Good to know about Brexit.

Interview Hans De Backer


After many rewarding experiences in various cities such as Hong Kong, Istanbul and Brussels, Hans remains passionate about leading international business across different cultures.

More than 25 years of managerial experience allowed him to take up international leadership positions in finance, strategy, renewable energy, information technology, food ingredients and government relations.

Since March 2019, Hans focuses on his role as Brexit Coordinator at Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) giving tailor-made advice to businesses and trade associations which may be impacted by Brexit.

TIP-IM: Hans, Brexit has been a reality for almost 2 months now. Will you as Brexit Coordinator succeed in getting through this situation?

Hans: Although our exporters do complain about the increased cost of administration, things are currently not so bad on this side of the Channel in terms of customs and logistics. Of course, there are many changes for Flemish companies that export to the UK, just think in terms of customs formalities, VAT, logistics, import duties for non-EU goods etc. As the British themselves have not yet finished their preparations, they opted for a phased approach. For “standard goods”, UK customs checks will only start as from 1 July However, for animal- or plant-based products, customs checks and health certificates will be required as from 1 April.

TIP-IM: Are our companies still able to deal with this?

Hans: At FIT we have been preparing this for four years. But most of our SMEs, partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, have only really started preparing for Brexit since the second half of last year. In the meantime, we have more people working on our Brexit helpdesk, adapted our website and organized numerous webinars. Of course there are a lot of questions. More than 57,000 unique visitors have visited our website to find answers to their questions about Brexit.

TIP-IM: Is there an increasing demand for Interim/Transition managers?

Hans: There are certainly companies that hire people for this particular phase.

For example, many exporting companies really lack customs knowledge, and you don't solve that by taking some courses. There is a lack of logistics and supply chain managers with the necessary, specific experience. At the same time, I also notice many opportunities because many multinationals have chosen to build up their customs expertise in Belgium (so called “Triple C customs competence center”).

In many cases, this competence is now needed in the Brexit context on a temporary basis, in order to adapt the software system, automate customs formalities, digitize flows. There are many activities that need to be strengthened on a temporary basis in terms of logistics, supply chain, customs and finance/VAT.

Brexit also has a clear effect on the world of transport companies. While many smaller transport companies lose their courage, the opposite happens to large transporters and logistics specialists. Many of them are increasingly organizing their customs expertise internally and thus becoming customs representatives. They will also automate the processes for their customers. For example, many larger transport companies in Zeebrugge temporarily recruit higher profiles with customs, logistics or software background.

TIP-IM: What about across the channel? Especially for British companies that want to remain active on the continent?

Hans: The UK Government is encouraging UK companies to have an entity in Europe if they want to export to the vast European market. Moreover, you also have a lot of companies from outside Europe that are now leaving the UK to set up in the EU. This in turn increases the demand for higher level, temporary profiles in sales, but also in supply chain and logistics. We hope at a later stage that innovation and research activities will also shift here. These innovation projects will undoubtedly also bring along higher profiles.

TIP-IM: Do you think the project economy is increasingly becoming the norm?

Hans: There is no doubt that in the future companies will start working and recruiting more on a project basis. Phenomena such as Brexit and the corona pandemic have made people realize that you need to be able to adapt quickly, but you can also do that by hiring temporary profiles.

TIP-IM: Is our youth and our young labor market sufficiently prepared for this?

Hans: That varies from sector to sector. In the IT world, more is already done on a project basis. The same applies to finance and this is positive because Brexit is also an administrative problem, and Interim Managers in Finance are coveted profiles. At the operational level, however, it seems to me that there is still a need to catch up in the field of Interim Management.

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