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Johan  Thijs

  • Programme: Senior Executive Programme
  • Nationality: Belgian
  • Job Post-programme: Group CEO (Chief Executive officer), KBC Bank & Insurance

Education and experience

Johan has held a range of roles in the finance, banking and insurance industries in Europe. He holds an executive role in the Flemish professional organisation of entrepreneurs and has an MSc in Applied Mathematics and in Actuarial Sciences from KU Leuven. He completed London Business School's Senior Executive Programme in 2008.

A new mind-set

I originally graduated from university back in 1989.Since then I’ve attended various management training courses, but the opportunity to take a month and really focus attention on my leadership skills was too good to pass up. The Senior Executive Programme offered me the rigorous academic approach I was looking for and the opportunity to engage with a range of participants from around the world.

The programme totally changed my mind-set. My cohort included leaders from different industries across Asia, the US, Australia and Africa. Interacting with professionals who could share such strong cross-sector, multi-geography experiences both enriched and broadened my outlook. It also made me realise that Western Europe and the US are not the only sophisticated markets out there. Prior to the programme I spent much of my time focusing on small details. Now I’m able to step back and look at the bigger picture. Utilising this type of ‘helicopter’ vision has enabled me to work within wider parameters and with a much more strategic perspective.

A clear directive

The Senior Executive Programme has had a significant impact on my life. At the time I joined the programme, I was running KBC’s insurance company in Belgium. Since completing the programme I’ve been promoted to CEO of the whole group, leading around 45,000 people. When I was given the job, I tasked myself with a very clear directive – to clear up the legacy resulting from the financial crisis and restore the trust of clients, employees and shareholders.

In a few years, my team and I have managed to turn around the group. The balance sheet has been reduced by one third, our business model as well as a new strategy have been defined and our stock has rebounded. We have also regained a great deal of public trust, although there remains much to do. KBC’s reach extends across Belgium to our branches in Central Europe, New York and Singapore, so my leadership and decision making also impacts the wider industry, influencing markets where we are currently active.

A different outlook

Business inevitably consumes a great amount of my time, but an accident whilst on the Senior Executive Programme for the first time in 2007, made me realise that things can change in the blink of an eye. When I returned to complete the programme, the messages about balancing my professional and private life resonated much more strongly. Even while work remains a crucial and very major part of my life, I make every effort to spend quality time with family and friends.

My big challenge now is to continue to do business the right way in an environment that is still hostile towards banks. The Senior Executive Programme has given me the skills and confidence to do just that.