Dominique Van Den Putte is the owner of the chocolatier and confectioner, Duva Cerisettes & Chocolates. The company produces high-quality chocolate specialities for a niche market. In the past few years, the firm has put considerable effort into process optimisation, leading to rapid growth. This proved to be a turning point. The head of the company now felt that a more strategic perspective was needed, which is why she signed up for Vlerick’s SME Excellence Programme.
Entrepreneurship with your eyes wide open
“It’s about nine years now since I took over Duva. I did it because I felt a fierce drive to become an entrepreneur. I studied Applied Economic Sciences and then built up marketing and sales experience at an FMCG multinational. At a certain point, I decided to pursue my ambitions and take over Duva. Duva makes niche products, not traditional chocolate products. We try to differentiate as much as possible. Our specialities include cerisettes and orangettes, which contain fruit. We cater to customers who are looking for ‘something a bit different’.
Around fifty people work at our company, so we’re a relatively small business. That means that as the manager, I’m closely involved in every aspect of our organisation. That’s great, but it has its challenges. I still remember the early days of our company, shortly after the takeover. Four days out of every five, I’d be down on the production line. I wanted to understand every last detail, to learn about all the processes. Because I’m convinced that you need to do that to know what you’re talking about. Not only with your customers, but with your employees as well. The flip side is that once you are that familiar with an organisation, you start developing blind spots. You lose sight of the big picture because you’re standing too close. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”
A business plan that tightens up your goals
“I realised I needed a sounding board. In the early years at Duva, I was able to fall back on my training and experience. But that was no longer enough as time went by. The company was ready for a new phase. I wanted to check what I was doing, and be challenged to broaden my thinking. I felt I needed that in order to be able to further professionalise the firm and drive it forward.
What is our business objective? That became much clearer to me during the Vlerick programme. Our company’s strength lies in our added value. The business plan that we had to develop during the programme brought that home to me. I found that part of the programme was especially relevant. You really create something tangible for yourself and your organisation. Now I have a valuable strategic plan for the future of Duva. I know exactly what steps I’m going to take. I’m pleased about that. Because for me, that was a key reason for attending the programme.”
Experts at your side
“Throughout the programme, the support offered by Vlerick was superb. The tutors are hugely committed. They know who you are and what you do. If they hear something, they pick up on it straight away and pass it on: such and such a person might be useful to you. It is the kind of advice that is truly valuable, and it makes the whole experience even more intense.”
Interaction leads to fresh insights
“What surprised me the most? That the programme genuinely succeeds in shifting your perspective. You expand your points of reference and break free of your own context. This is partly down to the composition of the groups. Your classmates are entrepreneurs with exactly the right experience and knowledge to serve as a sounding board for you. Very careful thought has gone into the selection of the candidates. I never expected that the interaction with other entrepreneurs would be so enriching. One thing’s for sure: if I had taken these lessons privately, I would never have learnt so much.”
A boost to your personal development
“I also found the programme very useful at a personal level. I have grown, and not just as an entrepreneur. How does Vlerick achieve all this? Over the course of the programme, you work step by step through the points that you are good at as well as those that you still need to work on. For example, you also get feedback on your personal leadership skills. That was incredibly valuable for me. I now have a much better idea of where I am and where I want to get to. It has given me the confidence to take the next steps that I believe my business needs.”