Meet Thomas Pirard, our new Chairman of the Board of Directors


There is movement in the Board of Directors: board member Thomas Pirard, who is also Manager of Entrepreneurship at Unizo, will assume the role of Chairman as of today. He will take the place of Dirk Van der Stede, who remains on the Board of Directors.

Hi Thomas. For those who don't know you yet: can you tell us a bit more about your professional track record?

Hello, I am Thomas Pirard and all my professional career I have been active at UNIZO. UNIZO counts both individuals and professional organizations among its members; I started as a spoc within the organization, including in their contacts with the study department. Later I started working as a European advisor in their study department, where I was responsible for Unizo's European interest representation, together with our European umbrella organization SMEunited. A year and a half ago, I also became half-time manager of the Unizo International team, which advises and informs importing and exporting companies. About Brexit, for example, or new import laws. Since the beginning of this year, I have been responsible for Unizo's entire offering: everything we put on the market for entrepreneurs, from training and guidance to our freelance and start-up operations, going international, digitalization,...

How did you end up on the Board of Directors of Exchange?

Historically, Unizo has always been part of the BoD of Exchange. When the previous mandatary retired, Unizo was looking for someone who had a feel for the international context. Given my experience in Unizo International, I was a logical choice, also because I sit on the Board of Trias. Two NGOs that believe in entrepreneurship as a lever for social value creation, job creation and better conditions. It's a huge enrichment, also for myself. And it is interesting to deal with entrepreneurship within a different context than that of Unizo. There are similarities, but it's relatively far from what I do on a day-to-day basis, which is really fun.

Exchange, Trias, FIT, Belgian Foreign Trade Agency, VLEVA,.... you hold a lot of board roles in a variety of organizations. Is there a common thread?

That entrepreneurship. VLEVA suited my function as European Advisor and at FIT I was able to offer added value to international and Flemish export companies as well. Trias and Exchange are of course very much linked for me. With a different way of working, but still in that entrepreneurial atmosphere. I really believe in their models. There is also a lot of complimentarity. Trias focuses on organizations like Unizo or Boerenbond, but in other countries. Where Trias' work stops, Exchange's work begins.

The classic financial North-South operation may work in acute crisis situations, but if you really want to do value creation, it has to be different. That's where Exchange's model is very strong, very tangible and visible. If you leaf through the annual report and see the projects, you can imagine everything too. That's what I like about Exchange, that tangibility. In any case, the diverse board experiences help you cope better with certain situations. And anyway, you take certain things with you. For example, FIT and Exchange are no strangers to each other, and there too I can play a bridging role. Meanwhile, I am also no longer a member of the board of directors of the Foreign Trade Agency and VLEVA.

Why did you decide to become chairman of the BoD of Exchange?

I see this position more as a transition period. Over the next few months, we will be thoroughly mapping out the management structure and structure of our Board of Directors and mapping out a strategy for the coming years. I was asked to manage the transition.

What do you want to accomplish as chairman?

My biggest challenge is to review both the management structure and the Board of Directors. We need to have a Board that the Managing Director and the team can always count on, a sounding board with diverse backgrounds and expertise. I want the team in Wilrijk - and also in Africa - to feel supported in the great work they do. Finally, I also want to take the relationship with DGD, Enabel and the Flemish government to a higher level. That way we can approach the future even stronger and more supported.

Do you have a connection to Africa?

I wouldn't say connection, but the interest is definitely there. You wouldn't expect it, but until two years ago I had never been outside of Europe. However, in the past two years I have had the opportunity to visit two African countries, Guinea and Senegal. I was a little nervous beforehand, but afterwards I didn't want to leave. I would like to describe the continent's appeal, but then you quickly lapse into clich├ęs. Let's just say that it made a huge impression on me.

Especially Guinea I found extremely interesting. I visited some of their projects there with Trias, which I think is also the best way to see a country. I am super grateful for those experiences, and realize the importance of them. In my opinion, you can't be on the Board of Directors of an organization like Exchange without visiting the projects and realizing what the added value of Exchange really is. If you govern too far from reality, you quickly lose touch with it.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I play tennis, padel and I also play rugby in a modest club in my village. I also love to cook - so I love traveling and getting to know other cuisines. I used to be in digs with people from Uganda and Senegal; we made our most famous national dishes for each other every week, which was a great experience. As a social person, I also like going out. For a beer, to the theater, or to a soccer match of course - I myself am a supporter of Cercle Brugge. Sport is a necessity for me. It's one of the only places where you only think about one specific thing. That's where I feel the most free.