Monday, June 30, 2008

Working on the ferry

On the road to the new head office of The Wall Street Journal Europe in London to meet my new bosses. Since I plan to visit some universities around London, which invariably means taking along a spare stand in case our old WSJE stand has to be replaced, I will take my car to drive around. One of our salespeople suggested to try to take a ferry, Norfolkline, out of Dunkerque. Indeed a good sugesstion. Not expensive, departure every 2 hours, access to a VIP lounge with wireless internet for a small extra amount. Travel takes a bit longer than Eurotunnel but price difference is substantial and one can work during the crossing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Big Blue Lady and Solvay Business School

The first thing I noticed at the end of the long drive way was ‘something’ big and blue. When driving up to the ‘blue’ thing I suddenly realized it was the statue of a gigantic woman in bathing suit. It was as if I entered a parallel universe.

The reason why I seemed to be driving to a blue big woman was a complaint email I received a couple of weeks ago. A man complained about the invoice we had sent to Solvay business school, one of the leading business schools in Belgium. I called the man, something that surprised him, and he grabbed the opportunity to not only complain about the invoice but also about our roll in one of their events in the past. Apparently we hadn’t delivered what we promised. Since universities are my thing, I proposed to meet him and sort everything out.

So here I was, driving up to the office of the man who made the complaint, a man who seemed to nurture a 2 stores high big blue lady in his front yard. I parked next to the woman, she was gigantesque.
The entrance hall of the office was even more of a surprise. It was actually an art gallery. Now, in my eyes you have modern art and modern art. The first kind of modern art is the kind you completely fail to understand, the kind you think you can produce yourself if you invested a little time in it. The second kind of modern art is that art that amazes you because you see the point, but you would never be able to create it. The gallery was full of this second kind of modern art. Brilliant stuff. A M A Z I N G.

The whole building seemed empty, besides the presence of 1 woman who modestly opened the door and asked me to wait for my appointment. This was not an office, this was a sanctuary. Whatever business man was behind this building, the set up proved beyond a point that I had entered the environment of a free spirit, somebody who couldn’t care less about his name and fame, who else dares to welcome his suppliers and clients with a big fat lady? The bigger surroundings, i.e. the immense gardens, drive ways, ponds and outdoor monumental art also suggested power and wealth.
In the back of my mind a petite voice whispered I had already seen the image of the reception-turned-art-gallery, but I wasn’t able to remember correctly, was it from television, or pictures in a glossy magazine, …?

When I met my contact I quickly learned I was in the building of one of the benefactors of Solvay Business School (SBS). We talked about the past and the future, until my contact received a phone call. Instead of asking me to leave his office, he walked out. This gave me the time to look around in the broad clean office (absolutely paperless rest assured). A simple poster with 4 lines attracted the eye:

“First Say Yes.”
“Keep Things Simple.”
“Make Decissions.”
“Never Regret.”

While I silently contemplated about the 4 lines, my contact re-entered (through a door without handles). He looked at me and said “I am so glad we are still a small family. I just had Albert on the phone”. Then all the pieces of the puzzle fell together, I was in the office of the richest man in Belgium, Albert Frere (also in the Fortune 500 worldwide). And my contact turned out to be his right hand.

(sculpture of the big blue lady is from artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002))

Former F15 fighter pilot turns into publisher

Former F15 fighter pilot John Thompson is living his life in Germany, consciously growing his publishing house 'AdvantiPro'.

AdvantiPro makes newspapers for the military stationed in Germany. He found himself a well defined target audience of 150,000 American military consumers in Germany who enjoy all of his publications free-of-charge.

John will soon end a 3 month intense 'search' campaign, a campaign he designed himself to look at all ins and outs of his own business, 'searching' for all possible ways to make the business more efficient. This meant looking at cost side, but also looking at sales side and HR. He rolled up his sleeves and is actually going out in the night distributing his own newspapers with his team to check up on all exisiting processes, questioning them one by one. He told me he found numerous ways to significantly reduce logistical costs.

Because of the fact he has a lot of American customers and advertisers, all working with a weak dollar, he needed ways to boost business. He hired more sales people and asked good people already working for him a long time to adapt to a more sales oriented roll. These employees are now bringing in more and new revenue.

On the picture, John holds a new newspaperstand for one of his new pubications "The Reporter".
He publishes newspapers such as The Saber Herald, The Herald Union, The Kaiserslautern American and The Reporter, as well as the popular Find-It Guide, a yellow pages for American Military living in Germany. AdvantiPro and The Wall Street Journal Europe collaborated successfully in Jan- Feb of this year, whereby we as WSJE started tapping into the American military community in Germany through AdvantiPro's newspapers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Networking with The Wall Street Journal Europe

Networking with The Wall Street Journal Europe ?

Win 1 out of 5 seats at our Wall Street Journal Europe table at the EU Bubble Dinner Party.

To win a seat email us your full contact details with“BUBBLE” in the subject field.

Reply by noon CET, July 2, ’08 to the address below. Winners will be informed by email.

For rules and responses contact: gert.vanmol(at)

EU Bubble Diner address:
4 July Rhode-Saint-Genèse, Waterloo, Belgium
Start: 20h

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

UK London

See sticker at window: "No Insurance means NO CAR!"
I like it when government or local authority is very clear in their communication.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo reenactment is an annual recreation of the 19th Century Battle of Waterloo on the original battlefield in Waterloo, Belgium. I am usually not a fan of the military, but I didn't want to miss this historic re-enactement of the Waterloo battle, with ca 1,200 re-enactors coming from some 15 countries. I hadn't heard about the event until late last Friday night at a diner table full of American expats who always seem to know more about your country than you know about it yourself.

The historical society who organizes the re-enactement is so concentrated on the historical side of the event, that they tend to forget to think about the comfort of the visitors. I think there must have been at least 10.000 people lined up along the battlefield, in the burning sun, many of them on a steep slope to be able to see something over the heads of the people in front of them. Tip for the society next time: MOW the slope!

I developed an interest in the army because of the specific leadership culture in such an organization. I am planning to roll out a 'WSJE Management and the Military Lab' in a couple of months at The Wall Street Journal Europe. It will be a research project looking into the transfer of coaching techniques from the military commanders to the industry.

The Battle of Waterloo took place at 18 June 1815, 15 years before Belgium came into existence in 1830. The Battle ended the Napoleonic era. Napoleon's dream to unify Europe under French leadership died at Waterloo after his troops were beaten by an alliance of UK and Prussian troops under the command of Lord Wellington. It was actually the second time that Napoleon was defeated. In 1813 he lost the Battle of Leipzig and also some campaigns of 1814 in France after which he was exiled to the Island of Elba. Ironically, the EU has nowadays her headquarters about 8 kilometers from the battle field.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Wall Street Journal Europe

Sad day today. My boss Rick Zednik decided to leave The Wall Street Journal Europe. He will join the Brussels based EU policy website Euractiv. Today he organized a farewell lunch. Instead of giving a farewell speech he wrote a short play featuring a 'normal' working day at WSJE and the daily actors he had to work with as a boss. Brilliant. He managed to capture the essence of each and one of us and put it in the script. One of my new -higher up- bosses captured the 'essence' of RZ and called him a true 'gentleman'. I couldn't agree more. RZ made our quaterly meetings more interesting by inviting guestspeakers from other departments. I will never forget how RZ pointed out what was happening with the 'Randy Paush' story on the internet after he invited a editor to come and speak about our .com endeavors. I haven't had many bosses in my life, so it is difficult to compare, but I have learned a lot from this man. His email follow up on all my requests and ideas, and his general 'care' for our company, brand and people was exemplary.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

About the obsession with detail by great leaders.

From the book: "Allan Leighton on Leadership".
See further for more posts about this book.

Following testimony from Allan Leighton explains about his first meeting with Rupert Murdoch and the obsession with detail to be found in truly great leaders.

Allan Leighton: "The voice on the other end of the mobile phone is friendly, but immediately comes to the point. "Allan, it’s Rupert. l’d like to meet with you tomorrow to discuss your joining the board of BSkyB."
"Id love to see you," I replied, doing my best to hide my amazement at the call from this business icon who, until then, I’d never met. "But I’m going to be in Hull visiting an ASDA store."
"Fine, I’ll see you there," came the reply. Then he added, "Is it OK if I get there at lunch time?"

Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful media baron in the world, immediately put a line through his obviously frantic schedule to walk the aisles of a supermarket in northern Britain. He had made a decision about the BSkyB board and wanted to act on it immediately. His action that day encapsulates everything I admire about good leadership -seizing the opportunity, focusing and getting the job done.

But when Rupert walked into the ASDA supermarket that day, much to the shock of all the store staff who recognised him, the first thing he did was not to bend my ear. Instead he strode over to the newspaper display. Seeing that the Sun, the flagship title of his publishing empire, had sold out he picked up his mobile and phoned the then editor, David Yelland.

"I’m in an ASDA in Hull, it’s lunchtime and there are no copies of the Sun," he barked. "Find Out why."

You can only imagine the head-scratching at News Corporation’s HQ in London’s Wapping. What could Rupert Murdoch, presumed to be safely ensconced in his London base, possibly be doing at a supermarket in Hull counting, or more to the point not counting, copies of tabloid newspapers? But it isn’thard to guess the effect.

You could call this an obsession with detail! And it certainly is. Whenever I visit a store or a depot, I never fail to pick up the phone to the office with a question for the man or woman who is responsible for something that isn’t quite right. Not only does it get the problem sorted — and fast — but it also lets everyone know I don’t miss a thing. It’s also part and parcel of getting things right for the customer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

EDHEC Institutional Days, Paris

Topic: "Bringing research insights to institutional investors."

EDHEC is a famous French business school known to put a lot of emphasis on research. Meeting with EDHEC executives. EDHEC has a campus in Nice and Lille, but they want to expand internationally. I learn they will start a Phd course in London as of September 2008. Contrary to Belgium it is possible in France and the UK to enlist for a Phd in a faculty you do not already have a master degree from.

EDHEC–Wall Street Journal Europe Institutional Investor Forum:
Friday, 13 June, 2008: 08:45-11:00

The inaugural edition of the EDHEC–Wall Street Journal Europe Institutional Investor Forum proposes to bring together the foremost representatives of European pension schemes, insurance companies, and regulatory authorities to debate the key issues affecting the pensions and investment industry.

"Insurance Companies, Pension Funds, and the European Regulator: Reconciling short-term prudential requirements with long-term economic performance".

Leadership Lessons from an Allan Leighton book

I am immensely enjoying a paperback I bought in an ASDA store in the UK a few weeks ago: "Allan Leighton on Leadership".

I hadn't heard of Mr. Leighton before, but I understand he is a popular turnaround CEO in the UK, having worked for Mars, The Royal Mail and ...ASDA.

He interviewed a series of CEO colleagues and asked them about all sorts of leadership issues, which he compiled in a book. What made me buy the book was the fact that also Rupert Murdoch was among the CEO's who were interviewed by Leighton.

Here are a few leadership ideas from Mr. Murdoch taken from the book from Allan Leighton:

Leighton: "Incidentally, one very useful trick I've learned from Rupert Murdoch is to use meetings as a way to keep people on their toes. He (Mr. Murdoch) reckons that he is given so many papers and board minutes to wade through that he may not always have time to read them all. Instead, he will simply flick to, say, page 56 and focus on a detail that no one has really considered. Quite nonchalantly, he will then refer to the item and ask a detailed question. Of course, unless the rest of the executives have taken care to be exceptio0nally well briefed, they are left open-mouthed and floundering. It's a very clever, effective way to ensure that everyone consistently stays on the ball."

Rupert Murdoch about communication:
"Build a reputation for openness, honesty and good ethics in a company. You must have that and do everything you can to stamp out any politics that might be going on behind you."

Rupert Murdoch Leadership Lessons:
- Keep in touch with details
- Get involved
- Capitalise quickly on changing opportunities

James Murdoch (son of) Leadership Lessons:
- Be inclusive, but at the same time decisive.
- Constantly change and show a willingness to change.
- When everybody says we're crazy, that's when we feel best about our direction.

Leighton: "Rupert Murdoch clearly loves new technology and anything that enables him to open up entirely new markets. His approach shows a passionate engagement with the newspapers that created his empire, and a clear-sighted acceptance of the necessity and inevitability of change. When I spoke to him, he talked generally about technological innovation, and then specifically about how it is affecting, among other things, politics and the reporting of politics."

Rupert Murdoch: "The internet will have a huge role in the political process in future. At the last election, people set up websites, usually to oppose something and News Corporation's MySpace could play a terrific part in the next one. The whole thing about sites like MySpace is that people contribute every word. It can be hugely powerful at spreading stories that otherwise might go unnoticed. For all that, newspapers are still going to be around, very strong and very influential for a long time. In Britain we consider ourselves to have the best quality daily and we certainly have got the most successful Sunday newspapers. At the very least we will be the last ones left standing."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

European Regional Economic Forum - Slovenia

Mr. Gert Van Mol was invited to speak at the EREF 2008 conference in Slovenia.
by Charuta Vaidhyanathan

Mirko Brulc, mayor of Nova Gorica, explains to Gert Van Mol how the Europa Square came into existence. Gert is standing with his left foot in Italy and with his right foot in Slovenia.

Gert Van Mol and major Brulc talk about The WSJE Future Leadership Institute after Gert gave a speech at the European Regional Economic Forum hosted by the city of Nova Gorica.