Entrepreneur and international ICT executive, the first 25 years of Patrik Vandewalle’s career were more or less determined by a natural drive to leave his comfort zone, to explore new areas and learn from the unknown. “Each time a job becomes routine, a major turnaround is achieved or the future becomes too predictable, it’s time for me to handover to a successor and move on to a new challenge.”
Owner & CEO at Skelia
- Studied Engineering & Computer Sciences at KULeuven
- 1987 – 1992: Olivetti
- 1992 – 1996: Manager at Accenture (then Andersen Consulting)
- 1996 – 2010: Multiple engagements as CEO and Board Director (CSC Computer Sciences, Porthus, Logica, Econocom Group)
- 2008 – 2011: Seed Investor Ollygos, VisionWare, ICT4me…
- 2010 – 2013: Owner of the Digital Agency Proudfield
- 2008 – Present: Owner & CEO at Skelia and co-founder of TestLab4Apps (Ukraine)
After five years at Olivetti, you moved to Accenture (then Andersen Consulting). What was the attraction? I was tempted by the opportunities Accenture offered me to work for different industries and to take up greater management responsibilities. My main focus was on IT strategy and system architectures and I was lucky to gain experience in various sectors including at Vandemoortele, Sun International, National Bank of Belgium, Federal Department of Education…
One remarkable personal memory was my first impression of Accenture after five years at Olivetti. I must admit the cultural differences between the Italian-style Olivetti and Accenture’s discipline, processes and methods were sometimes shocking! I remember once asking my project team to work over the weekend in order to respect our client’s due date. They did this without any grumbling. I honestly hadn’t experienced such dedication and team loyalty before! Even today during my business travels in US and Europe, I often find that having a common Accenture history, even from different time periods, creates immediate trust and understanding.
What did you learn at Accenture that helped in your next career steps?
I learned to consider the ‘whole picture’ and how apply my cross-industry experiences and best practices. However, the main skillset I learned at Accenture was to ‘jump, swim, survive, adapt, structure and lead’. I was the first manager in Belgium hired from ‘the outside world’, i.e. not grown within the firm. I faced skepticism and high expectations from colleagues, ‘native’ peer managers and partners. All of this combined prepared me for my next step. In 1996, I was offered the opportunity to start at CSC Computer Sciences and build out the consultancy division to about 100 people. I rapidly became General Manager at the age of 34, one of the youngest directors internationally in the company at that time.
In 2008, you returned to the consulting world as co-founder of Skelia. What inspired this move?
After Accenture, I spent many years working at various international corporates in management positions. I bought and sold companies for others, but never created my own. By 2008, I was ready to leave my comfort zone once again and begin an exciting new adventure. Together with two other co-founders, I started Skelia (www.skelia.com) from zero and it continues to make me very proud. We have grown into an international IT player trusted by 45 customers in 12 countries. We have offices in Ukraine, Poland, Luxembourg, London, New York and the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto.
Skelia specializes in serving startups and corporate clients from Eastern Europe. Why this talent pool? Our year-on-year growth is driven by the structural shortage of skilled IT professionals in Europe and the US. We specialize in setting up cross-border teams as an enterprise extension and making sure those onsite and remote teams collaborate as one virtual team. We differentiate from traditional, larger offshore players in terms of people retention and cultural matching. We have chosen Poland and Ukraine as our primary service center locations due to the exceptionally high level of education, analytical mindset and the vast IT pool. Did you know that in Lviv alone (Ukraine’s 7th largest city) there are more university students than in Leuven, Ghent and Brussels combined?
You are also actively involved in the startup world…
I derive great pleasure from entrepreneurship, building dreams and inspiring others. Don’t misunderstand me: building a successful startup from scratch equals blood, sweat and tears. In many ways I find it more complex than being the CEO of an international company employing 3,000 people! But the joy of a successful startup journey is an unmatchable, enriching life experience.
Can more be done to support startups in Belgium?
It’s really encouraging to see that over the last five years the startup landscape in Belgium has fundamentally changed, grown and matured. Access to seed money or early stage investments has become easier than ever, while incubators are popping up like mushrooms. In my opinion, more coaching is or will be needed for young entrepreneurs to help them learn from failures, handle cash wisely and look sufficiently ahead.
In 2013, you co-founded TestLab4Apps in Ukraine. What is the USP? TestLab4Apps is a simple sales pitch to solve a complex and growing business-critical problem: how to secure 5-star user ratings for your mobile apps? It has become a nightmare for many businesses to make their apps run smoothly at all times on an exponentially expanding combination of PCs, smartphones, tablets and OS versions. Our USP is that we bring together a multi-disciplinary team of mobile testers, developers, researchers and device experts in a single unit.
What’s your view on the future of technology? Will people and machines work together in harmony?
There is an inevitable, ever accelerating shift from human-centric jobs to automation or technology-only functions. Adapting ourselves, our families and relationships and our businesses to this constantly changing environment is a fundamental societal challenge. ‘Harmony’ becomes inherently unstable in such a fluid private/work ecosystem. I find it a scary paradox.
Can the Accenture Alumni Network create more added value?
For now, I appreciate the network mainly for the opportunities it offers me to reconnect with my ex-Accenture colleagues from the 1990s. However, I see strong potential to connect to the broader Accenture family. For example, the network could be instrumental in structurally facilitating international business connections between Alumni, useful for (global) business development & expansion, building new ventures, investments or acquisitions. It would also be great to bring our Alumni together (nationally and/or internationally) around specific themes, for example, industries (find your peers active in a similar segment), passions & experiences…
If you could live your career all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
If I had 7 lives, my 2nd life would be that of a National Geographic photographer!