Source: www.overondernemers.be

Despite the fact that entrepreneurship is in my blood, being an entrepreneur was never my primary goal. That was just to be able to develop and launch my own technical ideas on the market. I like doing my own thing. That my entrepreneurship involved the textile industry was no surprise, though. My father had a weaving mill, and I helped out there starting at nine years of age. Even so, studying something textile-related didn’t appeal to me; I considered that too restrictive. Instead I studied to be a mechanical engineer, majoring in mechatronics with a side of economics. I believe that that combination of expertise, the knowledge of both electronics, mechanics and the art of weaving, is what makes my company Qmatex unique.

“It’s our combined knowledge of electronics, mechanics and the art of weaving that makes Qmatex so unique.”

I love working out technical concepts and making them commercially viable. I already worked in machine construction and was familiar with the technical development and commercialisation of machinery, when three years ago, I got the idea to develop and market my own industrial weaving machine. Manufacturing such machines are investment goods. I was lucky in that I found an interested party in France to order a machine and pay a deposit, even before it had been completely developed and built. I wasn’t actually 100% convinced it would work. I spent eight months working with an engineer to develop the concept and then had it patented. The machine was an immediate success.

That a small Flemish starter SME such as mine could start exporting right away to places like France, India, China, Morocco and America is a fact of which I am extremely proud. Also, global players from multiple sectors managed to seek us out in this little country. I think that’s quite something. We do make sure to always develop our machines with an eye to the technical applications and new markets. That’s unique for a machine manufacturer. I always say: you can either reduce your weaknesses or capitalise on your strengths. I invariably opt for the latter. I prefer excelling in a single field to being mediocre in many different things. That’s why Qmatex is active in a very specialised niche market. We primarily manufacture machines for the production of velvet, but also for technical weaves, such as bullet-proof vests, insulating fabrics or for medical applications. When we also receive repeat orders from existing customers, that’s extremely gratifying. We are trying to achieve that more frequently for Belgium as well now.

“You can either reduce your weaknesses or capitalise on your strengths. However, if you wish to work in a niche market, as we do, the latter is really your only option.”

My team currently consists of myself, two engineers, a business developer, a technician and a production worker. Working with a small group from very diverse backgrounds has led me to realise that each person is different. And that as the manager, I need to respect all those various personalities. If I were to ask my team how much a specific component weighed, for instance, they’d each respond in their own way. My engineer would request the dimensions in order to calculate the weight, our business developer would look up the delivery note and my technician would likely just hold the part in his hands and then tell me based on the feel. I think that’s wonderful. You know what, it doesn’t matter to me how they arrive at the answer, as long as they have one to give. Those differing approaches complement and reinforce each other.

As the manager you have to remember that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s why I really invest in my staff. I want them to be able to discover themselves, to develop and learn. I don’t believe in one-man shows. Those days are long gone. Whether a business stands or falls depends on the team, not the director.

“The days of one-man shows are long gone.”

Each day is unique and a new challenge. That doesn’t just apply to machine manufacturing, but to any industry. A new challenge needn’t necessarily imply new problems. Problems are only problems if you can’t resolve them. Problems can be opportunities for new solutions. As an entrepreneur, you must re-invent yourself daily as well; innovation is the future. And I commit to that strongly with my company, by constantly thinking up new machines for new applications. That requires a lot of energy. However, the returns are invaluable.

I am convinced that the future of enterprise is in manufacturing. That’s the foundation of the economy, after all, but it isn’t easy in Belgium, thanks to the high wages and lack of suitable staff. So, there are still some major challenges to be faced there.

People often say they would have done things differently if they could; not me. If I regretted anything, I would have fixed it long ago. I actually haven’t experienced much adversity at all, though I try not to boast of my success; I know how fast things could go downhill. My greatest fear is to be brought low. Due to the extremely high production cost of our machines, I can’t afford any financial setbacks. That’s why I prefer to stay modest and keep a low profile. Besides, I have no need to be celebrated for what I do day in, day out, like countless other entrepreneurs: run a company.

“Innovation should be a habit with all employees. To stand still is to go backwards. It’s a lot like sailing: you must set your sails to catch the wind of the times.”

I still have plenty of dreams and ambitions. I’d like to expand Qmatex into a modern business, with perhaps fifteen or so motivated employees. Like I said, innovation is crucial, and that’s the attitude I want all members of my team to exhibit. Innovation should be a habit. As the saying goes, to stand still is to go backwards. I like to compare going forwards with sailing. I’m no great athlete myself, but I really love watching the races. It’s incredibly fascinating to me to see how the wind is the same for all teams, but still, some are faster than others. The ability to rapidly adjust the sails and skill at setting them perfectly are what make a winning team. It’s no different as a business. You must go with the times and the faster you can adapt, the greater your chance of success.