The best way to find out what an organisation does, and why you should become a part of it, is to ask current members why they joined, why they stay and why they value their British Chamber membership.
Developing your business
Hywel Thomas, Managing Director of Businessfruit Learning Solutions, cites three main reasons for joining the British Chamber in 2000: “To better understand how Brussels 'clicks', to build business relationships through the networking and information-rich events the Chamber offers, and ultimately to support the growth of my Belgian-based company.”
More than ten years later, he certainly understands more about the way Brussels and Belgium 'works'. Through the British Chamber's Speed Networking, Business Development Group activities and other events he has built some valuable relationships with other members; and the Chamber has supported him in developing his business.
“What strikes me now about the Chamber is that more than being a member I get a sense of partnership,” says Hywel. “All the members are working to make their organisations succeed and in so doing are helping others along the way. There is no guaranteed prescription on how to do this but the Chamber provides a central meeting point for all types and sizes of organisation. The wealth of activities and events on offer reflect that diversity and the energy and focus that members bring.”
James Wilmott, Managing Director of Forum-Europe agrees. “Working with the British Chamber has enabled us to expand our network quickly in Brussels. As an SME, the contacts that we make through the Chamber’s network continue to be important in our development,” he says.
James also appreciates the relaxed and multinational nature of the British Chamber. “You are quickly at ease at BritCham events which makes introducing yourself to other businesses that much easier. And many members are non-UK so it is more of an international business club than a bilateral business chamber. With its huge range of events, both the level and scope are really impressive. The British Chamber clearly offers great value for the membership fee.”
At global management consultancy Accenture, the British Chamber membership offered two clear advantages. “First, the Chamber is a fantastic vehicle to enable us to develop deep relationships with EU policy-makers,” explains Patrick Oliver, Accenture’s Head of Government Relations for Europe. “And secondly, the British Chamber is an excellent vehicle for organising conferences and events that can showcase our ‘thought leadership’ and corporate thinking on key issues.”
“The British Chamber fulfils a unique role in the Brussels networking scene. It is probably the most active and respected EU networking organisation in Brussels,” believes Sean Murray, Head of EUK Consulting’s Brussels office. “Just look at the calendar of events: the quantity and quality of EU stakeholders who come along is remarkable. There is no European Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, but British Chamber activities effectively fulfil that role. It offers phenomenal value for money in terms of corporate fees.”
For Paul Leonard, who is responsible for communications and government relations on behalf of BASF's Crop Protection Division, membership of the British Chamber is all about ‘complementarity’. “We have our own networks, we can access our own internal expertise – so why join? The reason is that the British Chamber's network is complementary to our networks: their channels and partnerships are additive to BASF’s. They increase our reach,” states Paul.
“From a multinational perspective, no one country in the EU can get its way,” he continues. “So we need a multilateral or multi-channel approach. Membership of the British Chamber provides this with its great ability to contact and work with policy-makers in the European arena. But it has a neutral stance and provides a neutral venue for debate. It is not overtly policy driven and therefore allows space for bi- and multilateral contacts to flourish. It is a great platform for European networking where all are welcome.”
Paul is also impressed by the British Chamber team. “The people are flexible and open to new ideas. It is always a pleasure to work with them,” he says.
Sophie Crousse, Director of Government Affairs at pharmaceutical multinational GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) Brussels office also appreciates the British Chamber’s reach. “BritCham membership is very useful for us for monitoring business and European information,” she confirms. “And we find attending BritCham events very useful as they really increase our stakeholder reach – by which I mean our relations with the EU Institutions, with other players in the regulatory environment, and with other business members.”
Sophie expects GSK to increase its involvement with British Chamber activities in the coming years as the value of the Chamber’s platform in providing these networking opportunities for the company is more fully appreciated.
For Carsten Hess, Head of Deutsche Post’s corporate representation in Brussels, the British Chamber approach is also important. “The open-minded approach is key,” he thinks. “There is widespread respect for British Chamber events. They offer the most useful platform provided by any national Chamber of Commerce in the EU or any of the Brussels’ ‘think-tanks’.”
“With the British Chamber you get the inside track,” concludes Carsten. “And you get more back from the chamber, the more you want to participate.”