I was reading on the web one of those articles, very popular nowadays, about work-life balance and I was remarking how much emphasis is given to the conflict between career and family compared to the conflict between career and having no time for a private life, when I bumped into an article advertising Berkeley International opening in Belgium. What a coincidence, I said to myself, let me explore it!
Annemieke and Geneviève, how important is - in your opinion - a happy and serene private life to supporting a very demanding career?
It is absolutely true that companies very often put the emphasis on supporting the balance between careers and families, more than on single employees’ work-life balance.
Having said this, it’s clear that people don’t need to have a family first before starting to think about having a right work-life balance. Having time to relax, to get in contact with like-minded people and to take care of body and mind (culturally and physically) is of utmost importance. Being happy enhances creativity, enhances performance and stimulates a positive mindset. Having a busy life, without taking the time to think over how to get it balanced – brings an unbalance at some point in time – implying a not 100% satisfied life.
As we are talking about this subject, let us make a couple of points about the status of life-family balance: society is becoming more aware of the importance of a work-life balance, for instance, parental leave or temporary career interruptions, which are even promoted on the radio nowadays. These are initiatives coming from governmental organisations.
Companies are trying to adapt to these needs, there are cases of child care organised and provided by the company, flexible working hours, work at home policies; However they don’t always like to include the flexible working hours and work at home policies – since they still like to keep control and believe that a manager needs to be close to their team and vice-versa. The fear still exists at employee level, that career opportunities might be limited in case they make use of the possibilities above. Nevertheless improvement is ongoing.
Considering that working people have limited time for their private life, based on your knowledge does it take a considerable amount of time nowadays to find a life partner, to create a couple/ family?
It doesn’t take a considerable amount of time; it does however require a considerable amount of opportunities.
Everything depends on the age, the past experiences, the time you have for spending in “personal interactions”. It’s clear that for a student it’s much easier to find a partner, since they have the time to have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Once you are working and professionally busy, time is often the limiting factor in addition to expectations that might increase because of unsatisfactory past experiences.
You also have to consider that even if you meet a lot of people, this is not a guarantee of “chemistry”: the concept is that it is more probable that you find the chemistry factor in people with whom you share common interests, values and life styles.
Although surrounded by social media and various meeting opportunities, although free from old cultural barriers, why do people struggle to find the right partner in their private life? What is different from the past??
Society became over time more and more demanding. It goes quickly, emails are often handled the same day and answers are expected the same day. Yes, society is demanding: there is a kind of natural pressure to be present on all types of social media: LinkedIn / Facebook / Twitter/... all this requires a tremendous amount of time and effort… time you could otherwise spend in having a drink with your friends and having “real contacts, meaning face-to-face contacts”.
Alessandra, chemistry can only be felt in a face-to-face contact, which includes “what" you say (content), “how” you say it and your “body language”; and specifically:
- The “content” counts for 7%
- The “way you say things” for the 38%
- The body language for the 55%
The virtual contact allows you to get in touch with a lot of people, true, but it becomes extremely complicated to know who the “like-minded” people” are, because virtual interactions are about “what you say” only: this means virtual contacts represent only 7% of the full message. There is a huge difference between virtual and face-to-face contacts, don’t you think?
Additionally having too many superficial or virtual contacts means that you know very many people but not very well. Then you wake up one day and realise that despite knowing a lot of people, having a very broad and large network, you have still never found your unique “soul mate”.
”Like-minded people”? It reminds me the Goethe’s novel “Elective Affinities” … Why in such an “open” society is it so difficult to get in contact with “like-minded” people?
Like-minded people are the ones that welcome the same way of viewing things: they share the same basics, the same vision of life and the future and they have “enough” to share, they subscribe to the same education orientation in case of children. These factors are fundamental for a couple relationship, the two individuals need to be on the same level, on the same page.
One major barrier to finding like-minded people, is that often people think they know themselves well and they think they know what they like, which is not always the case …Our customers have at least one year of time to question themselves and to ensure they realise what they really appreciate and long for.
Isn’t belonging to the same social level a positive factor for a good match?
It’s easier. Is it the only way possible? No, absolutely not, excellent relationships can exist between different social levels, but the probability is higher if people have a comparable life style. Belonging to different social levels requires partners to have an open mind and to feel complementary.
Is the professional network not good for potential private encounters?
It is very difficult and risky to mix both the private and the professional spheres, but it happens. Professionally wise people don’t want to risk being vulnerable – opening your heart can make you vulnerable –. Above all if you are professionally successful and something goes wrong in your personal relationship with somebody in your professional circle, this could harm you.
Going back to social media: some people have long correspondences before meeting; don’t you think that writing/chatting is a good way to know each other?
For sure, it’s a nice way to “break the ice”… this is often why and how dating sites are perceived: very easy and accessible to all. However, long correspondences can create huge expectations and disappointment once they meet. So a good start, but as stated the face to face contact is key.
What are the main factors that encourage people to use (or discourage them from using) introduction services nowadays? Discouraging factors: why are some people skeptical or ashamed about introduction services?
Some people get encouraged by the fact that introduction services help find the like-minded people and enlarge your horizons in a natural way. Instead of turning around in your own world of contacts, you will be introduced to interesting people, sharing the same values, background and life vision, but from new geographical or social places, for example a lawyer can be introduced to an artist; a Belgian to a French person …
On the other side, a discouraging factor is that some people still believe that encountering a partner has to come naturally, by chance. Another discouraging factor is that asking for professional support might be perceived or felt by some individuals as being “imperfect”, not social enough, not having an optimal social life. Should companies feel imperfect because they take advantage of head hunting and consulting services?
Have you envisaged differences in their background and in their approach to introduction services between the ladies and gentlemen who are your customers?
No, not significant differences in their background. Ladies and gentlemen all come to see us with very similar stories: they worked too hard, invested a lot of time in building a career and their professional network, often forgetting their private life… and realizing that suddenly they would like to have a family and a soul mate they could spend their life with. Some other customers – who have been married and for one or another reason are now get separated - suddenly realize that their social network reduced drastically over time … leaving them pretty lonely.
On the contrary we noticed a difference between ladies and gentlemen in the decision making process to resort to introduction services: ladies tend to have previously discussed or shared this idea with their friends, while gentlemen keep this intention to themselves.
There is, instead, a significant cultural difference in approaching introduction services amongst geographical areas, for example in the USA people consider an introduction service agency as simply as a personal trainer or a personal buyer, not like here in Europe, but the mentality is changing.
Based on your experience and expertise which characteristics do professional/ business ladies look for in a potential life partner? And men, what do they look for?
Ladies look for a “sparring partner” and a “soul mate”, someone intellectually challenging they can discuss with, they can share their point of view with without requesting they agree. The sparring partner represents the intellectual side; the soul mate personifies the heart component.
They want to share their happy moments: travelling, enjoying an evening at the restaurant, relaxing with a good glass of wine. What they are looking for is a man that has some interest in what they do, with whom they can communicate about different topics, with whom they can share their wealth… it’s no fun to have means when you can’t share.
Men and women have very similar demands: what are they looking for in a partner? Friendship, humour, communication, passion, sexual intimacy, affection, loyalty and respect, someone who supports them and is open-minded, and – last but not least - building a future together with plans/projects.
In Berkeley International experience are the majority of your customers male or female? What are the target profiles of your customers?
At the moment we have quite equal numbers of male and female applicants, but women often decide to apply earlier. We constantly monitor the balance of applicants to ensure a good mix.
Target profiles are broad: going from entrepreneurs, to lawyers and doctors, politicians, successful professionals. What they have in common is that they are financially independent, and leading a satisfactory life… just missing this one piece of their puzzle that could make their fulfillment complete.
What is your company mission? Which are the values or other factors that make your services different from those of your competitors? How do you ensure that your company retains its impeccable reputation?
Berkeley International stands for respect, discretion and openness. In our business we strive for high ethical values, with a professional empathic attitude.
Our mission is helping people to accomplish their highest level of happiness, supporting them in their search for a soul mate and life-long partner. This is what we aim for every day, we do this through our honest way of working: during the intake we investigate and don’t accept customers who are not in line with our values, we professionally follow-up, we reply quickly, we are there when our customers need us and we proactively manage each case individually, we make sure that each client feels at ease at all times.
We tell the potential customer whether we can help them or not, we do not sell illusions, we do not engage in unreasonable requests and we do not accept customers in troubled situations: reputation is all in our business sector.
How do you ensure you accept as customers only people meeting your target profile characteristics? I guess this is a fundamental pillar for the prestige of your company.
We initially run a 2 hour interview, not an informal chat, really diving in deep in a predefined format. Then we have follow-up interviews and coaching sessions during the whole process.
We seriously dig into a person’s motivation, background, passions and values… if we feel that their values are not in line with ours or that their motivation is looking for a wealthy man/woman to simplify their life or they are seeking only a short-term relationships… then we will not offer our services.
I am intrigued, why did you choose to open an office in Brussels? How many people are working in the Brussels office?
Are you planning offices in all the European capitals?
The opening of the Belgian office is a natural consequence of the fact that we have here a number of European institutions and corporations with people from different foreign countries (i.e. the European Parliament, the European Commission, NATO, lobby groups, multinational head-quarters etc.).
Previously the requests for introduction services from the customers in Belgium were forwarded to the Berkeley International office in London, but due to the increased demand we opened up the Brussels office, where we can also manage the customer expectation of a close presence by our staff, both morally and physically. Currently we - Annemieke & Geneviève - plus one admin support are working in the Brussels office.
The Belgian Office covers also the Netherlands and Luxemburg. Offices already exist in London (HQ), Monaco, Nice, Manchester, NY and Melbourne. The office in Paris opened one month ago. A new office will soon open in Italy (Milano) and further European cities are currently under consideration.
It is hard to believe, Alessandra, but apparently the economic crisis has increased the demand for match-making services: people feel more fragile in this insecure environment and they perceive more deeply the importance of feelings and love, and not only money.
You both have a HR background, which skills and techniques could you transfer from recruiting interviews to introduction services interviews?
Actually, we think that selecting and coaching people for a life-time partnership is a natural extension of the activity of recruiting and coaching employees in a company. In the company the task is to find the right match between employer and employee for working together, in this case the effort is to find a match for living together.
Many of the HR and head hunting skills are applicable to the introduction services sector. For example interviewing skills are critical to be sure that you can get to the heart of the matter… and to get a good understanding of the person sitting in front of you. This means starting with a motivational interview, capturing the real motivation of the customer, listening and watching the person provides so much valuable information. Also a psychology background, emotional intelligence, passion and matching skills are important to do this profession. Coaching skills are critical as well: supporting a person if she/he falls in love with a man/woman, but not vice-versa, demands a lot of empathy, listening and ability to encourage in order to help the person overcome their disappointment and try again.
On the other hand this work requires us to also be detached and not get emotionally involved in our cases, this guarantees we are objective and not conditioned in any step we take.
I imagine you have received a lot of training in how to approach the business of introduction services. Which are the necessary prerequisites, skills and qualities to do your job? I guess your network plays an important role …
For this job you need business skills: understanding how business works, marketing & sales and finance. Being also entrepreneurs it requires an additional skill set: just to make it happen, passion and drive, willingness to become the best and search for excellence. And of course the HR skills: interviewing, writing profiles and coaching. Next to that some practical skills are required such as handling CRM systems, tracking reports and complete administration activities.
Having an extended and high profile network is a key prerequisite, like in Head Hunting, of utmost importance… something that needs to be taken care of, a precious resource.
What gave you the idea to start this business? Did you know each other before?
We have known each other for approximately 10 years; we met for the first time in a client-provider situation: Geneviève as the client and Annemieke as the provider. We both moved afterwards to international careers and later, when we both returned to the Belgian market, we met again as colleagues in the headhunters business.
We read an article about Berkley International in “Sabato” the week-end magazine of the Belgian newspaper De Tijd/ L’Echo, where we learned that there was an increasing demand for an introduction service introduction by customers in Belgium to the Berkeley office in London (HQ).
We envisaged the business opportunity of launching ourselves in this similar business, counting on our transferrable skills. We knew that we share the same values, such as respect, honesty and openness and we both have the willingness to do something “good” for others.
Helping people to find a job or help them to find a soul mate is extremely similar to each other!
Head hunting is about matching people and organizations, people and their teams;, people and their boss by taking into account their skills and values. While now the matching is about individuals taking into account their background/values and life vision. Pretty close to each other.
Worked for 15 years in Executive Search for especially Pharma, Medical Devices and Biotech companies. Main responsibilities were Business Unit Head – People Management - Human Resources on a national and international level.
2012: Launch Berkeley International Belgium with Genevieve
Married, 1 child (5 years old)
Obtained a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences (University of Ghent, a MBA (University of Antwerp + HEC Montréal) and a Master in HR (Vlerick Leuven/Ghent Management school)
Worked for 15 years in a pharmaceutical company as Business Unit Head – People Management – Change Management and HR Management; and as freelancer in executive search and coaching.
2012: Launch Berkeley International Belgium with Annemieke
Married, 2 children (14 & 12 years old)
|Owner and Managing Director at Berkeley International Belgium
|Avenue Louise 367, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
|Owner and Managing Director at Berkeley International Belgium
|Avenue Louise 367, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berkeley International, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.