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.
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.
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.
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”