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Managers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes

ORMIT Alumni - Multicompany Management Traineeship

By Benoit Ockerman

Manager Customer Service Team @ Aleris

Benoit is Demand and Capacity Planner at Aleris. He has been ever since he completed his ORMIT Multicompany Management Traineeship there. Along the way, he learned how to lead, change and generally shake things up. The comment most heard about him? He never lets go.

A mind open to new things

I was your typical young graduate when I came out of university in 2011: no idea what I would like to do or where I wanted to work. So I decided to take a gap year and see the world. A fun time in my life, for sure, but it didn’t bring me any closer to having a fixed idea on my future. That’s why the ORMIT traineeship spoke to me: different companies in two years, combined with plenty of time and support to grow as a professional. Sounded like me. So I jumped in, ready to take on whatever came my way.

What came my way was a project at BNP Paribas Fortis on phone banking (we basically transferred the old Belgian system to the European standard – lots of juggling with voice files and hands-on implementation). Not my preferred environment and not my preferred subject. And yet it was perfect. Because it offered me new perspectives on things and forced me to really give it all I had. It was precisely the kickstart I needed. And I embraced it fully.

Steel in Wallonia: talk about a challenge

My second project took me to Magotteaux in Liege. And when I got the brief on the company, all kinds of objections flashed through my mind. Was I really interested in the steel industry? Wasn’t that declared dead in Belgium years ago? Would I do ok there with my high-school French? And how far was Liège from my home in the south of Brussels? Would I really do that trip twice a day?

I decided to go for it. Yes, steel is an old industry, and it’s not doing great over here. But isn’t that where the biggest challenges are? And, yes, my French would need some polishing and meetings would be difficult at first. But isn’t that what learning is? And the distance? Why not see the location as an opportunity to take my bike to work and explore the Ardennes while building on my stamina?

As it turned out, the biggest challenge for me at Magotteaux was neither of the ones I expected. I was in charge of an SAP-implementation with a team of senior users that felt absolutely no need to embrace that change. I had to go to great lengths to convince them to join in. For the first time I felt the importance of one-on-one talks – a new skill in my armory from then on. I also understood that their opposition to change wasn’t totally unfounded. They had some real issues with it, and it was up to me to listen actively. But when I did just that, and they finally came on board, and I succeeded in energizing the entire crowd, it felt like arriving solo at the finish line of a heavy Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I was stoked.

The only way is up!

I took on cycling after I scored a poor 4 on an ORMIT-fitness-test (yes, we have fitness coaches). My project in Liège provided a great opportunity for me to take on the Ardennes, and I saw my fitness level peak. So when I heard about the Ventoux-challenge here at Aleris, I immediately signed up. We climbed it from both the Bedoin and the Malaucène side, and really had a great time screaming each other towards the summit. I really believe in the strength of the bonds we create by taking on these kinds of challenges together.

Nothing beats the energy of a team that is ready to embrace change. Especially when you’re the one driving it.

Driven to learn and excel

The longest I spent on the ORMIT-bench between projects, was three weeks, and it happened right before my assignment at Aleris would start. I was excited to start working here, but I quickly realized that I knew close to nothing about aluminium. Some would say that for someone who would dive deep into reporting processes, that’s not a necessity. But for me it is. I need to know all about the real value of the company I’m working for. And that means going beyond stating fun facts like ‘did you know we make the aluminium that goes on the hood of Porsches’. (We do, actually.)

So I started studying. I read some books and watched a whole library of videos on YouTube, ranging from the harvesting process right up to delivering end products in the way we do here at Aleris. It was such a fun thing to do, and it really helped me to get started quickly here.

Change is a good thing

I’m the type of person that always keeps their ears and eyes out for new things. And I hate sub-optimal solutions. So it was very difficult for me to realize after the delivery of my first project at Aleris, that a new software tool had come out that would have made the impact of my work a whole lot bigger.

So I dove into the new Microsoft Power BI technology, and started to analyze whether it would in fact relieve us from a lot of manual labour that still went into the reporting processes that I had optimized. It did. It would. So I emailed my boss and built a small business case around it. We’re now in the prototyping phase of that new solution.

Coloured air conditioning units? Why not?

One of my university-friends now works in airconditioning. He’s responsible for sales in the Middle-East, and always has great stories to tell. Once, during a barbecue, he was explaining how in these markets they often gets asked if the air conditioning units are available in other colours, to match the interior of the buyer. They aren’t. And it turned out nobody is really catering for that market.

Or better: nobody was. Because we’ve started our own airco-coating company on the side. It’s your classic back-of-the-garage start-up, where we still manually take apart all units and send them to the painter, to reassemble everything later on.  We’re not sure where this is going, but for me it’s a brilliant experience. I get to see first hand what impact business decisions can have on organizations and profit. And it caters for my hands-on mentality too.

Leadership in the making

At first, I thought the Multicompany programme at ORMIT would be interesting because it would give me an opportunity to discover different types of businesses and industries. And, don’t get me wrong, it really does. But that’s not the most valuable part to me.

What really took me by surprise was the realization that managers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. No two colleagues are the same. And no two leaders are either. At BNP Paribas Fortis, my manager gave me a lot of freedom and responsibility but not too much feedback. At Magotteaux, my relationship with my manager ended not on the same high not it had begun, and that was a real shame because it had to do with a communication issue. Luckily, both times my ORMIT coach was at my side, helping me to work through these issues and growing as a professional and a leader along the way. I think that is one the main things I’ve learned through the entire traineeship.

“Everything you learn at ORMIT through training, coaching and projects, is brought into practice during the Innovation Challenge.”

Alexander Suykens