What do you do?
I'm Managing Partner at KPMG Luxembourg.
How did you get where you are now?
I studied Economics for four years at Strasbourg University. I started with KPMG back in 1991 as an auditor and wanted to become a “reviseur d'entreprise”. I then switched to the tax department and spent some years as a tax advisor, while also starting to get involved in work with KPMG’s international network. I was, and still am, a part of the global banking team and now also chair the European Investment Management Tax Network.
To get to where I am now, I think it was a lot about being enthusiastic and having a passion for what you're doing. It's about hard work and perseverance through the difficult times. You also need to be lucky, to be in the right place at the right time.
What are the most important skills and qualities for a successful business leader?
I believe it's always listening, always sensing situations. It's about being open to new developments and understanding complex situations.
A leader has to be trustworthy. It's my belief that you have to look for win-win situations; then you're successful. I also believe that you have to help others to progress, to be a vector for them and a multiplier.
You have to try to get a feeling for what the world will be like in three years, to consider whether the decisions you’re making now will still be valid then. It’s not a matter of changing everything, but we have to be open to change: it’s not enough to focus on the present and what you have.
Being a successful business leader, it's not about yourself; it's about others around you. If you help everyone to be successful, you will be successful yourself.
How do you assess the current economic situation in Luxembourg?
I think we’re in a critical situation for the simple reason that we've not managed to start dealing with our issues over the last four years. We've been in a state of crisis since 2008. Our main problem is that we are not prepared to recognise that this crisis is of a structural nature. Just waiting for the storm to pass and expecting the sun is not a remedy. We must start to recognise that change is needed. The longer we wait the more dramatic the required change will be.
Most of our leaders don't want to face the reality of the situation; people hear no clear cut message. Some say it is not as bad as it seems. Management by truth is one of my creeds. Don’t start thinking up 100 excuses why something doesn’t work. Assess and accept the situation, however bad it is, and concentrate on what needs to be done to change it.
The other thing is we don't want to listen to what the world's telling us. We’re trying to continue sitting on our own little island and believe we can stay on that island. The outlook will be slightly different in the years going forward. We have tried this for the last four years and it did not work.
What are your expectations and hopes for the Luxembourg economy in the next 12 months?
It's going to be a difficult 24 months ahead of us. I believe this may be more difficult than anything I've seen in Luxembourg because for the very first time we would have to go backwards to take a better jump forward. If you look at the last 20 years, that never happened. It was always just growth: more and better.
I hope that we don't run into a big recession. I also hope that we don't have to wait for the next elections before our government starts moving again. It's always a danger that the government in office won't start to deal openly with issues when an election is coming.
If you could change one law in Luxembourg, what would it be?
I wish that the law on our pensions system could be seriously restructured. We have to acknowledge that we operate a Ponzi scheme when it comes to pensions. It will only continue to operate if we generate an annual growth of 3 percent and employment grows by 1.5 percent. Some people say that we achieved more in the past, so what is the problem. The problem lies in the fact that the Western world has lost influence when it comes to global economic development. Asian and Latin America will be the growth areas in the next 50 years. The OECD forecasts an average growth of 1.8 percent from 2011 to 2030 and since 2008, we are not longer on track.
We're condemned to always being successful. If we had switched to a savings system or partial savings system, with payouts in line with contributions paid, we wouldn't have that mortgage on future generations. According to a study conducted by independent German experts on all EU countries, Luxembourg’s current social security system will lead to a 3 percent Maastricht deficit by 2016 and to a cumulative deficit of 60 percent of GDP.
What's your pet peeve?
People who don't cooperate. I'm convinced that the most successful framework is team work. I'm a strong believer that 1+1 makes 3. I acknowledge some people are lost or less good in teams. But, once they've found their place, I genuinely believe that they can do their jobs well.
From time to time, I see people who simply don't want to be part of something. They want to stay on their own. For me it's maybe a bit self-centered. It means they don't want to help others or accept being helped. This drives me a bit crazy because life would be much easier for all concerned if we just worked together.
What do you like most and least about Luxembourg?
What I like about Luxembourg is its ruthless international character. I like all these people coming from all over the world. I'm always touched when I go on an economic mission and see so many people with foreign passports selling Luxembourg. It must be crazy if you're Irish, for example, to find yourself selling Luxembourg.
I also like the fact that it's the capital of a European country, meaning there are a lot of social and cultural experiences on offer compared to other cities of a similar size. But we don't have the disadvantages of a big city, meaning huge traffic jams, concerns over safety and so on.
What I dislike is a certain lack of accountability amongst natives, those who are actually born here and don’t historically come from abroad. They should have more lucidity regarding the current situation, however they are a little bit self sufficient and don't want to call themselves into question. While they could take advantage of all these international characters and inputs, they are a bit like turtles, burying their heads in the sand, saying “what I don't want to hear, I won't hear” and “I do not want to change.”
How do you unwind?
I unwind doing sports: mainly jogging. It's not because I like it, it's the only sport that can be organized easily given my agenda. I don't need an entire team.
My favourite sport is football and I support my son's team. My family helps me to unwind. It's important for me to spend as much of the weekend as possible with them if I'm not travelling. Something I used to do more was playing the guitar. I used to play jazz, but now it's mainly blues or rock.
What's your ringtone?
I don't have a fancy ring tone; however, I believe that we're going to see a lot of changes in the way that we're working and living with regards to gadgets.
I believe that in the workplace of the future we will work on tablets connected to a server. I no longer believe in fixed stations or laptops. At the end of the day, they are too big and too unfriendly.
What does your desk say about you?
My desk says that I want to do more than I can. It means there's more paper then I can potentially digest but that's also true for my digital desk.
I'm always interested in everything. I hold onto documents and papers that I want to read. It helps that we're going more digital so most of these piles are sitting in my computer right now. The other thing is that you will find bits and pieces from my children, for father's day. Lastly, I always have a bottle of wine in my office in case we have something to celebrate.
Published on Wort.lu (22.01.13)