Hugo Van Veghel – Human Interaction is Key for Any Business

If you want to deal with Belgians: Know them!

Hugo Van Veghel, Chairman of the Belgian-Serbian Business Association

While Belgian – Serbian cooperation is blooming, we all face many challenges from pandemics, economic crises and the war on European soil. Let’s see what we have learned from our past and what we could do to keep our businesses alive from the interview with Mr Hugo Van Veghel, chairman of the Belgian-Serbian Business Association.

Although pandemics are not over yet, we can speak about the lessons we learned. What do you think? Is there something good that emerged from this horrible period?

“Forbes” formulated already in mid-2021 five lessons learned on resiliency and strength: be prepared for the unexpected, encourage collaboration and a healthy workspace, renew focus on work-life balance, stay true to your principles while changing your physical presence, and remember: Happy employees and customers are key to getting back into the office. One of the best lessons that we can all learn from the pandemic is a renewed commitment to resiliency. When a business and its employees are tested by a worldwide crisis, they collectively learn their strengths and the areas in which they can improve. We must all be sure to continue to apply those lessons and stay out of the other side of this pandemic stronger. It’s through these difficult situations that we find what matters most in our business and in life.

One of the best lessons that we can all learn from the pandemic is a renewed commitment to resiliency

So, if something good emerged from this horrible period it is the increased awareness of the need for a good work/life balance.

How has the global crisis affected the Belgian-Serbian economic relationship?

Not talking about figures, but I cannot say that the pandemic had a negative effect. Even during the periods with travel restrictions, we welcomed new explorative companies. Logical, as the pandemic showed that long supply chains are more vulnerable in most crisis situations. The European logistics sector certainly benefitted from that exercise. BSBA members like Vedeto Plus doo and Storage Systems doo will confirm that. Also, our members from the IT sector have benefitted from this crisis. Metal sheet processing in “Metech” in Smederevo and “Blockx” in Bački Petrovac are in expansion. It indicates that our Belgian companies have strengthened the economic relationship.

What can you teach Serbian companies to do business with Belgium? Is there interest in the Belgian market here in Serbia?

If you want to deal with Belgians: Know them. Surviving Belgium requires a certain state of mind. Call it Belgian zen: an ability to cope with a way of life that is sometimes disturbing; Belgians tend to be tolerant, flexible, modest, and open-minded. They value privacy, enjoy a safe and comfortable life, work hard, and are self-disciplined. Know this and make sure that you can convince them that you can be a match.

Even in 2021, the trade figures improved in both directions. Serbia increased its supply volume to Belgium by more than 34%. The interest in the Belgian market is certainly alive in Serbia.

BSBA networking events help businesses by providing precious contacts to all. How is it important for businesses to stay socially involved with local communities?

The business will always be driven in a P2P (People to People) context. Human interaction is key. We all know and work with KPIs but read the acronym also differently in time; Keep People Interested, Informed, Involved, Inspired. Personally, people always have been the key to my consulting business. It is what Belgian businesspeople have to learn when coming to the region. You can sometimes do better business over coffee in a ”kafana” than in a luxurious diner. However, real-time networking events allow you to deliver a pitch presentation to more people in a short period of time. If you are not looking for a business deal you might explore faster on your competitors. If neither one is important to you these events deliver a comfortable environment with like-minded people… business people.

You can sometimes do better business over coffee in a ”kafana” than in a luxurious diner

What are the main obstacles for Belgian businessmen here in Serbia? Could BSBA identify those problems and make some guidelines for those who are facing them?

As far as my experience can reach, the main obstacle very often seems to be the availability of resources, financial resources. It reminds me of a young Belgian entrepreneurial team with a new product for the fashion sector, looking for a production partner in Serbia. When all seemed to be developing well the partnership conclusion failed over the financial capacity of the Serbian company. In every new partnership for a new product, there are risks, and partners need to share the risks, something that is not always rightly understood in this region. There are piles of books and articles written on “Doing Business with…”. Theories can be a basis, but real life is often quite different. In the BSBA, we look at each case in an individual way and try to advise or hint at what could be a good approach at that moment and place. E.g. we would give different hints in preparing a meeting with Flemings than with Walloons, like it is different dealing with business people from Subotica and Vranje.

What’s new from your side since the last December when we spoke for 2021 Focus On Belgium?

We have noted that the shift to online lectures, seminars or meetings resulted in an increase in participants compared to life events. Business people have tight schedules and full agendas; hence being present at an interesting seminar without getting out of the office for half a day became more popular. The BSBA is, to the maximum extent teaming up with other bilateral chambers or business clubs in organising such events. It has also increased the bond between the smaller chambers. With a better and shared cost-benefit, we can join in organising more events with an open character (not only for members). It also serves the networking and results effectively in welcoming several new members.

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