Growth plan: Vlerick helped Daan De Wever gain a rounded understanding of running a company © Wiktor Dabkowski
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Many entrepreneurs start young but Daan De Wever launched his first company, Belgian Network Solutions, a data provider for businesses, at 21 — with his 16-year-old brother, Samuel. This was followed by Destiny, a cloud-based company that the pair set up in 2008, which aims to bridge the gap between traditional telecommunications companies and the newer wave of cloud services.

Destiny is a fast-growing enterprise offering telephone and network services and targeting small and medium-sized business customers.

The company now has offices in the brothers’ native Belgium and in the Netherlands. “We have grown from zero euros in 2008 to this year [when] we will do €50m revenue,” says De Wever, now 37.

“We have the ambition to grow much bigger, and understand what it means to be a leader in a growing company.” He learnt that, he says, by attending the executive development course at Belgium’s Vlerick Business School.

The programme focuses on leadership, business acumen and strategic thinking, and the structure suited De Wever’s busy schedule. “You always go for two days out of your professional environment — there is always a top speaker . . . the point is that we don’t have time to read book after book on management.”

Vlerick uses a modular approach in its executive development programme, which has been running since 1989 and is offered at all of Vlerick’s campuses in Belgium — Brussels, Ghent and Leuven. The core year-long course comprises four residential modules, each of three consecutive days, plus between six and nine days of electives.

The programme offered what De Wever was looking for, in terms of delivering essential information in short, manageable chunks. “They give you the tools to make it all tangible, you have access to new ways of working, for example in HR, and you can bring that back to your company. That’s something we are always trying to do.”

His motivation in taking the course was finding new ways to lead his company in scaling up its business. “You really learn to [set] objectives and make a road map for growth,” he says.

De Wever took the executive development programme in 2009, when Destiny was a start-up part-built on the assets of a company that had been in bankruptcy. The founder decided “it was important for me to do some personal development” to gain a deeper understanding of every aspects of running a company. “That first [course] I did at Vlerick was the middle-manager programme, and I think I was the youngest-ever participant at that stage.”

During the early years of Destiny, a chief executive was hired from outside, then in 2015 De Wever stepped up to take on the role himself.

The following year, he returned to Vlerick and joined its iGMO group (Growth Management for Medium-sized Enterprises). This three-year invitation-only programme is focused entirely on inspiration and networking for entrepreneurs from companies with 50-1,000 employees, and is based at Vlerick’s Impulse Centre, under the leadership of the school’s professor of management practice, Hans Crijns. Each year’s cohort in the iGMO has only about 20 members, so they can easily share ideas and research.

De Wever cites the importance of this community of fellow business leaders with similar experiences that he has met through Vlerick. “All the participants in the course are from fast-growing companies.” After the three years are up, members can stay in touch and come back to Vlerick for events as part of its “Academy” — the iGMO alumni network. “That gives it huge value,” De Wever says. “They really make it a community.”

Particularly encouraging are the visits by successful chief executives and owners of once-small companies, who come to talk to the participants. “That gives a lot of inspiration,” says De Wever.

Jargon buster: lost in the cloud

Everything, nowadays, is in the cloud. Companies offer “ cloud-based solutions ” — although we may be hazy about what the problems might be.

What we can all agree on is that the cloud is the place where our online data are stored. The big question remains: where is the cloud? It is, in short, both somewhere and nowhere.

Back when all of us who belong to Generation X had dial-up modems, we could perceive the internet as a physical thing — the modem box, the wires and, perhaps, the giant servers powering the web in warehouses in out-of-the-way places. It was clear that these were the heirs to the giant mainframes of the 1960s. Those places still exist. Data still live there — that is the cloud. It is a vast number of different sorts of servers.

When companies offer a “cloud-based” business, they are talking about harnessing the power of servers. Buying cloud services means business managers do not have to run their own servers and data storage operations.

But the cloud, as far as our everyday lives are concerned, is also a place in the sky, the nebulous, remote does-what-it-says-on-the-tin. When we post to Facebook or Instagram, our data shoots off to be stored into the cloud.

Talking about The Cloud makes it sound cuddly and safe. But is it? Will we be told if our data are hacked? And where exactly is our stuff being stored? The bigger cloud computing becomes, the more questions arise.

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