From Where?
In 1968, I was born in Uccle, Brussels, but soon after, my family moved to Zaire, where I spent my childhood. In 1978, during the Katanga revolution, our town of Kolwezi was attacked, and we were forced to flee through the savanna, making me effectively a refugee. Eventually, we returned to Belgium and settled in Huy, Wallonia, before finally moving back to Brussels. It was there that I pursued my studies at ULB.

From which program and class do you come?
Just two weeks prior to joining the University, I had been certain that I wanted to study Biology or Biotechnology, for many years. However, for reasons unclear to me, I ended up changing my mind and switching to Economics. I pursued my Economics degree at ULB, and upon completion, I discovered that I had a strong affinity for group work during the many applied seminars we had to perform collectively. This led to a professor who supervised my end-year thesis and other applied seminars to suggest that I should pursue a PhD, under his supervision. There was even a scholarship available (the so-called Mini-Arc scholarships), which I accepted, and I began my PhD training with a Master's in Econometrics under the then CEME program, which eventually evolved into the ECARES doctoral programme. I completed my Ph.D. in 1998, during the public defence that occurred on Friday the 13th of March, one month after the private defence, that took place on Friday the 13th of February.

What is your job title today?
I am Full Professor (professeur ordinaire) at ULB, Dean of the Solvay Brussels School and holder of the Solvay SA Chair of innovation, since 1999.

Can you briefly describe your mission?
I would describe myself as one of the driving forces behind the school’ strategic change, taking on the role of faculty council chair. Jointly with our Vice Dean elect, Catherine Dehon, our first move was to assemble a team of Vice-Deans, with whom we work closely alongside with our Directrice D’Administration Facultaire (DAF), Romy Genin, and our Solvay Lifelong Learning Executive Manager Karin Doguet. We campaigned with Catherine Dehon using our shared vision of promoting Sustainable Development initiatives, expanding the school's internationalization, and fostering partnerships through Co-Creation. With the support of our Vice-Deans and colleagues, we have been able to successfully implement several of these broad strategic objectives, while also managing the day-to-day operations of the school. Our main focus is indeed to supervise the implementation of our strategic plan, with this year's milestone being the 120th anniversary celebration of the School.
What was your most significant professional obstacle, and how did you overcome it?
There are two types of obstacles that I've faced - one on a personal basis and the other at the institutional level. Personally, after completing my PhD, I realized that there were very limited job prospects available at ULB. Therefore, I accepted a fantastic job offer at the OECD in Paris, while still continuing my research activities. However, I remained committed to returning to ULB, which I did thanks to the Solvay S.A. Chair of Innovation. As a Dean, the biggest challenge I face is related to the legitimate resistance to change among faculty colleagues and sometimes even at the university level. Overcoming this requires a dedicated effort to implement changes, spending time with colleagues to explain the importance of the changes and creating new projects. It is important to convince colleagues of the benefits and show how it matters for the faculty. To learn more about our projects, please refer to the Faculty's strategic plan, implemented jointly with our International Advisory Board, and with a great support from Bain Consulting. Finally, the availability of resources is a major obstacle, whether it be in terms of full-time equivalent headcounts (academic and administrative) or financial resources. We constantly struggle to find adequate funding to implement innovative projects, and it is important to recognize the role of administrative and operational resources in sustaining academic innovations.

Have you had an experience abroad with SBS-EM? How has it influenced your life?
Erasmus was created when I was a MSc student, but unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to participate. However, when I was a Ph.D. researcher, I decided to create my own “Erasmus” experience. I wrote letters to two institutions in the US and two in Japan, and was accepted to collaborate with a research institute under METI, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and a professor from Tsukuba University in Japan. It was an incredible experience that greatly influenced my life, both scientifically and personally. Later, I went to Columbia University in New York where I collaborated with Professor Lichtenberg from Columbia Business School. I sold my car to cover the expenses of these long stay abroad and the then ULB Vice Rector of international Affair, Professor Marie-Christine Adam, supported my projects through the funding of my plane tickets because there was no scholarship available. I finished my Ph.D. when I was working for the OECD in Paris, from 1997 to 199, before getting back to ULB. I later became the Chief economist of the European Patent Office in Munich, for two years (2005 to 2007). This experience provided me with valuable insights into the German and European culture and deepened my understanding of patent systems and their effectiveness, which became a major research topic of my research at ULB.

Is there a particular teacher at SBS-EM who had a significant impact on you as a student?
Yes, indeed I would say my Ph.D. advisor, Professor Henry Capron, and several Professors, including Henri van der Eycken, André Farber, Jean-Jacques Herweigh and Marie-Christine Adam.

In what ways do you believe you contribute to society?
In my opinion, the Solvay Brussels School provides a significant social opportunity for our students and conducts excellent research in various fields, particularly in theoretical and applied economics and some management disciplines. Our educational services and advanced research programs contribute significantly to society, and we have a strong influence on researchers internationally. We receive approximately 16,000 Google citations annually, and we also advise policymakers, demonstrating that our colleagues and professors have a substantial impact on society.

What do you feel passionate about?
I find joy in discovering new culture, and experimenting with new cooking recipes, especially those from my travels to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. I bag packed Syria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Jordan, and Israel, for instance, and I love to incorporate the flavours and techniques I've learned from these regions into my cooking.

Who has had the biggest influence on you?

At the moment, Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi (“Jerusalem”) ☺️; for our civilization, definitely Jared Diamond (“Guns, Germs and Steel”); and for my dreams, Amin Maalouf (Samarcande, still on my “to visit” list).

So, to where now?
My main focus is to work with Vice Dean Catherine Dehon and the faculty team to achieve the main goals outlined in our strategic plan, while also ensuring a successful 120th anniversary celebration through effective co-creation. As for Ernest 2.0, we would appreciate your help in identifying whom it could refer to, by giving your opinion here.

Updated on March 28, 2023