to the needs. For example, in Turkey 30 or 40 people are working, because we have several ongoing projects. In Serbia or in Bordeaux the permanent team is composed of 3 people. The majority of our experts are settled in Brussels.

Who are your influencers?
sefik4 I will quote my Philosophical mistress, Hannah Arendt. When she  was asked who influenced her, she replied that it was a terribly  male-centred question because only men think in terms of  influence and  power! For an artist or a philosopher, each step is  the completion of  a reflection, of an effort, of an idea, of a  representation. If what you  have done inspires others, it is as if  you belonged to the same family.  I never thought about  influence. In other words, if people copy you,  it means they agree with you.

If the building can remain in time, it is a pride, because I deeply think immortality is a human idea. I think that it is what we do while we live with other people and what we can give to them that makes us more or less immortal… When you work as an architect, you are rather well placed!

In each building I build, I see faults, and things that I could not do because of time or budget constraints, or inadequate number of people working on it. After every building I say “next time I will do even better!” I have never done a building saying “maybe next time, we will do a better job”. For every building, I fight to have it done properly, whether it is social housing, homes for the elderly, banks, shops… I am always trying to make it as integrated as possible in the city, and matching as much as possible with my thoughts. Unfortunately it cannot always work…

What do you think about the increasing demand to respect environmental standards and ecological concerns? How is your sector evolving due to these constraints?

I do not agree at all with the spirit of the dominant speech on ecology. I have been fighting on these issues long before ecology and sustainable development were on the front line. In the 1960s, I joined the anti-industrial group, which refuted the industrialisation and waste in the building.

Ancient cities are the greenest in the world! Hence, for centuries, all the buildings have been reused, with changing functions, since the structures were solid and stable. In Paris, London or Rome, buildings, which were designed to be public buildings, then became schools and hotels… This continuity has been completely broken down by the post-war industrialisation. Then, politicians have rediscovered ecology.

To me, there is a complete lack of a proper benchmark on ecology, what is said to be green is perhaps not as ecological as it is said… For example, eating organic fruit from South Africa, coming to Europe by plane, this is nonsense.

Second, glass buildings waste a lot of energy! The regulations on energy keeping and sustainability are bottom-levelled, so that everyone can fit it.

For me, the first way to combine economy and ecology is not to disperse the cities. Cities should have high urbanism, high density, experience multiculturalism and have mixed and complementary functions. People should be able to walk from office to home, not using highways between suburbs and commercial areas.

The best economy, the best ecology, the best sustainability is non-consumption! It means: do not use your car, isolate buildings well, and do not consume energy! I am a fervent opponent to industrial ecology. Another striking example is the “in-style” architecture. How is it possible to make ecology out of vogue, which means that it is necessary to destroy something to have something else trendy? Often, people ask me what are the current “trends”. The trends are constantly changing, so when we talk of trends, we talk of consumption, coming after the destruction! “Fashion” architecture ends up by being outdated. Some buildings will be kept as examples, but most of them would be destroyed! How many buildings of the 1960s or 1970s have I destroyed! While Haussmann buildings in Paris, for instance, will remain there for many centuries!

So, in the end, you claim your right not be “fashionable!”

Absolutely! Human beings’ needs for housing do not change every 5 years! Clothing and food tastes might change, but everyone can recognise a good city! Nobody wants to live in a bedroom town! As Plato would say, we should be blind if we could not distinguish the beautiful from the ugly! Everyone knows what is a nice town, but for many reasons it is not done. Manufacturers, industrial groups are seeking for new opportunities! By definition, which industry might be interested in non-consumption, in preserving the architectural heritage, in building timeless construction, not to build in the suburbs, not to build new highways?

Are you looking to implement this sustainability strategy in all the countries where you are located, or are you facing difficulties to implement them?
sefik5 As long as my ideas are not implemented, no one supports them.  These ideas are less supported because they do not correspond to  what  the majority of the population concretely does. Human  beings are  always tempted to say that if the majority of people  does not do  something, it is because there are good reasons not  to do it! I think  that it is a wrong argument! New examples may  help to change the  way to perceive things.

The urban fabric is one of the few areas that does not require change, but instead needs high continuity. Everyone knows that the ideal life is to do everything on foot, in a given neighbourhood. Take for example some beautiful areas of Brussels: you can work in avenue Louise, shop in rue du Bailly, eat, get children to school, go to the market, live in lovely streets… you have everything by 10 minutes walking! You use your car only to go to specific places!

Putting offices above train stations, in order to avoid the road traffic, is nonsense. In fact, people travel just as much, but by train. The result is expensive to the state… The result is the same: the city becomes deserted! Moreover, it is often said, “the city has lost its substance”! This fragmentation is expensive, whereas we could continue to build “classical” cities!

In Turkey, or near Bordeaux, I develop this type of project. In Bordeaux, in a given neighbourhood we are building sports facilities, hotels, and homes for the elderly, a private hospital, shops, schools, student housing, and villas along the golf course, social housing, and offices! A neighbourhood that has everything, without exaggerating one function or another!

Where does this phenomenon of dispersion of the cities and specialisation of the areas come from?

The dispersion of the city and the concentration of the functions are primarily due to the investment structure. Formerly, builders were also the investors. On the contrary, in the last twenty years, investment funds have proliferated. These funds are specialised: some are only interested in office construction, others in housing, others in homes for the elderly, etc. This specialisation of the source of funding has increased the mono-functional shape of the city. The investment funds set out the conditions: if a fund invests in a mall, it does not want to have offices or hotels, or a nursery next door! Nevertheless, today, thanks to the crisis, investment funds begin to understand that they must invest in several areas. However, even if they diversify their portfolio, they still do not mix the projects when the construction starts. They will never consider a building with housing for the elderly combined with offices, because the management and the rights associated with the ownership process are too different. I fight against it, I want to invest differently, to organise differently the management, to bring together the various rents. Thanks to my society, I am organising each project individually so that the financial investors are interested anyway.

VIZZION Europe aims at creating a more global approach to architecture. Is it adding social responsibility and ethics into your business projects?

Absolutely! It is a mistake to consider that business works better if things are not done in a good way. By doing fine, doing what people want, or desire, or what they have not even yet thought of can make it really better! For example, Apple and Facebook are working because they cover one’s needs! If you can give to your customers a better city environment at the same price or even cheaper, with savings, energy and time, do it! Actually, I sell my buildings much better than all my competitors, because I add what people look for in a building …

What pieces of advice can you give to young people who wish to start a career in urban planning and architecture?
sefik6 I can only give my very personal opinion, because there is  no  science that embraces all areas. And opinions are  versatile.

My momentary opinions are that the first rule to have a  successful career is to do what you like! When one does  what he  likes, he would be more loyal, more trustful, and  would be in the  end much stronger. One likes what he  does, one does what he  likes, so he develops exceptional  assets in comparison to people  who do not like what they do and do that for rational reasons. Rational reasons can be financial, about job positioning because one thinks it would be a stepping-stone to something else… No one should ever do that! Even if one thinks it will help him later! By doing what you like, you progress much more quickly, you do a better job, and it is funny and every day is a satisfaction. Your strengths and your creativity are even significantly higher than that of someone who would do this job because it is necessary.

Rule number two, never rely on the experience and judgement of your friends. Friends make you feel comfortable, they trust you. Instead, you should look to the critics, never to the glory. Experience is reassuring, but you should start everything as if it were for the first time, with an open spirit to all the new possibilities. “Experience is a lantern you carry on your back, and illuminates the path that has been done”, as the Chinese proverb says.

We must be able to leave the experience aside, as safeguards, but every time we must do something new, better, something that makes us moving forward.

Last point: you should never work for money! The measure to the quality of a job should never be money. But when it comes to money, do not be satisfied with only a little.

According to you, what is the importance of volunteering in professional life?

Volunteering, in the sense of doing things without compensation, is actually a part of the social responsibility. One should not only volunteer through existing structures, but also through private relationships: it is possible to help neighbours, friends of friends, children etc.

By helping each other, we carry humanity, said Hannah Arendt. By contradicting the rules of nature we become human. The originality of the human being is the human artifice, i.e. civilisation, which is contrary to nature. We must not kill the weakest to survive, but we must help them to live with us. By sharing and planning, by inheriting, we build our civilisation. Otherwise, we would be animals. At all levels, we measure the quality of a man or a woman by the way he or she shares, he or she carries with him the other, with their strengths and weaknesses.

Europe has always protected poor people, developed paternalistic organisations, and was the birthplace of theories of Charles Fourier or Jean-Baptiste Godin. With socialism, resulting from the industrialisation process, democracy, trade unions, had to give rights to the entire world, invent the welfare state, develop taxes, unions, cultural activities… and all started to be managed by the State. In Europe, therefore, people consider that they pay enough taxes and thus the state has to care about everything. To my opinion, that is why volunteering does not work in Europe. Health, poverty, unemployment, culture is part of the state prerogatives.

In the U.S., the phenomenon is different because as welfare state is not as developed as in Europe, it is important for the wealthy to make donations. They award prizes for everything, in order to raise awareness of the different existing organisations, to raise money, to invest in some areas… And so the richest Americans will give a huge part of their fortune to foundations. This is not to please; it is a state of mind.

For my part, I always worked with associations, from my studies. When I started to do my job in a much more lucrative way, and I managed to create an office of a certain size, I started to help students, especially to spend their state diploma and to help non-profit organisations. I stayed a long time director and chairman of the Archives of Modern architecture. I organise every 2 years the price for green architecture. I am involved in other non-profit organisations on topics I care about, for example children, victims of domestic violence, asylum right… I always try to play a role, and not just by giving money. I even pay the salaries of people who would raise money for these causes. The biggest challenge of an association is the lack of human resources to raise money. “Rather than giving the fish to the fisherman, I teach to the fisherman how to fish!” Says a Chinese proverb.

To what extent does your multicultural background helped you to become a successful architect?

A multicultural background can help if you plan to do business worldwide. If you are only interested in the local market, I am often asked this question, the answer is simple: it depends on your ambitions. If your ambitions are local, you have to deal with your differences. However, if your ambitions and concerns are global, everyone is a stranger. Nobody holds a global citizenship! Whether you are Italian, Iraqi, Turkish, or Martian, it does not matter that much.

Multiculturalism is not linked to your origin, or to the country where you come from, even if there is one of the ways to access it. My father was a diplomat, so as a child I travelled a lot, I grew up in several countries, with several languages, always with different friends… My childhood experiences made me understand better, perhaps, the challenges of the world and to practice such an international job. If I had been educated in only one country, maybe I would have had fewer assets to solve a problem in a very international way. But a Belgian, a French, or an English person can be very sedentary as well as being very “international”. Everything depends on the experience one had when he or she was young.

It is important to experience multiculturalism when you are young. Otherwise you remain locked up very quickly in a kind of comfort. It is very comfortable to be in a known environment, where your a priori dominate all of your activities… But in the end you have less strength to face the differences, developments or cultural changes that are sometimes necessary to be a successful professional.

Why did you decide to do your studies in Brussels, in La Cambre School of Architecture?

Because I was first kicked out of all the schools where I was studying! Unfortunately, I have always hated school but also students. Soon I realised that I did not want to be like the others. Only a point of view, I hated to think that I would do like anyone. Obviously, nobody wants to remain alone, so I decided to do like people who were considered special. Soon, then, I did not want to do like everyone else at school… Then I was labelled “gifted”, I went to alternative schools I liked more, because they were more challenging. Then we changed country, I had to learn a new language… Every time I was offered something special I was happy. Once it became routine, it could not suit me any more. I even heard that I could never study!

Nowadays, I am still a free-minded person, and this always gave me a strong will to achieve my goals. I managed to join the Academy of Fine Arts, and La Cambre School of Architecture. I started to develop ideas that teachers did not expected… As a result I was advised by my professors to do something else! From there I realised I had to force myself to adapt and to make compromises. Eventually in 1978 I graduated from La Cambre School of Architecture with 95% average, just to show to the professors that I could do it right! In 1979 I founded VIZZION Architects, previously known as Atelier d’Art Urbain, and in 1981 I have done my Master’s in Town Planning from the Catholic University of Louvain.

I truly believe that it is important to listen to pieces of advice as information, but one should never blindly follow it. Any information is good to know, and what teachers say is information, but this does not mean that we must always stick to it or to act exactly as they say.

Architecture, as law or politics, are businesses that need a comprehensive view of many areas. They should not focus on easy questions only. You need a wide vision in order to tackle any kind of problems. Even if, for example, no one is able to legislate in all areas, as a lawyer you should consider and incorporate them as much as possible to your projects. The greater one is interested in complementary areas, the better one can become in specific areas.

I hate wasting my time. So, apart from my hobbies, I am absolutely not interested in things that do not help me to build my future projects. Life is short. Thus, I can either have fun, for example with philosophy and philosophical discussions, or read anything that must absolutely deal with my business. For example, I cannot imagine going on holidays without having the opportunity to learn or discover new aspects of architecture, urban planning and design. I will never go three times to the same place for comfort reasons. Each time I would like to discover a new village, another architecture, another church, another building… I do not want to waste my time.


Mr Wilhelmsen has been Technical Director of the NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency (NCSA) since July 2009. He has considerable national and international scientific research and management experience in the areas of command and control (C2) systems, Air C2 System (ACCS), electronic warfare and defence communications.

Mr Wilhelmsen has been married for almost 20 years to a Turkish lady.

What exactly does the NCSA do?

The NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency (NCSA) provides information technology (IT) services to help NATO fulfil its missions.

IT in NATO has 3 dimensions: horizontal, vertical and time.

The NCSA is the network operator, the Belgacom of NATO. We provide the network, connecting all NATO’s locations inside the 28 nations, and we also connect them to the operations that are on-going. We worked in Libya recently, we are in Afghanistan, and we are still in Kosovo and Bosnia, in Iraq until 2011, in the horn of Africa due to the anti-piracy operations. We help also to protect the maritime traffic across the Mediterranean Sea. So we go from the capitals of the 28 nations; we provide network, communication and data services, information technologies; we are acting like the chief information officer organisation of NATO. So, horizontally we go all way down to the troops operating in the field.
dag-wilhelmsen1 But we also support from the bottom, meaning that we  operate  the fibre optic pipes, the transmission circuits,  everything that  connects everybody, all the way to the  information used in  applications. We affect every  function or services, and also the  activity of people.  For instance, the operation planners use  tools  to plan  operations; intelligence officers share intelligence  information. There is a vertical “stack” as it is  named in IT  lingo.  We also call it the TCP – IP or  Internet Protocol stack  from the  transmission  protocols to the data standards used in web services etc.

The time dimension means that in NATO we start scientific research, looking at new technologies and operational requirements to the definition and implementation of projects and then we operate the systems through their lifecycle.  The first part of this timeline is managed by another agency, the NC3A, in which I used to work before (until 2009). NCSA then takes over the implemented systems and operate them. In 2012, they will combine the 2 agencies, and we will be a big organisation, a bigger structure. NCSA is about 4,000 people, and there’s about 1,000 people working in the up-front activities.

You started to work in the IT sector in the 1970s, i.e. at the very beginning of the modern development of this technology. Now, the world has completely changed, IT is everywhere; everything is managed by IT. How do you perceive this evolution?

Throughout my whole career I have been very lucky to be a part of what I could call, from the IT point of view, the biggest revolution in our history. I feel very privileged to have been on the front line of this. Now, I look to the young engineers and professionals that come out of the IT sector, and see how great opportunities are for the future. The next decade will be the decade of information technologies, moving in to the centre of everything.

Today’s kids could even be called “digital natives” – they are born digital!

I have been lucky to be involved in all of that since the beginning. And it was really the beginning because I started my Master degree in electronics in 1970, and through the next 40 years we have been achieving a significant amount of progresses.

A few months ago, I read an article saying that the amount of technological development in the last decade is equal to all the technological development since the beginning of humanity!

It depends –if you think about it in terms of electronics. In 1967-68 the microprocessor revolution started. Then the co-founder of the Intel corporation, Mr. Moore, established the “Moore’s law” which says that every 18 months everything doubles: the number of transistors on the chip, the speed of the processor; and you have half the cost for the same memory size. It has been true since 1968, and it seems exponential! Now it is starting to be physically difficult to put more transistors on a chip – it comes down to the atom and molecule-levels! Nowadays, devices like a simple mobile phone are more capable than the main frames computer that I used in the 1970s! You can record this development as a phenomenal thing!

You have worked in many different regions, in very demanding sectors. What would be your suggestions and advice to young professionals who want to work in the IT sector?
dag-wilhelmsen2 I would like to give actually 2 messages to the young professionals in  the IT business. The first is passion; the second is commitment.  Passion has been my fortune – I have been fortunate to work with  things I am passionate about for 40 years!

The passion I have is for the values of our societies and the need for us  to protect democracy and protect the freedom of our people; and do it  in ways that can be stimulated with my other passion which is IT! We use IT to promote peace, stability, prosperity and people’s development. You see how the Internet has been able to open the access to information that may be part of the causes of the Arab spring: it is a fabulous thing!

So I am passionate about IT and I am passionate about the development we are able to achieve in IT over these years. And I am passionate about how we can use IT for the good of our societies and our people. That has been one of the biggest success stories, and I feel good about having been part of all of that all over these years. I can mention a few things I have been lucky enough to participate with.

I was born in 1949 – the same year the NATO was founded by 12 nations. Throughout my life, NATO, as an alliance, has grown up to 28 members – and countries are still joining NATO.

It was in 1968 when I was doing my military service within the Norwegian army as an officer and the Cold War was at its ”hottest”; the Russian tanks were entering Czechoslovakia. The years up to 1988 were the most important period for the original mission of NATO. NATO aimed at protecting the Western World’s security and safety. During these years I worked for defence industry developing IT systems primarily for the military. Fortunately, everything ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, of the Berlin Wall and the enlargement of the EU. Many former Warsaw Pact members and Soviet Republics are now part of NATO.

In 1994 when the Balkan crisis was at its crest I was in the defence research environment on the NATO side. We faced a terrible situation in former Yugoslavia and NATO was asked to help re-establish peace. NATO had never been doing anything similar to that. It had simply been guarding the back door against the Russians. Fortunately, in our laboratories we had the prototype Internet-based implementations that could be used to support the missions in former Yugoslavia. We built our protected Internet and we used it to allow 60,000 troops to move in and to settle the conflict without killing anybody. Various software and communications network were developed in order to share the information. The most important things at that time were e-mails, simple database systems and the early implementation of the web.

In 2003 we started the next chapter with the war in Afghanistan. I am going back to Afghanistan now for the 20th time in January; I will be spending 3 weeks there. I go there in order to help implement IT in order to support Afghan people and to help them to establish peace and democracy. Stability will allow the possibility to improve the livelihood of the Afghani people.

The commitment for me means not to be a quitter. I really feel that if I step into something I believe in, I stay on it and I do not give up. A good advice for a young professional could be: do not give up! As long as you fight for something you believe in you have all the chances and the opportunities in the world to succeed in. It has been a theme for me all over all these years.

Why did you choose information technology? In the 1970s it was an unusual choice, wasn’t it?


I lived in Norway and my father was an engineer in the geology  area. I spent some holidays working in his laboratories and  then I  wanted to study at the chemistry department of the  Norwegian  Technical University. But then I decided to get first  rid of my  military service before going to the university so I  decided to  apply to the officers’ school in the Norwegian Army  Signal Corps  instead of being a simple soldier. That was in  1968 when the  situation in Czechoslovakia happened. The  interest in  information technology and communications caught me. So I started my studies in 1970 and I obtained my Master’s degree in telecommunication in 1974. The choice was actually triggered by seeing what the information technology could do in a military environment..

When I finished the University I joined a fairly large company. The parent company at that time was called ITT (International Telephone & Telegraph) and the daughter company was called the STK in Norway. It was one of the many companies that was bought by Alcatel in 1985 and became part of Alcatel. I worked there for almost 17 years.

My choices were easy because I was very lucky to be in a very fortunate position. It was the beginning of the Internet and the microprocessor revolutions. There were small teams; we were about 40 at the beginning. We developed one of the first digital communication networks in the world, the pioneer digital network based on microprocessors. There were the breaking times of the microprocessor revolution, digital revolution, digital network and so forth. Up to 1985 I worked together with them as the main project developing the capability which later became the foundation for the Norwegian Defence Digital Network.

I was lucky to be a part of this early phase because it allowed me to build an understanding of IT from the “bottom”.  I escalated the hierarchical levels pretty quickly and I became one of the youngest vice-president of the ITT/Alcatel environment. Is I was only 36 back then in 1985. It was very good for me because it gave me the chance to do what I like on the technology side  while working together with people to bring new things as well.

From 1985/88 my division was responsible for “digitalising” Norway. We brought in the digital communication systems and the digital switches that we use for telephony.  Norway is a small country with 4 million people but we had 1 million lines of digital telephony by the time I finished the job in 1988.

And then I went to Turkey because the Turkish PTT wanted me to contribute to the development and implementation of the plans and the architecture of the Turkish defence networks. I worked on it for 4 years. This resulted in a very good collaboration with Norway and Turkey and also led to what is now the Turkish digital network for the military applications, the TAFICS.

After a period in the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, I came to NATO and have worked there from 1994 onwards.

I have been able to follow what I like which is to work on technologies I like, working with things I have a passion for and seeing what these things achieve as well as leading people to do things that are fun! I have been lucky to do all of this!

So, if I sum up, the key factors to your success are passion, commitment…

Yes, and working with interesting people! I think the multicultural aspect is very important to mention in my life and my career.

I come from a small country, we are proud of things we are doing, but we are also humble when it comes to understanding that we are small in an enormous machinery. We quickly learn to work in another language and to work with people who have different backgrounds. We try to achieve something together and we set common goals, we give the possibility to everybody to share the same passion… even with different backgrounds. It is one of the greatest things when you are working in a multinational organisation like NATO, in my opinion. Those factors have given me the opportunity to succeed and I have been very fortunate to be able to do that.

Would you advice young people to have these kinds of multicultural experiences?


Yes! I cannot enough stress how much it is essential! If you live in  Central Europe you live in a multicultural setting; so it almost  comes by itself. But some people stay out in the side wings of the  world and are locked-up in their own cultural background and  historical references. It’s important to have historical references  and background but it’s important to show tolerance and  understanding. Tolerance and understanding are the most  important things in this world. We had so many bad examples in  the last hundred years with wars that came as a result of a lack of understanding of the values of multiculturalism.

An absolutely terrible thing happened this summer in my country. It confirms exactly the importance of sticking with the value Norway has chosen with the adoption of a positive attitude towards multiculturalism. But in all societies there are counter-forces that look to create closed communities. It is very harmful; it has caused most of the sorrow that we have seen in the world in the last 100 years. This pain has been caused by the lack of understanding of that. At a personal level it is extremely important.

How do you perceive the evolution of the IT sector now and in the future? Where are we going?

We are at the crossroads. Now collaboration among people is commonplace in social networks and activities that are stimulated by information technologies. You can now do things that you could never have done before; you have access to information sources that you would never have had access to before. All these things have created a revolution in the workspace, a revolution in the social sphere, and made life completely different from what the previous generations were experiencing.

You have to find ways to put that to good use, and you also have to make sure that it creates more happy people! It’s important that Information Technologies serve a purpose. The key challenge is to understand the purpose for the future. Therefore I think that we must now make the information technology the enabler of the successes we are looking for in the future! IT should not be only a commodity like the electricity or water or something like that. Information technologies can do so much for societies; we saw it in the Arab spring. It can promote equality amongst people; it can stimulate talents from where it comes from. It is important that these days, despite the economic and financial crisis, we look positively to what we can achieve in productivity gain and positive value with the use of IT.

I cannot think of any sector that has had this amount of quantum and paradigm changes. Aircraft, for instance, has not changed that much: in 1900, the Wrights brothers flew for the first time, but since then it’s the same thing with faster, more comfortable and safer planes! Information technology has moved ahead of everything else.

The Internet is probably the most important social and societal change that has happened in our world.

I was working in this field in the early 1980s when the Internet started up, with the first TCP-IP protocol – the core of the Internet. We discussed that a lot where I was working, we developed solutions for that; despite that in Europe we wanted to take other paths… The US wanted to develop a TCP-IP-based Internet and we were looking to ISDN, which was more a controlled and more managed, information technology. That died because of the potential of the freedom of the Internet and the way the Internet could step ahead because it was not centrally managed but contrary, was open. Everybody contributed to it so it grew together like an organism.

Technology seems to be a way to spread democracy. Do you think IT can be a proper means of spreading democracy, equality and social responsibility? What do you personally think about social responsibility and ethics, both in the professional life and in the IT sector?

When I was in charge of the NATO C3 Agency, I had the opportunity to spend some times in Afghanistan and I had to deal with several things. First thing was that the NATO science committee established a collaboration programme with Afghan universities, the Afghan-Silk Road project. It aimed at bringing the Internet to universities in Afghanistan. They set up a network of satellite based links to the Internet at the universities and provided help for them so that they could include IT in their teaching and more importantly access the Western World’s academic networks.

On the other hand, we also witnessed the misery caused by the war in Afghanistan. We started a social organisation inside the agency named the “Children of Afghanistan”.  During one of my trips there I visited an orphanage and a refugee camp where 400 families were living in very poor conditions just before the winter receiving with very little help. We collected money and winter clothes and we sent it to help the people. We were only 400 colleagues, but we were able to send 80 boxes of winter clothes, warm shoes and useful things for the children. When you see the potential in people that had such a bad luck in their lives with so little help, then you understand that the human aspect as well as technology are both as important.

NATO aims at providing security and at supporting organisations that provide assistance, or development aid etc. It is difficult not to be inspired by the same ideals, the same will as people who are engaged in this kind of projects!

Volunteering is a huge part of your professional life!
dag-wilhelmsen5 I do think it is very important to step forward and commit when it is  called for.

When I was a child I had a hero, Fritjof Nansen. He was a Norwegian  athlete, scientist, a Polar explorer and also a diplomat. He was born  in 1861. He had this combination of social commitment and  scientific background. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for the  work he did for the refugees after the First World War. He was the first High Commissioner for Refugees in the League of Nations, of the predecessor to the United Nations.

He stands for what I consider to be the important elements of social engagement and I want to live up to something like the kind of things he did. Fritjof Nansen was the first man to cross Greenland and he was the first to study its ice cover from a scientific and geographical point of view. He developed an “always-forward attitude” burning bridges behind him and making then sure there was no retreat. He crossed Greenland from the Eastern side facing the Atlantic Ocean, a terrible and uninhabited place. He and his team crossed the island on skies to the West side where people live. When they were doing that he was sure there was no way to come back, no return path and he had to go forward. He made the choice not to have a plan B; there was no option to fail. It has taught me a lot and has made it sure that success is the only option. Don’t make the option to retreat easy when you want to give up.

This issue is very closely linked to the economic and financial crisis we are currently facing in Europe. Mr Barroso has stressed that at the bottom of this there is a big social crisis which is linked to corporate and personal social responsibility. This kind of initiative has to be developed in order not to endanger the future of Europe. The EU institutions have well understood this issue and try to get their staff involved!

I do agree that there is a lot of contradicting elements around us. Capitalism has brought us a lot of good things but it has also driven us to a very egocentric and self-supporting lifestyle. We are loosing the perspective of what we can do for our societies. Some countries have social-democratic solutions and they try to help those who do not have the same amount of incomes but in my opinion, communism is not the answer. The answer is benevolent capitalism or socially engaged capitalism. You need to stimulate the entrepreneur spirit, the spirit to create things that will bring growth and values in the society. You must do it under a social umbrella; an umbrella of social conscience.

Once I talked with the CEO of a well-known bank in the Netherlands. He said that we are not actually facing an economic crisis, neither an ecological crisis but actually an “ego-logic” crisis. Our egos are at the centre of all of our problems.

It’s a good point! That is why we need a different form of motivation and have a social aspect in mind when we do certain things. We should not do things just for the fancy car or the great materialistic life we want to have.

As individuals we need this kind of instincts. At EPN we try to promote volunteering amongst professionals. It can bring happiness to everyone.

I agree! When you are dealing with the kind of work we do have in NATO you need to have a sense inside you that serves a purpose that is good that goes forward together with your personal success. It’s important to create environments where people can get inspired to do good things that also benefit others.


As European Professionals Network (EPN), we have newly initiated a project called “The inspiring professional of the month” in which we conduct interviews with quite successful professionals whose life stories and wide experiences, we believe, could be inspiring and encouraging for particularly young professionals. As we were thinking about the names, one of the first names that came to our mind was of course Fahhan Ozcelik who has a distinguished professional career with more than 25-year experience. He kindly accepted our invitation and visited us at our office in Brussels for an interview.

Fahhan Ozcelik, born in 1957, works as a consultant in the food sector since 2009. He previously worked as a manager in international industrial food companies, such as Burger King, PepsiCo International and Frito Lay, in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He lives in Belgium, is married and has a daughter.

After many years of working for various industrial groups, now you work as an independent consultant in the food sector, mainly the quick service restaurants. Can you tell us about your professional choices?

In 2009, I moved with my family to Belgium, my wife’s country, to let my daughter study photography. I decided to pop up my business and set up as a consultant specialised in quick service restaurants thanks to the connections I built throughout my career. For the time being, I mainly work on implementing marketing strategies in emerging countries.

It’s not easy working as a consultant; you have to build networks all the time and get in mind the financial aspects, as, for instance, many projects are not paid on time! But I like the flexibility of this work; Monday is my horse-riding day for instance!

What are the key factors in your professional success in this sector? What would be your suggestions to young professionals who want to work in your sector, or who seek to have an international career?
fahhan-ozcelik1 I think that first you have to be in the profession that you have the passion  for, you have to like what you do, you need to have the heart for it. You        would feel then naturally committed.  Then, if you work with passion, you    will be successful!

I know that from experience: I studied industrial engineering, and I really  hated it. After my military service, I went into the tourism business, a sector I liked and I knew from my years studying.  Then, I travelled a lot, I managed to raise capital… and here I am!

How do you see the future of the quick service restaurants industry in the world? How is this sector evolving?

The Food service industry is changing, since the 2008 credit crunch. Generally speaking, one can consider four segments within the food service industry: fine dining, casual dining, quick service restaurants, and coffee chains.

The first victim of the 2008 crisis was the fine dining sector. But the whole industry was impacted during the following months. For instance, in the classical quick service restaurants, one admit that the customers eat quickly and move away. Now customers are looking for a compelling experience, a nice ambiance, a more comfortable environment… So Fast casual (QSR combined with casual dining, where the customer orders and pays but is served in disposable plates) is the highest growing segment. Nowadays a new trend is developed: the flex casual services. Flex casual restaurants are fast casual restaurants during the day, but for dinner they offer full services.

Furthermore, the coffee chains are also growing, as it covers the full day for a little investment, as for instance there is no kitchen, but breakfast, snacks opportunities, as well as late hours.

There’s a big change in this sector because of consumer expectation.

The fast-food concept is generally quite popular in the Western world. Nevertheless, you are providing consultancy for Asian and Middle-East countries and Turkey. Does it follow the same trend of popularity as in Western countries?

No, actually the trends are really different because of cultural aspects. The way to enter the market is different and the consumer behaviours are different as well. American companies say : act globally, think locally. They consider that to make a business booming, you have to take the most successful aspects of the business developed elsewhere (cleanness, consumer habits, technologies, design…), and then adapt to the local conditions and habits. The quick service food industry serving practice even change from Europe to the US: in France wine can be provided; in Siberia, a consumer can ask for vodka whereas in Moscow, beer can be supplied! In India, hamburgers should never been made of beef meat as people “respect” the cows…

Concerning the local habits, the drive-through business represents 70% in the US, whereas in the Middle-East and Turkey, going to the quick service restaurant represents a social outing; families and friends enjoy to spend time there. In Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, home-delivery food is a growing business.

How important are social responsibility and ethics in business life?
fahhan-ozcelik2 Ethics, integrity, honesty, are very important, definitely.  When I was working for  the Pepsi Co. group, integrity and honesty were considered as essential qualities  for a good leader. Though, all the employees had to fill an anonymous survey to  evaluate their managers.

Secondly, I learned that social responsibility is important through my experience in Saudi Arabia. In the US they always talk about CSR, as an objective for the managers. First, I thought that revenue, business, plans, bottom-lines and so on, were more important, that CSR costs to much to be taken seriously ! In Saudi Arabia, we got in trouble because of a toy we were giving as extra. The Saudis considered this product as religiously inappropriate, despite the fact that we had all the required governmental authorizations. Even though the toys had been destroyed, the negative perception of the enterprise remained the same.  A full process was implemented to restore the image of the firm
among Saudis. We managed to help the community by collaborating with various organisations, and thus we started to implement a lot of social responsibility programs. And a few years later, while US companies suffered from boycotted, the organisation did not!

The corporate social responsibility has to be accepted from the top. If you are at the top and don’t believe in it, don’t support it, the organisation itself can’t support it. If the whole organisation is not committed, it can’t work.

According to you, what is the importance of volunteering in professional life?
fahhan-ozcelik5 Volunteering and professional life can be combine-able  depending on the time you spend on each. Volunteering  activities  also have to be flexible, especially when you  work as a consultant!

 You are considered as a multicultural  talent with your  Turkish and Belgian  backgrounds. Where does this  interest  come from?

In 1977, I was a 20-years-old student, but there were a lot of students’ movements and boycotts in the universities. Instead of staying at home, I decided to work in a travel agency as a chauffeur for businessmen. Initially, my multiculturalism started like that: meeting multicultural business people, chatting in English. It only lasted 40 minutes, I liked it as every time, I was confronted to a different experience, a new nationality, a new culture. Apparently the company liked my work, I guess that these businessmen gave good feedback. Then I started to tour people to Europe from Bulgaria, to Yugoslavia, Switzerland, France, Germany… My main job was to interact with hotels and restaurants to ensure that the program was going well. This is how I started to be exposed to the “Western world”.
fahhan-ozcelik3 Then, during my career, I went to Iran, to Saudi Arabia, and every time it was  completely different. In Saudi Arabia, I was working with 21 different  nationalities: how is it possible to interact with all these people, how is it possible  to get the same vision, the same passion, the same ambition to all of them? You  have to adapt. If you don’t, the company cannot be successful. You have to find a common thing between all these different people. In the end, what we found from this original group was that everyone was interested in earning money, even if each of us had a different ambition. That was exactly the same thing for me. So I said : if the company is successful, if the company works more, the people working in it would earn more as well. It is a perfect link to the company success and profitability.

Do you think there are any obstacles against immigrant professionals in Belgium and in other Western European countries?
fahhan-ozcelik4 To me, these obstacles depend on the environment. If you go back to the  1970s the situation was completely different… Now I feel the things are  changing. Today’s world is much better if you’re in the professional  environment where the nationality doesn’t make a difference. Look at  who’s leading Pepsi or Coca-Cola!

 You are very present on various Social Media such as Twitter. According to you, are these online platforms the future of communication?

Generally speaking, I think that communication is the key issue to solve problems! New technologies and communications help to fill the gaps among people. Technological development is enabling communications. In the 1970s, there were only teletext (telegraph)… technology is removing the barriers for communications. Look just at the people who have been exposed to different cultures, compared to those who never travelled! Former expats for instance behave in a completely different manner than other people!