You first discovered Japan more than 30 years ago. How did that come about?
> Fabrice Tilot: As soon as I left the School, I went straight into my military service, as a reserve officer and then, rather conventionally, in 1983 I was taken on by the Tractebel group – which later became Electrabel, then Engie. I was sent for two years to their subsidiary Chamebel, in charge of the financial coordination of their foreign branches. This position involved a lot of travelling! And then one day Tractebel sent me to Japan to help with the sale of one of the group’s companies over there, to open their Japan office and, out of necessity, to find out about Japanese customs and learn the language of this country – for which I developed an immediate fascination.
Unfortunately, circumstances meant that I had to return to Brussels and Tractebel offered me a job in Hong Kong… Then there was a new turn of events: at the same time, in 1989, I was contacted by SIDAL, part of the Hoogovens steel group, who were looking for a Belgian manager who spoke Japanese for the opening of their Hoogovens Aluminium Japan subsidiary. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: I accepted the post and was able to return to Japan! After four years, I invested my savings in my own company – Triple-A Management Ltd – which represents foreign companies in Japan. And I’m still here!
What is our Alumni community like in Japan?
> F.T.: It’s negligible in any permanent sense but it has plenty of visitors, on missions, etc. Students too, with Erasmus and QTEM students…
I arrived in Japan at the same time as another alumnus, Philippe Fonck (Ingest 1980), and we both try to help and welcome young people from the SBS-EM. My motivation is the same as it was when I joined the Cercle Solvay committee, nearly 35 years ago. Thanks to my degree, I have been able to do some amazing things. So I want to give something back to the School.
Together with André Farber and Marie-Christine Adam, we were able to establish links with universities here, and this was later followed up by former Dean Bruno van Pottelsberghe, whom I accommodated in Japan when he was still doing his doctorate. I have nothing to promote, nothing to sell; I give my support simply out of a desire to help. And it is this thinking that has guided me too for 10 years as President of the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
We are a handful of businessmen who give up our time to act as directors and, as part of this, we also try to get young people involved in the “young professionals” section. We want to ensure that these activities continue, but also help these youngsters put down new roots, something you need to do when you spend a long time living abroad.
Solvay has left its mark on other members of my family too. My father, Jean, graduated from the School in 1946! My sister Axelle and my brother-in-law in 1979. And now my oldest son, Derek (Ingest 2010), who is living abroad in Taiwan.