Damien Tourailles No Comments

Commencement speech UBI, Wiltz, graduation ceremony 27 June 2018 & Award for the best professor of the academic year 2017-2018

Dear All,

Imagine the drawing of a banana by an unknown artist, now imagine the drawing of a banana by Andy Warhol. The latter is going to attract a much higher price than the former.  It is a matter of branding, personal branding.

The origin of a brand is to be recognised, to be seen as different, think about Versace. A brand is a promise, think about the ads of Swiss. A brand can be associated with dreams, Channel? A brand can be associated with wealth. One does not purchase a Cartier watch to know the time. A brand can also be associated with a colour, the City blue and with a slogan, “Vorsprung durch Technik”. However, the issue of a brand is its essence, the hard work behind the screens. Think about the technology behind the screen of IKEA.

Better than brands are premium brands. Think about the “New Mini”. The car has grown in the mind of marketeers, realising that there might be a nostalgia for the Mini of the sixties. For a billion-dollar project the question was: “do we have about one hundred fifty thousand nostalgic potential customers?”  At the time of the launching of the New Mini the profile was a person between fifty-five and sixty years old, willing to pay for a premium car, as a second or third car. The answer was positive. Since then the profile has changes and is now closer to thirty years old, responding to a need of differentiation, personalisation and a niche market. When entering a showroom of Mini, you will see a normal Mini but will be attracted by the differentiation and the augmented product. It is the augmented product, different wheels, different seats, different colours that are going to attract the attention and the willingness to pay a premium.

As you enter a lifelong learning journey think about the lesson of the augmented product, the premium brand. It is what you are going to add to your diploma, your additional skills, what we call the soft skills, and what I would call the core skills that are going to make a difference. You will no longer be different but better than competition. There are a lot of things you can do for yourself, such as speed reading, negotiation skills, selling skills, time management, listening better, avoiding multitasking, and so on.

My message is, improve on your premium brand, become a “lovemark”. This term was introduced by Saatchi and Saatchi and covers products where customers are no longer customers but disciples and the ambassadors of the brand.

Translated to you, it means work on your likeability. The “likeability factor” translated to us comprehends authenticity and empathy. Empathy is not natural, sympathy. Empathy requires this effort to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. It requires an effort, contributing to the perception of the persons around you.

Finally, let me wish you luck. I know that people think that you make your own luck but this is only partially true. In the highly competitive market place you need at time these serendipity moments where you are just in the right position at the right time and pieces fall nicely together. Your skills will contribute to this likelihood. Good luck to all of you and stay in touch.

Roger Claessens No Comments

Become a personal love mark

Most readers will be familiar with notion of branding, maybe less so with the notion of love marks. The term was used some years ago by Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the best known advertising companies on the planet. Read more

Roger Claessens No Comments

Financial Markets’ Future Framework

Whereas the goal of MIFID I was predominantly to protect the consumers, at the one hand, and the professionals at the other hand, in case consumers overruled their advice, the second set of directives, aims at the full integration of the financial markets and create a workable market transparency. Furthermore, the directive aims at avoiding a systemic collapse as almost encountered following of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Read more

Roger Claessens No Comments

The likeability factor (continued)

You will remember from my last article that “Fourth Impact” attracted my attention in the competition of the X Factor UK. I was surprised and disappointed that they had to leave the competition reaching the fourth place after the semi-finals. Later it appeared that they had never really be in the top three favourites throughout the competition with the British public. They had by far the largest viewers on YouTube with a broad fan base in the tune of million likes. However it appears that it is not possible to vote for the candidates outside the UK for the X Factor UK. Read more

Roger Claessens No Comments


Have fun in remembering things!

We distinguish three stages in memorisation: the sensitive memory, the short term memory and the long term memory.

Your sensory memory consists of a brief and temporary memory, which is a recognition of what the senses take in. For example, you discover an unknown fruit in the supermarket, its shape, colour, odour and you go on with your life without really remembering it.

Your short term memory has a capacity to retain a limited number of items for a limited period. For example, you pay more attention to the fruit we just mentioned, studied its texture, its taste but you will forget its name after all.

Your long term memory in opposition to the two others has a queasy unlimited capacity to retain information and on top of it, for a very long time.
Remembering consists of going from your short memory to your long memory. This requires a double action :

  1. Encoding which requires attention and association
  2. Retrieval which requires recalling and recognition.

Consequently, memorisation requires:

  • Encoding with attention.
  • Classifying and structuring of the information.
  • Establishing a link of association.
  • Establishing a code of retrieval.
  • An undivided attention.
  • A conscious effort of repetition.
  • Reading dynamics (fast reading with utter attention).

Why do you forget things?

  1. The information never got into your long term memory in the first place.
  2. No association when you decided to remember.
  3. No trigger that allows you to retrieve the information.
  4. No recent retrieval.

What is the name again of that charming actress playing in “Serendipity” (Un Amour à New York)? : “ KB” like the bank ( KB is the association; her name is Kate Beckinsale)

How will your remember things?

  • When you pay attention (say that to your kids!)
  • When you believe in the fact you can remember everything you want
  • When you are in good health and relaxed
  • When you enjoy a sustained activity

Just believe in yourself and enjoy a great memory; you will impress everyone around you!

Roger Claessens No Comments

Et pourquoi pas ?

As you may have noticed my articles are mostly related to marketing, more specifically branding, economics and banking. All rules have exceptions, and this article is one. I have always thought that after six books on finance and marketing it would be nice to write a story in the banking environment playing on the concepts that I have so often explained. The background would be some dark money laundering scheme in a central bank and I leave the rest to your imagination but it would of course contain a love story, to say the least.

Well, I have been beaten by my elder daughter Geraldine, 33, a civil engineer with an MBA, who just published her first story about adventure and love. Despite her professional responsibilities and being a young mother and commuting day in day out, she succeeded in doing so. The interesting side of the story is that she did it with a good friend of hers. Each wrote a chapter in sequence, continuing each other’s part of the story. They are friends since childhood and must be really good friends to flow like that from chapter to chapter.

They have chosen an author’s name MARIE DIVONE and the story told by the author(s) is about Maxime who inherited a jewel with a strange inscription which leads him to the other side of the planet, where he will meet Sharifa. Their lives and dreams will become intertwined and…

More about this at www.shopmybooks.com

Roger Claessens No Comments

Leadership versus the perfect robot manager

A few years ago, students at UBI (United Business Institute in Brussels) where given the choice between a course on leadership or entrepreneurship. Almost all of them choose leadership. This confirmed our perception that people remain fascinated by the alpha-wolf. As we all know the wealth of a nation is its entrepreneurs but history is made by leaders, good or bad. Whatever, leaders exercise a sort of fascination. The recent American series, “The house of cards” is about an alpha pair. Alphas my achieve their status by means of strength or aggression or through social efforts and building alliances within a given group.

There are mainly two classical discussions related to the subject. Are human leaders born that way or can people be trained to become leaders? If so, will they be as efficient? The second question is the difference between leaders and managers. The Harvard Business Review Magazine for which I have been a subscriber for decades has covered that issue so often. Likewise numerous issues have covered leadership, if not even more.
Let us first look at the second question, which is the easiest one to answer and for which I refer to numerous articles. In a nutshell, a manager’s goal is to have things done based on the leader’s vision about what needs to be done. I recently read in INTERNET what the perfect robot manager would be like? Unfortunately I did not record the exact source. “It would arguably be objective, transparent, unselfish, and apolitical. Because of this, it would assign the right task to every person and reward unselfish team behaviours, creating a culture of trust and keeping morale high. It would monitor individual and team performance with the precision of the best quantified-self app, and provide real-time feedback to boost everybody’s productivity. Undoubtedly, it would operate according to data rather than intuition and make only evidence-based recommendations. In short, the perfect robot manager would be utterly predictable – and completely boring”. It is a funny vision and is not for tomorrow.

Let us focus on the first question related to leadership. According to Jack Welch in his book with a great title “Winning” 1 he mentions the eight points of what leaders do. I quote him:

  1. They relentlessly upgrade their team
  2. The live and breathe their vision
  3. They exude positive energy and optimism
  4. They establish trust and transparency
  5. They have the courage to take unpopular decisions
  6. They probe and push with curiosity
  7. They set the example
  8. They celebrate

I want to underline some key words, which one does not immediately relate to leadership, such as: upgrading, trust, transparency, courage and example. It is so much more that the alpha character. This can be learned and practiced. It is often a matter of exposure, training and attitude. It is not necessarily inborn.

Leaders are decision makers. It seldom a matter of intuition but the examination of every alternative. They wonder if previous decisions are still applicable, make decision for the short time but with the long term in mind, are not afraid of changing decisions if need be. Above all the consider the implications of each decision. They wonder what can go wrong and analyse possible outcomes. This is all base on a balance between intuition and logic, the use of the two systems as described by Kahneman 2. They sense when a decision has a large element of chance in them. They are not afraid of challenging the company’s culture if need be whilst they are not afraid of delegating a maximum to think and prepare for alternatives. Furthermore, when it proves that they have taken a wrong decision, they take fast action and last but not least, they never postpone vital decision.

Of all this what is inborn and what can be acquired? Hard work! Leaders are not necessarily the people who are flashy, and who fascinate one way or the other. Outstanding leaders are not the people who self-promote and take credit for others’ achievements, or have mastered the art of politics and upward career management. Outstanding leaders are probably not born not unlike Olympic athletes. Gold winning athletes are the result of hard, very hard work and numerous sacrifices. Great artists follow the same pattern, great leaders as well. It is a matter of attitude enabling to take a helicopter view when needed, adapt, control, understand, and cultivate confidence and collaboration. If you want to be a leader you may wish to start with leading yourself.

I do not know if our students were aware of this all but they would certainly agree with point eight of Jack Welch’s list!

  1. « Winning » by Jack and Suzy Welch, Harper Collins, 2005
  2. « Thinking fast and slow », Daniel Kahneman, Allen Lane, 2011
Roger Claessens No Comments

The like-ability factor

You may know the life-shows, where candidates walk from the backstage to the front stage in a few seconds….and we have “that impression”…, very often a lasting impression. Why are some candidates or some groups particularly like-able? Like-ability, like many concepts, is quite difficult to define but we, sort of, all know what it means.

Have a look at the X –Factor UK 2015, the girl group called the “Fourth Power”. It is magic, like one soul that would have chosen four different bodies to be on this planet. The first audition is worth noticing but even more so the six seat challenge. One of the judges, Rita Ora, called it “perfection”. As a professional trainer, I love that word! What could be better than perfection? Simon Cowell, the ultimate referee called the performance, “amazing” and the future mentor of the group throughout the competition, Cheryl Cole, now Cheryl Fernandez-Versini called the group’s performance: “phenomenal” whilst adding: “You and I together can create magic”. Another one of my preferred words.

What makes these singers so likeable? I have not all the answers yet and promise to revert but, for sure, I have the conviction that they worked hard, very hard on it. They form like one personality. They are hug-able. There is something about them. There is a personal good factor there, emotions, cool, natural, joyous. They provoke a smile on the faces of the judges and the shouting of the crowd when they appear. They are powerful, dancing, charming and singing of course. I almost forgot that they are singing!

I took them as an example for a like-ability factor. In case you might wish to check what I just wrote, have a look on YouTube, the X Factor UK 2015. But this is not just about them. Quite a few participants have this, like my other favourite, the seventeen year old Louisa Johnson. Simon Cowell told her: “You are seventeen and singing like that; that is not possible!” In an interview he qualified her as the likely winner of the 2015 competition. The odds are certainly in her favour unless the like-ability factor plays in favour of Cheryl with her strong brand and her singers, the Fourth Power. As a matter of fact, Louisa has also this amazing like-ability. She is a teenager looking like the flower people of the sixties. Long hair, smile, determined, emotions and cool.

One of my preferred colleagues specialised in appearance, the way to be dressed, presentation and all the factors which improve the perception of who you are and ultimately shape you and allow you to be different. In my courses on branding I always announce the aim of branding to be seen as different and, if possible, better than the others. However, like-ability is more, it is more emotion loaded. It goes deeper than branding which is often visual and verbal. Here we talk about what happens with substance, hard work, deep believes and just being the way you are at your best, no, at your very best. Getting close to perfection is certainly part of this like-ability linked with this amazing charm which makes you want to see these people over and over again. You know: this repeat button!

Roger Claessens No Comments

The first seconds of the Decision Making process & and predicting a divorce

The book by Malcolm Gladwell with the title “Blink”, Back Bay Books, 2005 covers the “Decision Making process” during the first TWO SECONDS of the decision making process! This corresponds to the system 1 of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning author. See our previous blog on Decision Making.

Both authors complement each other. Actually Mr. Kahneman refers to Blink in his well know book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Blink is about intuition and as stated by D. Kahneman, depends on frequent exposure to a known environment. Is it about “just knowing”! Blink is not about instinct which is part of the characteristics of living beings on this planet. It covers the result of knowledge, experience or extreme professionalism in a given field. This is even truer in times of stress.

blinkTo quote the author, “We really only trust conscious decision making. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. My aim is to demonstrate that decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” Consequently, the issue is summarised in the following question: “When should we trust our instincts, and when should we be warry of them?” And I would add, particularly when stressed! The author underlines that there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.

The book provides interesting examples such as the fake ancient Greek statue, the measurement of the sweat glands of players under stress and an unforgettable example of Mr. Gottman who observed thousands of married couples and after one hour of observation of a husband and wife talking, he could predict with, 95%, yes ninety five percent, accuracy whether that couple will still be married fifteen years later. If he watched a couple fifteen minutes, this success rate was about 90%. In fact three minutes proved to be sufficient. His research was based on what he calls “thin slicing” which refers to the ability of our conscious to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience. According to the author, “thin-slicing” is part of what makes the unconscious so dazzling. Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. In this case it is an observation of the same pattern over and over again. Predicting divorce is like tracking a Morse code operators, it is a pattern recognition.

“When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious is doing what John Gottman does. It’s sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is relevant while – we zero in on what really matters – And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point that thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking”.

Another interesting example and observation is speed –dating. “It is the distillation of dating to a simple snap judgment. It is finding the answer to a very simple question – do I want to see this person again? – To answer this question there is no need for an entire evening”. This brings me to the likeability factor which I so often observe in competitions such as the X-Factor. In fractions of seconds we have a feel for the contestant. Questions and answers will often confirm this first impression and set the level of the expected performance.

Rightly so the author underlines the dark side of thin-slicing. Indeed, “What happens if that rapid chain in thinking gets interrupted somehow? What if we reach a snap judgement without ever getting below the surface? Part of what it means to take thin-slicing and first impressions seriously is accepting the fact that sometimes we can know more about someone or something in the blink of an eye than we can after months of study. But we also have to acknowledge and understand those circumstances when rapid recognition leads us astray”. Further to this, the author states that we make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us. Research shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values.

Let us revert to stress. A study mentioned by the author shows that when people make decisions under pressure, such as nurses, intensive care unit personnel, firefighters, they do not logically and systematically compare all available options. That is the way people are taught to make decision, but in real life it is much too slow. These people size up the situation almost immediately and act, drawing on experience and intuition and a kind of rough mental simulation. Let me underline the key word, i. e. experience. “How good people’s decisions are under the fast moving, high-stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal”.

Let me finish with what the author says about information. Often you need to know very little to find the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon. Often, the extra information is more than useless. It can be harmful. It can confuse the issue. It can overwhelm

The author concludes, not unlike Mr. Kahneman, that there two important lessons from the research on decision making. The first is that truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. Deliberate thinking is a wonderful tool when we have the luxury of time, the help of a computer and so on. The second lesson is that in good decision making frugality matters.

Roger Claessens No Comments

Corporate Governance

This article is based on the highlights of “The Belgian Code on Corporate Governance”, elaborated by various economic associations, the central bank and the supervisory authorities in Belgium in 2009. The original code from this workgroup dates back to 2004 but was revised after the much publicised financial crisis. I could have inspired myself from other countries but Belgium had a special reason to review the code as its largest bank was in dire straits. As a Belgian national I spent quite a bit of evenings defending the financial majors in my country of origin and hopefully convinced the audience that the future might be brighter in the case the professionals would adhere more strictly to a code of conduct. I had the pleasure to defend this in a TEDx presentation for UBI Wiltz in Luxembourg.

Crisis have shown that a code is not a luxury but should be at the fundamentals of economic activities in all sectors of the economy, obviously not just the financial sector. The list of organisations that have come in the news for non-respect of laws, rules and regulations is, sadly so, far too long and consists of prime names of both the financial and non-financial industries. Fines have been significant but worst of all trust has been damaged. Some sectors really suffer a branding image issue, to name just one sector, the financial sector.

Most of the readers will be familiar with the anti-money laundering regulations (AML) but this is just a small part of a bigger issue as shown below.

Corporate Governance

The anti-money laundering regulations or AML/KYC (know your customer) as it is often referred to fits into the compliance obligations which covers, amongst others more particularly insider trading, market manipulation, preservation of information and so forth,….These obligations, in turn, fit into what we refer to as governance and in turn governance is part of the broader responsibility or corporate responsibility.

Governance is about core values, it implies words such as ethics, corporate culture, policy and charter, teamwork, integrity, principles, accountability, customer focus, code of conduct, and you name it. It is a top down responsibility and resulting strategy. Unlike compliance, which should be regarded as everyone’s responsibility, governance is a top-down responsibility. It starts at the highest level of a corporation and influences the way the mission is translated into the reality. Corporate governance will be translated into a mission statement, a policy and a charter. Its aim is to assure a correct management and control of an organisation, based on laws and rules and appropriate behaviour of management and staff. It is a matter of “culture”.

The nine principles of corporate governance


The company shall adopt a clear governance structure.


The company shall have an effective and efficient board that takes decisions in the corporate interest.


All directors shall demonstrate integrity and commitment.


The company shall have a rigorous and transparent procedure for the appointment and evaluation of the board and its members.


The board shall set up specialised committees.


The company shall define a clear executive management structure.


The company shall remunerate directors and executive managers fairly and responsibly.


The company shall enter into a dialogue with shareholders and potential shareholders based on a mutual understanding of objectives and concerns.


The company shall ensure adequate disclosure or its corporate governance.

Respecting above principles require managers with a sense of integrity, involvement, honour, experience, expertise, responsibility and objectivity. It starts with the qualities of the board members and the executives of an organisation. It translates into a code. It reflects who we are as individuals and when working in a corporation as members and ambassadors of a group of people aiming at reaching the common goal. It is the basis for corporate social responsibility, i.e. all the people who have an interest in our existence. Ultimately it is relevant for your future and your job. It can do more for you than you might think at first glance.

The full document is available on www.corporategovernancecommittee.be.