Gert De Winter

Gert De Winter (1966) is Belgian and acquired a master’s degree in applied economics in Antwerp. From 1988 to 2004 he held various positions in transformation management in the finance sector at Accenture, Brussels. In 2000 he became a partner. In 2005 he joined the Baloise Group as Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Head of HR at Mercator Insurance, Belgium. From 2009 to 2015 as Chief Executive Officer he headed Baloise Insurance, which in 2011 resulted from the merger of Mercator, Nateus and Avéro. Since January 1, 2016 Gert De Winter has held the position of Group Chief Executive Officer.

«In 10 years we will be more of a technology firm than a mere insurance company»

How would you define good leadership today?
For me, good leadership means establishing a clear framework and ground rules, while also allowing teams a lot of freedom. Leading means asking questions and not just giving answers. As CEO I am also the «Chief Listening Officer»: I listen and try to find out what is on the minds of my employees. This is the only way to feel the pulse of the organization. I act as coach and avoid exercising control as much as possible; that is no longer appropriate today. Instead I require and promote personal responsibility and place great emphasis on empowerment.

Digitalization is advancing fast. The pressure on costs and efficiency is on the rise for companies. What specific profiles are you recruiting because of this trend and at what level do you employ them?
In the insurance sector, IT used to be a tool, now it is central to business. In 10 years, we will be more of a technology firm than a mere insurance company. Today, there are a number of new profiles that we want to attract. Among these are the usual culprits in the area of data analytics, IT, customer journey, design thinking, etc. At the same time, we are a house of a thousand occupations with high diversity. Besides digital skills, we need interdisciplinary competences, scrum masters, lateral thinkers for innovation and start-up types, who do things differently. We focus on building up these profiles internally. We invest heavily in the employability of our staff. In customer service we have, for example, started an experiment in which employees spend 10% of their worktime on further training.

Four years ago, you came to Switzerland and were appointed the top position at Baloise. What changes and transformations have you initiated since?
I haven’t initiated changes on my own, we do it as a team. We have defined a clear strategy, simplified our products for partners and customers and offer additional services beyond the insurance business. In addition, we have developed Baloise’s culture further. «Culture eats strategy for breakfast» – of this I am personally convinced. We strongly emphasize innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and personal responsibility – true to the motto «Don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness if it goes wrong.»

The share of foreigners on executive boards of Swiss companies is 44%. In your opinion, how important is immigration for Swiss companies in general and your company in particular?
Immigration is vital for all of Switzerland. It leads to greater diversity. But not only is immigration important, so is expatriation: Swiss talents gather valuable experience abroad, which they then import to Switzerland. For our site in Basel – in the tri-border area – immigration is even more essential. Roughly one fourth of our employees are not Swiss. Without our neighbouring countries, we would have great difficulty filling vacancies. The political discussion concerning a restriction to immigration can perhaps raise national sentiment in the short run, but it weakens the Swiss economy.

How much importance do you attach to gender diversity in your company, and which measures have you taken to increase the proportion of women on your management boards?
Gender diversity is very important, but other types of diversity such as age and origin are equally so. One needs to invest in gender diversity early on, because it takes time until it becomes the norm. We consistently require that when management positions are filled at least one woman is on the short list. In addition, over 90% of our female employees return to work after maternity leave. We offer flexible work models and part-time work – even in top management – and our company has its own childcare facility. Last but not least, we engage in wage equality dialog, thus ensuring equal pay. It forms the basis: without equal pay, no gender diversity.