Growing from a small team to a company with an 85-strong staff in just 8 years: how does that feel? CFO Bert Viaene witnessed the rapid evolution of ION up close. He joined the company in 2013 and grew along with it into what ION is today. "I believed in the growth potential from day one," he says. "The drive and ambition of our team are phenomenal."
Bert: "Before joining ION, I worked as an auditor at EY in Brussels. I also worked in London for about two years and gradually started to focus exclusively on real estate. So, the move to ION was a major one for me: I went from an international company to a small but very ambitious property developer with eight colleagues. What attracted me then was the professionalism and the pursuit of quality on the one hand. Everything that was created, from presentations to brochures and reports, had to be perfect. On the other hand, there was also the enormous drive to succeed. Speed and agility have always been great strengths at ION. If another party needs three months to submit an offer, we try to be much faster. But always in a professional way, of course."
Will you be able to maintain that momentum now that the team is much bigger?
"Our way of working has changed, of course. At first, we were literally close to each other and we were able make decisions quickly. Now we try to maintain our agility by organising ourselves into business and service units. The business units are structured on a regional level. In addition to the two business units in West Flanders, there are also the business units in East Flanders, Brussels/Brabant and Antwerp/Limburg. Each unit has a manager who is responsible for all the projects in that region. The service units are umbrella service providers: they take care of the legal, technical and financial aspects, as well as marketing & sales. These people work across different business units, because we certainly wouldn't want each business unit to operate on its own little island".
"Despite being bigger now, we can still maintain our agility.”
How do you see ION evolving?
"Now we're at a turning point again. We've just successfully completed the capital round for our second development fund (Premier Development Fund 2) worth over €120 million. Our first fund dates from 2015, and back then we also saw a temporary growth stall. So I expect another increase. Not necessarily in terms of staff numbers, but definitely in the number of projects. We will continue to expand throughout Belgium and want to focus on the regions of Antwerp, Brussels and Wallonia. Of course, we will always keep a critical eye on the figures and keep our feet firmly on the ground".
What's your best memory at ION?
"From a professional point of view, I can look back on many successes, especially the joint team efforts are very nice. But we've also had a lot of fun at ION. I remember a Summer Event where two colleagues did a sketch in which they very aptly imitated CEOs Davy and Kristof. We were all laughing our heads off. That's what ION is all about – it's hard work, but there's definitely also room for fun."