Shadowing P&V CEO Hilde Vernaillen for a day
Alexandre Lefin, Solvay Brussels School Economics & Management student, describes his CEOx1Day experience at P&V.
What was it like being CEO for a day?
Words alone can’t describe this experience, but I can try to describe it as very exciting and rewarding. We are immersed in the heart of the company’s operational and strategic decision-making process. Moreover, as a student who will just start his professional career, shadowing a CEO gives a lot of motivation and inspiration to achieve a great career being hopefully a great leader.
How was your contact with your CEO?
My contact with Hilde Vernaillen seemed directly relaxed and sincere. After 20 minutes I had the impression that I was part of the team just like the other members of the executive board.
How would you describe her leadership style?
I would say that Hilde Vernaillen's leadership style is based on empathy, sympathy and communication. She manages to impose respect and to have a certain presence while remaining humble, human and close to her employees.
How would you describe the company’s culture, as you observed it today?
It is difficult to detect the corporate culture in one day, but I will say that it is a company that cares about the well-being of its employees (it does not forget the social purpose it had when it was founded in the 1900s). Moreover, the company is modern and tries to be as agile as possible with a focus on innovation.
What part(s) of the day did you enjoy most?
I had the chance to attend a very important meeting with a major partner to redefine their future cooperation as well as their medium and long-term strategy. The exchange of information and trust between the two companies made a strong impression on me.
Like everyone else, I had some expectations about CEOx1Day but I was far from being able to imagine what CEOx1Day would really bring me.
What were the most important lessons you learned about leadership?
I learned that leadership is not imposed on others (as it is in wildlife) but is earned and given by others. Leadership is closely related to empathy, communication, respect and merit (through competence, intelligence, sympathy...).
Was being a CEO different from what you thought it would be?
I didn't think a CEO held so many meetings and delegated so much of his work to the rest of the board. From what I've seen, being a CEO is all about managing at a very high level and getting reported from the members of your team.
What did you learn about yourself through the process?
I learned that I share certain traits with a leader and that I have the ambition to achieve ambitious goals. However, I tended to underestimate the importance of waiting for others, turning around and seeing if everyone is following. Communication and interpersonal relationships are extremely important.
How did the day influence how you look at your own career?
I approach my career with more confidence in my skills and less stress.
Could you apply anything you learned already in your life or studies?
Yes, everything concerning listening, communication, exchanges with others...
Why do you think initiatives like this are important for students?
As students, we are used to studying a lot of theory at university but rarely applying it in practice. Thus, any work experience is more than welcome and this one (CEOx1Day) is a great one as it gives us a once in a life opportunity to follow a CEO for a full day and be surrounded by talented and inspiring leaders. It allows us in one day to appreciate the work of a whole career of experience and to contrast our behavior, charisma, emotional intelligence and communication skills with that one of a CEO.
How would you summarize your experience in the CEOx1Day programme?
CEOx1Day is moreover an enriching, inspiring, humane and exceptional experience. It's perfectly complementary to the theoretical background I acquired in university. I now feel better equipped to begin my professional career.