Throughout Leo’s life, he admits to often having gotten into new things because of a girl: his first job on a farm, playing tennis, diving, swimming, then politics at the VUB and now Namahn as Mr Building & Facilities… cherchez la femme is definitely a recurrent theme! Others are endless curiosity about how things work and a talent for successfully changing career directions… and always having fun along the way.
Are you a country boy?
I come from a small village in Limburg where I enjoyed a fun and carefree youth outdoors until I was 16. And yes, my first job on a local farm was because I wanted to meet a nice girl there! Today I live in Etterbeek and love it. Brussels is a cosmopolitan city. You can speak and hear all sorts of languages, meet different people, learn new things and engage with total strangers. It’s funny but people in Brussels are more socially engaged with their neighbours than in my home village, despite it being a large city.
What did you study?
My favourite pastime as a boy was dismantling my father’s most expensive electrical devices! Later I made lots of stuff for friends, such as digital light installations, analogue mixing table, filters and amplifiers for guitars. So Industrial Electronics was a logical study choice. While at the VUB I became involved in politics and the environment movement. I also joined Forum International and went on to set up the Belgian branch. One visit to the former East Germany springs to mind. We were met by a row of 60 plusers… and I thought it was a youth organisation! We were meant to stay three days, but left after one.
Was there also a special lady at the VUB?
I joined the VUB’s Studiekring Vrij Onderzoek (roughly translated for non-Dutch speakers as Study Group for Free Critical Thinking) where I met Heidi. We argued ferociously and were married within six months… and we’re still happily married!
Did you start your career in electronics?
After graduation, I became an electrician specialising in home automation installations. However, it was ahead of its time and expensive so there weren’t many clients. Funnily enough, that’s when I had my second encounter with Joannes (the first was helping my now colleague Pieter out with modem settings). He asked for some technical advice on a home automation project. My advice was not to do it and he dropped the project. He then asked me to join Namahn. I said no, hire Heidi! The rest is history.
Why did you switch to software engineering?
While running my company I discovered the lack of good management software for small businesses so I began writing it myself. Software was also very expensive back then, and only for big companies, so my efforts attracted the interest of colleagues and within two years I was a software engineer. I then moved to data security at a health insurance company. It was a very interesting job with broad scope, ranging from the software and hardware to building design. Unfortunately, I was too good at it. I was promoted to a management role I disliked, and ended up being fired. The Peter Principle! I then joined a film company as their IT man but after six years, the company went bust. By this time I was fed up with computers and decided to retrain…
Retrain as what?
A guardian in primary schools! It was great fun helping them with their homework but quite stressful at times, making sure all those little people didn’t leave the premises during breaks. I was also a volunteer for many years in the logistics department of the Red Cross, setting up tents, field kitchens, etc.
What finally convinced you to join Namahn?
The timing and role were right, so when Joannes asked me, I accepted. I’m responsible for everything to do with the building and facilities, which even stretches to sandwiches… I’ve introduced communal lunches, which has earned me the nickname “Broodjesman”, that’s Dutch for Mr Sandwich.
It’s a great way to get everyone round the table for an informal chat.
We hear you have some extraordinary passions outside work…
My greatest hobby is Lego. Since I was very small, I’ve asked for new pieces every birthday and still do. I’m passionate about Lego Technics and Lego Mindstorms . What I love most is building XXL cranes. It’s incredibly hard to build with only Lego parts. Even more exciting is programming the sensors, actuators and motors that control the counterweight: 1 small mistake and 2 months of hard work is gone in a fraction of a second.
…And Star Trek?
Both Heidi and I are devoted Trekkies (we even named one of our two treasured rescue cats Neelix after a Star Trek character). This is mainly because of the philosophy: respect for everyone, regardless of culture, origins, or beliefs, trying to live and work together and make the world a better place for everyone. Oh, and have fun while doing it.
There should always be room for fun.