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  • Writer's pictureHugues Pirotte

How wonderful strategy seminars can be?

Stefan Descheemaeker, CEO of Nomad Foods, a company representing a turnover of €2.5bn per year and a market capitalisation of more than $5bn, lectures at Solvay since 2014 and organises a "Strategy Seminar" (GEST-S525) for around 50 students every year. He is one of the best examples of support to our business school from a top professional, enjoying an international reputation...and former Solvay boy.

Graduated in 1983 with a Master in Business Engineering, it didn't take long before Stefan was holding different leadership roles (partly Strategy and M&A partly Operational) at ABInbev (Interbrew at the beginning), to be then successively Group CFO of Delhaize, CEO Europe of Delhaize, and today CEO of Nomad Foods, whilst in parallel holding Board memberships in Telenet, then at ABInbev for 11 years, and now at Verlinvest as the Chaiman.

With the willingness to "give back" and his great dedication to the School, Stefan, who remembers his own classes and the late Pierre Scohier, a great model as a business-professor, has always been keeping a place for Solvay within his career path over the last years, and we will always be grateful to him for this. He couldn't be a better example of the Solvay's formula: great academic foundations and a wonderful professional exposure.

The Strategy Seminar, à la Stefan Descheemaeker...

The format is clear and well established... Together with his assistants (both from the School!), Guillaume Dasnoy from Deminor first and since last year, Elie Melviez (one of his students in 2014), now manager at Bain & Company,

  • Stefan identifies each year one or two sectors and respectively, two key CEOs, or Chaimen/women of companies to be the final recipients of the work to be performed by the students.

  • Then, for each sector, a list of 4-5 competitors is defined, and each group of student is assigned to one of them.

  • Students receive a preparation and then are asked first to provide an analysis of “their” company, as sell side analysts. After some feedback and reworking, the second and final step is about making a recommendation on the future strategy of their company to a Board of Directors: 10 slides, maximum 2 strategic options, 1 recommendation. This Board is represented by the respective top executive invited, Stefan Descheemaeker and some invited guests from the entrepreneurial environment. 

  • The CEO or Chairman designated provides then his/her feedback to the group.

  • And then a debate is opened between the students and the Board. All external participants have so far been very happy with the work performed by the students and the ideas brought on the table.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword. Attracting more top executives to "play the game" each year lingers on the previous successes and value added. The strong involvement of Stefan and the feedback from the former guests has allowed so far an excellent attraction.

New Opportunities

The sanitary crisis has obviously brought some challenges to the organisation of the seminar. Nevertheless, the acceptance of online remote sessions by all stakeholders has opened wider opportunities, moving from predominantly Bel20 firms (or by taking advantage of CEOs/Chairmen-women visiting Brussels) and physical meetings Avenue Roosevelt to the “world” with Covid and virtual meetings with CEO’s in New York or anywhere else... It will indeed be the case in 2021 with a great CEO from a world leader in cosmetics...

One anecdote...

April 2015. Telecom exam/presentation day. The same day, Telenet is announcing the acquisition of Base. 30’ later, the students are required to review their recommendation based on this latest news... A bit of stress and a great moment...

With an impressive palette of firms and chairmen/women...

Needless to say that the track record of this course is impressive... It is very interesting also to see how Stefan uses the various opportunities to tackle also important questions of our time.

For example, how would the student generation of 2019 analyse the business of companies in the Tobacco and Alcohol industries? And what about the banking industry in 2020, ~10 years after the crisis, the challenge of digitalisation and the competition of the "new" banks?

You can find a quasi-exhaustive presentation of the track record of this seminar in the following subsections.

In 2015:

  • Beer industry: Carlos Brito (CEO of AB Inbev). Companies analysed: AB InBev, Heineken, SAB Miller, Carlsberg, Boston Beer.

  • Telecom: John Porter (CEO Telenet). Companies analysed: Telenet, Proximus, Mobistar, KPN, Altice.

In 2016:

  • Confectionary: Olivier Goudet (CEO JAB Holding). Companies analysed: Mondelez, Lindt, Barry Callebaut, Hershey’s.

  • Pharma: Jean-Christophe Tellier (CEO UCB). Companies analysed: UCB, GSK, Pfizer, Teva, Bayer.

In 2017:

  • Food retail: Frans Muller (CEO Ahold Delhaize). Companies analysed: Ahold Delhaize, Colruyt, Carrefour, Ocado, Kroger.

  • Industrials: Matthew Taylor (CEO Bekaert). Companies analysed: Bekaert, Umicore, Nexans, Lanxess, SKF.

In 2018:

  • Mail and Parcel delivery: Koen Van Gerven (CEO B-Post). Companies analysed: B-Post, Post NL, Deutsche Post, Royal Mail, Oesterreische Post.

  • Insurance: Bart Desmet (CEO Ageas). Companies analysed: Ageas, AXA, Allianz, Generali.

In 2019:

  • Tobacco: Marty Barrington (former CEO of Altria). Companies analysed: Altria, Phillip Morris International (PMI), Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco (BAT).

  • Spirits: Javier Ferran (Chairman of Diageo). Companies analysed: Brown Forman, Constellation, Pernod Ricard, Rémy Cointreau, Campari.

In 2020

  • Chemicals: Ilham Kadri (CEO Solvay). Companies analysed: Solvay, BASF, AKZO Nobel, Arkema, Evonik, DuPont Chemicals.

  • Banking: Johan Thijs (CEO KBC). Companies analysed: KBC, BNP Paribas, Société Générale, ING, Lending Club, Deutsche Bank.

Stefan, thank you wholeheartedly for what you have accomplished. You are a great asset to our school and I am sure some generations of students will remember you throughout their careers.


Some of the known public interviews of Stefan Descheemaeker:

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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Solvay Times

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