ARTICLE LVD DISCOVERY MAGAZINE 2021
CHOOSING THEIR OWN PATHS
As young children, Michèle, Sylvain and Sébastien walked through the LVD factory, hearing their fathers speak about the various machines. Each attended trade fairs and completed internships at LVD Company or abroad. Another common denominator: They decided to gain experience in other organisations before joining the family business.
In 1992, the early days of LVD's second generation: Carl Dewulf, Francis Van Neste, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre
LVD's third generation: Sylvain Lefebvre, Sébastien Van Neste and Michèle Dewulf
Sylvain Lefebvre (36) is the son of Jean-Pierre Lefebvre (Chairmannof the LVD Board of Directors)
Sylvain, who has lived in the U.S. since 1998, graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington majoring in International Business Management. He followed his passion and went to work for an importer of high-end Italian competition sporting goods where he gained skills in sales, marketing and service.
At LVD, he first worked in Marketing for North America and then established LVD Mexico. Most recently, Sylvain was named President of LVD North America. He also manages the relationship with LVD’s sales agent in Canada.
Sébastien Van Neste (31) is the son of Francis Van Neste (Managing Director of LVD Benelux)
Sébastien worked in sales and export markets at an international logistics company and at an energy supplier. Upon joining LVD, he worked in the Customer Service department at LVD Benelux and is currently responsible for laser technology and software demonstrations at the LVD Experience Center in Belgium, and plans to move to the International Sales Department, specialising in Laser sales..
His experience has given him insight into the importance of customer support and applications, and motivates him to develop strong relationships with both customers and colleagues.
Michèle Dewulf (29) is the daughter of Carl Dewulf (CEO of LVD Group)
Michèle, after graduating from KU Leuven in Belgium majoring in Business Engineering, worked for the Boston Consulting Group in Brussels, Sydney and Copenhagen and helped develop various strategies for multinationals. She now uses her strategic skills and sales and marketing experience to further develop the German market as Managing Director of LVD GmbH. She is also exploring ways to help our sales, service and marketing teams worldwide to work ‘smarter’ using digital data.
What was your motivation to work for the family business?
Sébastien: I have always liked manufacturing and I wanted to get to know the world of machines better. Initially, I was unsure about working in my father’s company but now that I know the business better, I see things differently: I’m really happy here.
Michèle: My curiosity was sparked by an international trade fair in Shanghai I visited while on Erasmus in Singapore. The innovative technology of LVD inspired me. After spending 4 years at BCG I was ready for the next challenge and it happened to be with LVD. I would
have applied for the position even if it wasn’t to join the family business.
Sylvain: In my case, it was more of a late calling. I took the step just before I became 30. What motivated me were the stories my father told
me about the business and I realised that this was my calling.
What’s been your greatest challenge to date?
Sylvain: You don’t want to mess up what the generations before you have accomplished. I felt my first challenge was to prove myself. Looking back, this was not really an issue, and I have my father to thank for that. He taught me one important principle: always be yourself.
Sébastien: My experience of working in both customer service and applications has taught me that it’s all about adding value to our customers’ businesses. Sometimes customer service interventions can be stressful. By demonstrating our technologies I learned how as a business we can grow with our customers.
Michèle: Most recently I have taken on the role of Managing Director at our German subsidiary. The COVID-19 crisis resulted in an extraordinary year, sales declined, the team’s motivation decreased. In stressful times you have to remain calm, focus on strategy and invest in your people. The coaching provided by the Group directors helped me a lot.
The next generation at LVD unanimously agrees on the future: it is all about anticipating changes in markets and technologies. Listening to clients and employees leads to creativity. LVD is a leader in the industry, but the challenge is to remain at the forefront.
SHARED VALUES AND VISION
The next generation is convinced that many assets make the company successful: agility and quick decision-making, stability and continuity; the ‘stay-together’ mind-set of the families and proximity to customers at all times.
They agree that a family business guarantees a long-term strategy. The three families have always prioritised this vision. Previous investments have proven their profitability and viability. Customers know LVD is a stable partner that offers continuity.
“The company has become part of us, we think about it practically all the time, just like previous generations did. As a member of the family, you always give your all,” says Sylvain.
Do family businesses treat their employees differently from other companies?
Sylvain: Yes, absolutely. Treating your employees as individuals is key. It is an important reason why our customers choose to partner with LVD. I’ve noticed that in Mexico, clients very much appreciate being in contact with a family member. However you look at it, all businesses are based on good relationships.
Michèle: I would like to say that’s absolutely true, but when a company grows, it becomes harder to pass on family values. We continue to focus on family values but carrying this vision to all our subsidiaries is a challenge and takes effort and patience.
Sébastien: The main priority is to create a positive atmosphere at all times for both employees and customers. I don’t want to be known as “the son of...”, I prefer our values to be proven by what we all do.
Are today’s challenges fundamentally different from those faced by previous generations?
Michèle: Undoubtedly. My grandfather [Robert Dewulf, Ed.] says the current business model is very complex. The reason is that markets, technologies, processes, speed etc. have evolved and require a more complex response in order to cope with the same challenges our grandfathers had to face.
Sébastien: Software, automation, Industry 4.0 and use of “Big Data” have changed everything. Small batches of parts, short lead-times and increased part complexity are common challenges. Visitors to the Experience Center ask “how fast can you get from a digital part to a real part, and will the part be right the first time? Show me this and I’m interested.”
Sylvain: It is true that almost everything has changed. However, we have always shared with our customers an entrepreneurial approach to business which means “constant transformation.” Over the years we have developed many different technologies and ways to help customers improve productivity.
How do you find the best way to innovate and sell better products?
Michèle: Innovation requires a wide range of factors. It starts with listening to clients, which guarantees high-quality innovation and always will. As a company you also need a willingness to invest in research and to move ahead of the competition.
Sylvain: The best ideas for innovation usually come from customers. And sometimes you answer needs that the customer didn’t know he had.
Sébastien: Just because a process is done a certain way today doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to do it. We look at the weak links and the mistakes that can be made and search for a better way to evolve the process.
As part of a new generation, what are your main priorities?
Michèle: We want to realise the full potential of the family company. Striking a balance between growth, innovation and motivating our global team, we make inroads into the future.
Sébastien: Our generation must develop its own style and impact, adapting to the changing business conditions that we will undoubtedly face while remaining true to the family values.
Sylvain: I agree with Michèle and Sébastien. I want to ensure that we forge strong bonds between all family members working in the business. By doing this we will ensure that we manage the business in a sustainable way.