After completing his education as a commercial engineer at the management school HEC Liège, Christophe was recruited by Enjeu to market the stands for the first editions of the Initiatives Forum. He discovered working life and found enormous pleasure within this non-profit organisation directed by a true hedonist, Pierre Luthers. His new job required Christophe to be comfortable both with commercial prospecting and in managing all aspects of rolling out an event. Alongside his colleagues, he regularly rolled up his sleeves to carry out logistics tasks late into the night. With its range of necessary skills and its heavy workload, this position required him to develop a flexible and resilient character which was to be one of his major assets thereafter.
After a nine-month solo voyage in South America, he found himself back in the employment market. Pierre Neuray, president of the non-profit organisation Enjeu (his former employer) and director of the Liège Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI), called him to suggest joining his team as the membership manager. He accepted this position, which had arisen out of the blue, with enthusiasm and launched himself, for the first time, into a genuine professional life, deciding to engage the resources for building his future.
During his first year working at the Liège CCI, with prospecting proceeding at a booming rate, he recruited 380 members. His director was exultant, because he had been right in thinking that a rapid growth in membership was possible, even though all that the things offered by the CCI at this time could be written on half a page of A4.
Five years after Cristophe’s arrival, the number of members had quadrupled, bringing its total to 1500. This was the beginning of a new era for this CCI which had a workforce of less than 10 people.
The CCI had the wind in its sails and Christophe took advantage of this to create an event which would stick in the memory: the “Business Cards Meeting” (BCM). These were an almost immediate success and, at their peak, the meetings brought together more than 1000 participants seeking high quality professional contacts. In the context of the time, it was a mini revolution. Bringing together such a large number of participants, encouraging them to network and feeding them with shot-glass appetisers, for free or at a very reasonable price, and without any particular theme was a clear break from standard practices. Adopted by everyone, this new receptive structure was to become the standard. It was the start of “Walking Dinners” and drinks with finger food. There being one BCM every quarter, 55 were organised at 54 different venues, over a period of
When the BCM started to show the first signs of running out of steam, Christophe wanted to raise the tempo by providing an event of a completely new kind. Inspired by the emerging concept of speed dating, he created “Diners Carrousels” (Carousel dinners). The principle was extremely simple: a three course menu, with a change of table for each course, allowing participants to meet new guests. Organised at Standard Liège, their success was due in large part to the genius of a piece of computer software, developed in-house, allowing random attribution of tables to guests who were not mutual competitors. Dozens of sessions were organised before other Belgium and French CCIs appropriated the concept.
After several years incubation, the boards of directors of the Liège and Verviers CCIs approved the merger of these two centennial organisations. Often presented as squabbling sisters, they combined their fates to deal with the smallness of their respective markets, to rationalise duplication of employees and to increase their commercial potential. Excited by the prospects that were offered by this natural alliance between two major provincial towns, Christophe understood that the CCI had bridged a divide and that a major business opportunity was emerging. He launched the idea of structural sponsorship, which was very quickly assimilated by Equip Interim, who put up with the early problems of this novel Belgian formula and became the first official partner of the Liège-Verviers CCI.
The merger made the CCI more robust. Its programme of activities developed and the number of participants grew. Christophe was nevertheless worried about the threat that he saw of the assistance that it provided becoming engulfed by the ever increasing presence of salespeople. In order to overcome this risk, he designed an event exclusively reserved for company directors. Fifty sessions of ❴Entre’Preneurs❵ were thus organised at the largest and most prestigious companies in the province of Liège. Fuelled by highly creative communication campaigns, these exclusive events, intended to highlight the experience and spirit of big bosses, were to be devoted to this concept and propelled the CCI into a new orbit.
At the end of five years, the majority of the big bosses from the Liège province had had the honour of being given the spotlight and of having taken the rostrum at ❴Entre’Preneurs❵. Aware of the need to keep these events reserved for N°1s, Christophe conceived “Made In”, networking events intended to celebrate producers and manufacturers through a local approach. The municipalities of the provinces of Liège and Namur were given the spotlight at “Hyphen” evenings, bringing together local bosses and local authorities. Despite already holding 50 sessions, “Made In” continues and still attracts hundreds of directors to each of its gatherings.
Alongside creating concepts, Christophe continued the search for sponsors and convinced several high-calibre sponsors to take up the mantle of official partners. The success has been achieved and his address book is overflowing. A significant part of the CCI budget currently consists of budgets coming from sponsorship. This is a virtuous circle, because the more events and new products that it creates, the greater the interest in this dynamic CCI, which offers visibility and proximity to its partners.
Simultaneously, Christophe has gone through a prosperous period and, thanks to his fertile mind, he is fertilising the ground on which the CCI excels. Thus, in a space of 10 years, he has created concepts such as “Alter Ego”, “les rencontres éclairs” (clear encounters)”, “les grandes interviews de la CCI” (the major interviews of the CCI), “Business Owners Only”, the press review, “Les amis de mes amis” (friends of my friends), “S to XL”, conversation tables, members directories, “CCI N°1 Network”, the CCI App, "1+1=11", “Mens Sana in Corporate Sano”, etc.
In post for nearly 15 years at the CCI, it was thanks to the recommendations of an external consultant, Christian Paquay (Formalia), that Christophe joined the steering committee of the CCI. Christian sees him as a linch pin, a “rule breaker ”, indispensable to decision-making at the CCI. According to this consultant, Christophe is a creative strategist and is better able than others to anticipate major trends in the market and the opportunities which they represent. Alongside his visionary qualities, our man has an impressive capacity for work and a consequent network of relationships. His contribution within the steering committee was recognised and appreciated by his peers.
Philippe Stassen (Néobulles), a sponsor of the CCI and friend of Christophe, convinced him to opt for independent status. He was convinced that Christophe had the necessary qualities to fly solo and apply his creativity in the service of businesses. A double reason encouraged Christophe to listen to the proposal of “Ciderman”. In choosing this status, he would both be able to flourish outside of the CCI, bringing new concepts in other domains, as well as continuing his collaboration with the CCI which he considered in some ways to be his baby.
Enthused by this vision, he notified his employer who accepted the change without flinching, undoubtedly knowing that the decision had been taken and that opposing him would only precipitate his departure. It was therefore with confidence and eagerness that he created his eponymous company in July 2008. Several clients rapidly entrusted their projects to him, divided between training sales teams, drafting marketing leaflets, preparing keynote presentations, designing communication campaigns and specific tasks within various steering committees.
An administrator for several years at Enjeu, the non-profit organisation in which he had set out, Christophe considered how to influence the inexorable downward curve facing the “Forum des Entrepreneurs” business forum. Exhibitors and visitors were becoming scarcer and breaking point was fast approaching.
He made a clean break from the past, turning its back on the notion of exhibitions, and sharing the work between the CCI and Enjeu. The CCI dealt with sales, marketing and communication, while Enjeu was entirely responsible for logistic management. He created Meet’in Liège, which he defined as the greatest networking event in the Liège region, intended to promote business contacts and friendship among ‘neighbours’ around design stands integrated in a trendy decor. The principal was simple: everybody had the same stand, whatever the size of the company and whatever their resources. It was an immediate hit. From the first edition, the event was full and had more than 250 exhibitors. However it was during the third Liege edition that this event had its greatest success, when it was organised on the turf at Standard Liège, in the shade of the luxurious organic red-and-white tents. This gathering will remain in the memories of the 4000 participants who were present at this classic event.
Shortly after this fabulous event, Roland Duchâtelet and Bob Claes, president and commercial director respectively of Standard Liège, invited Christophe to lunch. During the course of this meal, the two leading men from the Sclessin club told him of the strong impression that the CCI had made on them by managing to mobilise decision-makers at such a high level. They wanted to check out the opportunities for more structural collaboration between their two organisations, although neither Bob nor Roland had any concrete plans. Christophe grasped this outstretched hand, because he knew that a decisive turning point in the history of the CCI was potentially being approached.
With a view to generating new sources of revenue, for several months Christophe had been nurturing a project to exploit an imposing business center positioning the CCI in a new market, closely related to its core businesses. The CCI already been considered by a number of observers as being the leader in extra muros networking, Christophe wanted it also to acquire this reputation for intra muros networking. The fact that the CCI did not have the necessary resources was delaying his plans.
He therefore shared his idea with the two men who, immediately, agreed the merits of this vision and expressed their interest in being closely associated with it.
While the exploratory meeting between the two parties was rather successful, the management policy of the club was widely disputed, causing Roland Duchâtelet to separate from his club.
The developments undertaken during the previous months would undoubtedly have fallen by the wayside if it had not been Bruno Venanzi who then bought the club. Close to the CCI and a fervent supporter of this idea, Bruno built and suggested a more ambitious project, which moreover conformed with the aspirations of the CCI. However the poor results of his first two seasons as the head of the club, combined with the ever more detailed redesign of the project, has slightly delayed the development of their targeted real estate.
For different reasons, the CCI and Enjeu broke off their collaboration, both being aware that it would not be easy to reorganise an edition of Meet in Liège of the former quality.
Having decided to pursue the organisation of a large annual event, it only required a few days for Christophe to reshuffle the cards and redefine the entire layout of a new event which he christened “Pop-Up”, in reference to the ephemeral nature of his new discovery.
With hindsight, he attempted to reconcile the irreconcilable and to match fundamentally contradictory imperatives, i.e. a stand at a very good price, by breaking with the usual models and the promise of a top of the range qualitative event. In other words, Pop-Up was an attempt to reconcile two diametrically opposed business models, forming a new paradigm that could be perfectly described by the oxymoron “Low cost Premium “.
To this strategic repositioning, he added a dimension that would be decisive in the success of this new event: scripting and themeing. In order to avoid each edition from resembling the previous one and to avoid the phenomena of premature fatigue, he created an ambience based on strong themeing, that was foreign in the business environment. Pop-Up therefore went through three adaptations and presented three completely different worlds: Safari, Valley and Speakeasy, arousing the excitement and delight of a public eager for novelty and discovery.
Christophe had been together for five years with Céline Léonard, the editor-in-chief of CCI Mag, when they decided to create a company together, intended to exploit the product of their combined skills. She is a journalist and copywriter where he is inventive and iconoclastic. They named their new company ICONOCLASH, in reference to their combined abilities to think outside the box, burn sacred cows and communicate differently. Even if they knew that it was only a myth, they shared the same vision of excellence and perfection at work. The expression of their passion can be found in the writing of press releases, articles for business journals, text for Internet sites, introductory brochures, fact sheets and sales brochures, as well as in the design of racy publicity campaigns, designs of new business models and the establishment of original and novel events.
Endorsed by a unanimous decision of its board, the CCI left Bierset and installed itself in new offices in 2016 in stand number three at Standard Liège, after the Twodesigners took care to design a veritable jewel perfectly incorporating the new way of working “NWOW”
This was at the same time as Christophe accepted the commercial proposition made to him by the club for the location of a lodge with 14 places. Christophe knew that, provided it was scripted to provide a unique character, it would be a fabulous tool for the development of sponsorship and the enhancement of his book of contacts. He was delighted to see that his ideas were rapidly proven. Captains of industry, politicians, former athletes and journalists queued up and, in just half a season, he managed to recruit three new official partners and to put together important contacts for the development of other projects underway at the CCI.
It was through the inspiration of the successes of his personal experience that Christophe launched Mens Sana in Corporate Sano. Supported by the dynamics of the relocation of the CCI to Standard Liège, he wished to instil the culture of sport and healthy eating into the ranks of the CCI. A large majority of the staff adopted the idea of following a dedicated dietary programs and engaging in sporting activities twice per week. He experimented with the formula internally for six months, before marketing it to other companies. The press were the first to show an interest in this innovative concept, devoting many reports to it. This was followed by companies who, having been alerted by the media response, adopted this novel formula intended to increase the well-being of workers and bring about resultant productivity growth.
His freelance job fulfils and nourishes this man who is always driven in the pursuit of novelty and new challenges. Therefore, after having explored, designed, produced, found the financial means, and implemented dozens of projects on behalf of third parties, Christophe has been driven by the desire to develop a personal project, belonging to him and Céline alone. He wants to have full control of its concept and to reap the benefits if his intuition is confirmed. He has therefore created a publishing house for premium digital portfolios and has started by publishing his own opus with the aim of demonstrating the concept and providing a tangible example of his creation. He believes in this luxurious product for enhancing the image of personalities who wish to promote their personal brand and to control their image on the web. Because, constructed in the manner of a beautiful book, the IconoBooks help their owners to communicate to others, with elegance and refinement, just what it is that makes them unique. More prosaically, Christophe describes them as the synthesis of the Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Pinterest profiles of a given individual who has decided to make his communication more aesthetic from all points of view. Excited by the prospect of this new personal challenge, he hopes to sign up several big names in the first month, before gaining the trust of an audience that he believes to consist of company bosses, athletes, artists and media personalities.