Marie Gemma Dequae

Marie Gemma Dequae

Marie-Gemma Dequae was President of BELRIM from 1994 to 2005 and President of FERMA from 2005 to 2009. She describes her career.

The first girl of six children in a Flemish family, Marie’s first dream was to become a diplomat, but her gifts were even more mathematical and so her studies turned in a quantitative direction. She went to KUL (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) to study economics. “In my time girls were allowed to study, but were not expected to work afterwards and had to become family managers! My father allowed me only one year of study if I did not succeed. It just made me study harder and I got a higher degree which meant I could continue my studies.”

After taking her master’s in applied economics, Marie married and moved to Ghent, where she started working at what was the Vlerick center. In two years, she and her doctor husband had two lovely daughters and she cut down to part time work as a systems analyst. The family moved again when her husband started his career at Kortrijk hospital. Another daughter arrived. Marie agreed to stop work and become a family manager, but after a year she renegotiated and became an assistant at KUL- campus Kortrijk in the faculty of Law, while starting a PhD in finance in Leuven. A little boy arrived. Marie obtained her PhD, the first woman to do so at the Faculty of Applied Economics of KUL.

A leap from academia
After some years of teaching and academic work, Marie decided she needed new challenges. In 1985, she joined the advanced metal transformation and coatings group Bekaert in what was a small insurance department with the goal of extending it into a global approach and to bring in risk management. To update her legal and insurance knowledge, she went back to study part time for two years.

Bekaert was growing rapidly and internationally, and needed the right insurances which were not so easily found at that time. Marie says she started listening to the outside world, insurers, brokers, and her professors at UCL (Université Catholique de Louvain), and she joined BELRIM.

She explained: “A first step was to build global insurance policies at the broadest possible level. Therefore, I not only needed to convince top management internally but also sometimes build new solutions with insurers. The first ones (transport and property) were the easiest as they realised a big cost reduction and extension of coverage. Top management is very interested in these cost reductions, and financial translation of your risk solutions and evolutions. But I also convinced them to use some of these cost reductions to build a risk control system in these risks and start risk management.”

The global cost of risk for Bekaert had to be kept under control and therefore the company started its own reinsurance company. “A lot had to be changed to build further the real risk management with an easy organisational structure and simple internal and external communication lines, and it could only be realised after convincing top management. This important communication process was built on ‘facts and figures’ so several risk management databases were built and successfully used to convince managers and create change.”

Since corporate strategies (process management, process re-engineering, out- and insourcing, and so on) are continually changing, so risk management has to capture these and be integrated within the broader strategic framework. In a changing world Marie also was involved in all M&A and divestments from the start of the projects.

Risk management had to move up in rank. She became group risk manager and a member of the finance committee reporting to the CFO functionally and to the CEO on risks.

“Success in risk management is linked to staying flexible, dealing with different cultures and the needs of different business segments,” says Marie. “Communication is key. This has to be adapted to the situation and the type of person internally. Good external communication with industry partners is also key to get the right product and the right service at the right time. That is why I always have been active in the risk management associations BELRIM and FERMA.”

The third phase
Marie left Bekaert at the formal retiring age. Arriving at what she calls the third phase of her working life, she had the opportunity to work at Vlerick business school and promote risk management research in different departments. Soon she was also involved in practical project management at FERMA.

In 2012 Marie became a board member at Belfius Bank and Belfius Insurance. Other board memberships at Vinçotte and Partena keep her quite active and she teaches at a business school in Paris and assists MBA students in their professional projects. “This gives me the opportunity to coach young people and transmit my love for risk management. And I hope I will have a lot of time to continue coaching young managers!”

Everyone’s career is different, says Marie: “You have to consider where you come from, where you are and where you want to be in 5 to 10 years’ time. Don’t look only inside your existing work environment, but into the broader world. There are lots of opportunities out there!”

Here are her tips:

  • Tip1: Consider developing your knowledge when you have a young family. I was able to build my family during a more fundamental period of study, which was easier to combine.
  • Tip 2: When you do not see the results of your investment (mine was as a full time professor), reflect, evaluate, look at all alternatives and do not be afraid of taking strong decisions.
  • Tip 3: Do not focus on the past, do not complain, but look at the broad future.
  • Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to take drastic decisions in your career, but be ready to take the consequences.
  • Tip 5: Training and continuous development are and remain very important, together with building a good international, broad and diverse network.
  • Tip 6: Listen to your colleagues (all over the world), take the time needed to discuss proposed solutions and find win-win solutions. Some projects take time, but be patient and persist.
  • Tip 7: Find simple solutions and good internal co-operation.
  • Tip 8: Bring people together, work in a team and lead, as the risk management process is really team based and the further the process is realised the more collaboration is needed.
  • Tip 9: Be aware of what is changing in your company and convince your bosses of the need of right involvement and place of risk management.
  • Tip 10: Exchange of views between colleagues and partners is crucial to grow in risk management and has to be organised, so membership of associations is of utmost importance and has to be positively valued by your company. Sometimes some convincing is needed.