Joan Van Loon

Managing Director IBM

Antwerp emerged as the top choice in the study due to mobility aspects and the availability of talent in the labour market and educational institutions.

Joan Van Loon
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Antwerp scores highly in the prestigious 'Global Cities of the Future' ranking compiled by fDi Intelligence, a division of the Financial Times that offers a range of services related to foreign direct investment. This high ranking was a decisive factor in the decision to locate an IBM Client Innovation Center (CIC) in Antwerp. According to Managing Director Joan Van Loon, the key draws were accessibility, the city's super-diverse talent pool, and collaboration with the City of Antwerp.

"The Client Innovation Center (CIC) depends on IBM Corporate, not IBM Belgium" explains Joan Van Loon. "In that sense, we have our own corporate culture. A CIC focuses on technical profiles such as developers, business analysts, scrum masters, data engineers, and cloud specialists. We collaborate contractually with IBM Belgium on client projects, for which we provide technical services. Many IT tasks, such as back-office development, were previously outsourced to India or Romania. Clients requested greater proximity, which is why we established a CIC in Belgium. There are 25 other CICs in Europe, located in cities such as Groningen, Magdeburg, and Lille." 

The CIC has been operating since 2022 at MeetDistrict The Link in Berchem. Antwerp was chosen as the best location based on a Plant Location International study. "Antwerp emerged as the top choice in the study due to mobility aspects and the availability of talent in the labour market and educational institutions," says the Managing Director. "The study also received support from the City from the outset to validate and test certain aspects."

The CIC engaged an external agency to identify a location within Antwerp. The City of Antwerp’s Investdesk department suggested potential locations, contacts, and information networks. "We wanted a co-location space tailored to growth. Not traditional office spaces, but a location for creative, dynamic, innovative profiles. MeetDistrict The Link was ultimately chosen. The proximity to the train station was certainly a decisive factor, along with the appealing design of the location."

"Together with the City, we are also exploring the best mobility solutions for our employees. However, a location next to the train station is just one part of the mix. Information is also provided about options such as bike leasing, for example. The CIC has also joined the City's 'Slim naar Antwerpen' mobility initiative which has allowed us to tap into advice, networks, and contacts."

Talent acquisition at the CIC is done through LinkedIn and career events. The personal approach and attractive open culture encourage many new employees to relocate to Antwerp. "We grew to about 40 employees in a year," says Joan Van Loon. "We were able to find them relatively easily because we didn't specifically require master's or bachelor's degrees, but rather candidates with a technical background who could pursue further specialisation with us. As part of IBM corporate, they have access to a wide range of certification and training programmes."

"We also organise events on site," continues Joan Van Loon. "We invite guest speakers for presentations on IBM technology or tech-related topics such as quantum technology or artificial intelligence to familiarise potential candidates with the CIC and encourage applications. As the CIC, we also participate in events organised by other organisations or by the City. It's always about networking. We organise career events and internships with educational institutions. The City has an overview of expertise within the various educational institutions and useful contacts."

"Being a large multinational company, IBM can appear a bit intimidating. That's why we have consciously emphasised the fact that while part of IBM, the CIC is also a different company, with a different culture and environment. As a manager, I am personally involved in every job interview. We often see that people want to relocate to work with the CIC. Several employees have moved to Antwerp from other cities in Belgium and even from abroad."

Diversity is important within the CIC. The 40 employees include 21 different nationalities. The City of Antwerp also provides support for information and awareness about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. "One-third of our employees are women," adds Joan Van Loon. "Working on our own corporate culture certainly helps. During recruitment, we convey a certain image of who and what we are as an organisation. We prioritise recruiting based on culture, and then on skills and competencies. This leads to word-of-mouth recommendations."

The City itself regularly organises events for businesses, including relating to diversity. "The agenda now includes a programme for employers on diversity and inclusion," confirms Joan Van Loon. "There are also events relating to mobility, such as those focused on the mobility budget. These events always include a combination of knowledge transfer and networking opportunities."

Joan Van Loon plans to double the workforce in the short term. "The intention is definitely to stay in Antwerp, although co-location is no longer cost-effective when you have more than 100 employees. But the advantages of Antwerp as a location for the CIC are undeniable."

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