“Your business is only as good as your people” Deborah Nash, CEO Teneo, IoD Brussels

Our IoD Belgium chair, Deborah Nash, heads up the Brussels office of a global strategic advisory firm, working with clients across Europe at the intersection of business and politics. Here she talks about working in the ‘Brussels Bubble’, the importance of company culture and leading by example.

I grew up in Northern Ireland where I studied Law and French at Queen’s University Belfast followed by a Masters in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. I always wanted to be a lawyer and got my first job in a legal firm in Northern Ireland, but my passion for human rights and politics made me look towards Europe and other careers for my next step.

I began working on asylum and refugee issues for an NGO in Brussels and then moved into an independent public affairs consultancy. This put me right in the heart of the EU’s ecosystems, policy and networks; the so-called ‘Brussels Bubble’. I really enjoyed the dynamic nature of the work and found consultancy to be less hierarchical than a law firm. I was young, ambitious and appreciated the breadth of opportunities available.

Workplace culture wasn’t so much of a focus then but now it is fundamental. It used to be that people were reluctant to question or challenge what they were told, these days people are – rightly – looking for more form their workplaces and their leaders. None of the workplace environments I worked in during those post-university years were particularly bad, not intentionally anyway. However, I did see the impact of difficult individuals on a team.

Establishing a culture is about understanding what people want to get out of work. Your ethos should align with personal objectives, views of the world and ethics. Your business is only as good as your people, and having a strong and positive purpose and values underpinning your organisation is essential to help teams push in the same direction.

As CEO of the Brussels office of a large global advisory firm, I try to lead by example and live up to our cultural values. For example, if transparency is a value, then you need to be transparent yourself. I try to be bold and call out behaviours which don’t fit with our values. If people see your culture being eroded, it is undermining. Remote working demands an even stronger company culture and you have to lean in to ensure your values reach out into homeworking spaces.

Like many people, after Covid I was keen to get back out there, and I was delighted to be invited to an IoD Belgium event in Brussels. I enjoyed the speaker, the people and the interesting conversations and made the decision to join. What’s appealing about the IoD here in Brussels is that it’s not just purely people from the ‘bubble’; our group brings a mix of Belgians and other nationalities.

As a relatively new chair I am determined to keep up the positive dynamic set by my predecessor. We have a core group of active members and, with the help of a small advisory committee, I am keen to build out the diversity of the membership in the year ahead. I know from my own experience that events are a great way to open the door to the IoD for potential new members so we will have some exciting speakers over the coming months. And of course, any IoD members who find themselves in Brussels for a few days are always very welcome to attend or reach out for a chat!

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