The Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series continues with an interview with Ilse De Loof, Group General Counsel for LBC Tank Terminals, an independent operator of midstream and downstream bulk liquid storage facilities for chemicals, oils and refined petroleum products. Ilse is responsible for the legal, compliance and risk management function and acts as corporate secretary for the LBC group. Ilse is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at LBC and also serves as the President of the ACC Europe Board of Directors.
Clare Beresford, CEO at Laurence Simons Search, catches up with Ilse to discuss all things career, challenges and diversity related!
CB: Good morning Ilse. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today, and huge congratulations on your appointment with ACC Europe. We are sponsors of the ACC Europe Conference later this month and delighted that you can chat with us today. To begin, can you tell me about the moment you decided to become a lawyer?
IDL: When the time came for me to decide on which university degree I would study, I hesitated between Roman Philology (French and Spanish language and culture) and law. As enamoured as I was with the Roman languages, it quickly became clear to me that a degree in such a field was not business-oriented enough to help me achieve my life goals. My dream was to work in an international business environment and a law qualification offered a better fit.
CB: When were you most challenged as a lawyer and how did you overcome it?
IDL: I have encountered several challenging moments in my legal career. While often difficult in the moment, looking back, these challenges must be seen as important steps to learn and grow along the way, and they have helped me become a better professional. The way I overcame the challenges was to be confident, motivated, and have a clear set of goals and values, while keeping a positive mindset.
CB: What are you most proud of in your career to date?
IDL: I am very proud of achieving my dream of working at C-level in an international business environment, (Europe, USA and Asia) where I am an equal and valued business partner to the executive suite and organisation. I also take pride in the fact that I’ve built international legal departments that provide workable and business-oriented legal solutions that take into account the broader commercial and financial picture. Setting up these legal departments required me to build legal teams from scratch, finding the right people, and mentoring and challenging them to be their very best.
CB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
IDL: Wow, I wish I could give my younger self a good talking to! I would start by reinforcing the idea that the only limits you have are self-imposed and learn early to trust your instincts. I really believe that these two lessons, especially for women, can be incredibly powerful. I would also say, to help find the motivation from within to overcome challenges, you must believe in the positive changes you will make.
CB: Diversity and inclusion is very important to Laurence Simons Search, I’m an active member of the 30% Club, and we consistently ask our clients about their D&I policies as part of our due diligence. Can you please tell us what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, and why they’re important?
IDL: An organisation’s human capital is its most valuable asset. The collective sum of the individual differences, life experiences, knowledge, inventiveness, innovation, self-expression, unique capabilities, and talent that employees invest in their work represents a significant part of not only a company’s culture, but also its reputation and overall ability to be successful. And of course, it is the morally and economically right thing to do.
Therefore, it is extremely important that organisations, and society, embrace and encourage all employees’ differences in age, race, disability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status, and other characteristics that make us all special and unique.
As one example, I am proud of the fact that our company has initiated a comprehensive Diversity, Equality and Inclusivity Program to be applied to the entire organization.
The purpose of this program is to ensure principles are in place and communicated throughout the organisation to provide inclusive, effective, equitable, and respectful operations and services that are welcoming and responsive to all persons of diverse backgrounds, experience, ideas, and perspectives.
LBC recognizes that its goals and values can only be achieved by bringing forward a truly diverse and inclusive workforce where each employee feels valued and empowered to fully engage in their work every day.
As President of ACC Europe, I’m very proud that we are a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion through our initiatives and member support. For example, women are making a difference throughout ACC Europe with strong female representation on our board and on the country representative level. We are also working closely with our colleagues and members to expand resources and best practices to promote and expand DEI initiatives.
Being a member of ACC offers opportunities to liaise, work, and socialise with colleagues all over Europe, and the world, and I feel strongly that this inclusive environment is very inspiring, encouraging personal and professional growth. It’s an organisation where we lead by example by being open, supportive, and collaborative with others.
CB: How would you advocate for diversity and inclusion with colleagues who don’t understand its importance?
IDL: I believe that the General Counsel or law department must often serve as an ethical and moral compass for an organization. As such, that sometimes requires influencing and educating parts of an organisation that are not yet aware of the value and importance of diversity and inclusion. Most essential is the tried and true “walk the talk”, to lead by example, and display patience whilst explaining that diversity and inclusion is both a moral and economic issue. The benefits of a solid diversity and inclusion foundation are crystal clear and will accrue for the organisation and its employees in direct proportion to their participation and dedication.
CB: In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of working in a diverse environment?
IDL: I do not find a diverse environment to be challenging at all. Quite to the contrary, I find it to be extremely enriching and it helps me to grow personally and professionally. I also share my cultural learnings with my three sons and believe it has helped them be very open-minded and inclusive. I’m very proud to see that this is paying-off and that they see diversity, inclusivity, and fair treatment as a standard way of living.
CB: Going forward, which changes do you see coming in the legal profession and more widely?
IDL: Legal operations and project management have become more important. The adoption of artificial intelligence and legal technology is ongoing and some parts of it will be as revolutionary to the legal profession as robots were to manufacturing. Those who are hesitant to adopt these evolving technologies, or hold a negative view of them, will be left behind in our profession. In the changing business climate, compliance is also more important than ever.
CB: And finally, if you had not chosen a legal career what would you have liked to become?
IDL: As a child, I had a wonderful dream of becoming a dancer. Now, I’m very passionate about art and culture and so would really have enjoyed a cultural management position such as an opera intendant or curator of an art house.
CB: Thank you Ilse for your honesty and insightful answers. It has been a pleasure talking with you today.