By CPA Global News ‑ November 29, 2019
“My father and grandfather taught me that, if I wanted to come into the family business, I would have to prove myself first.”
This lesson early in life bred a hunger and determination in Gaëlle Gevers that has helped her forge successful careers in a diverse set of businesses: from audit to retail to Intellectual Property.
Gaëlle is the fourth generation to take on the Gevers family global IP consulting company. In some senses she was born to work in the IP industry, but her diverse career could not be further from a lifetime in a family business.
From growing up in Belgium and often moving for her father’s work, to Switzerland then Paris and eventually Washington DC, Gaëlle is no stranger to embracing change and is a woman that has made her mark on a number of different industries.
In 1898 Jacques Gevers, Gaëlle’s great-grandfather, launched an office in Antwerp to help Belgian companies protect their inventions with patents. Born into this family, Gaëlle understood the IP industry from a young age. At the age of just 16, she had her first taste of working in IP. Her father, at the time head of CompuMark US, signed a contract for computerizing all trademark dockets of the trademark division of the US Patent Office. Gaëlle spent her summer proofreading computerized trademark dockets and transferring this into the very first USPTO computerized records.
Gaëlle studied Business Economics at ICHEC University in Brussels and subsequently completed a Master’s degree. After graduating, she landed a job in audit at Peat Marwick - now part of global consulting firm KPMG. Proving to be extremely driven and successful, Gaëlle worked in both Paris and New York City.
In 1992, Gaëlle’s father, who she describes as a “real entrepreneur”, set out to buy Gevers Group’s main competitor in Belgium. Gaëlle was asked to use her auditing skills to assess the new business for her father.
“It was a three-month mission, so after working for three years in audit I decided ‘I’ll take the summer off.’ I helped my father for the summer. And in fact, I never left, so that’s how I started. First, I became CFO, and after that CEO of the trademark business,” says Gaëlle.
In 2007, Gaëlle’s father made the decision to sell the family business to a private equity firm. She decided to take a step back from Gevers and invest her time in a new venture. In 2008 Gaëlle launched a homeware business, commissioning an artist to create artwork for plates, placemats, bath towels and more.
“I had spent all these years in the family business, which I ran as if it was my own. But actually, it wasn’t. I decided I wanted to do something totally different, so I created a business. I gave myself two years and said, if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve tried.”
Four years down the line, Gaëlle had her products in more than 1,300 stores worldwide and a range of 250 different pieces.
Despite successfully building a global business in an industry completely new to Gaëlle, and nothing to do with IP, she was still seeking a new challenge.
Gaëlle sold the homeware business in 2015 and was given the opportunity to work in the family business again.
“In French, we say you have the chicken and the egg. Which one came first? So, was it because I wanted to join the family group again that I sold the business? Or was it because I sold the business, I joined the family group?” Gaëlle ponders. Gaëlle became a strategic advisor at IP administrative services company, Valipat, which her father had created in 2008 and helped to grow the company until it was sold in 2018. (Subsequently Valipat has joined the CPA Global family as part of the merger with ipan/Delegate, which closed in 2019).
At that point the family had a minority shareholding in Gevers group. The majority was still owned by a private equity firm. But the family had first option to repurchase the company if the private equity firm chose to sell. In 2018, everything fell into place and Gaëlle took the opportunity to buy back the company with her two sisters and brother. “After ten years, I was back” says Gaëlle.
Today, Gaëlle Gevers heads up a highly respected IP company that employs 270 people and has a turnover of more than 55 million euros. Gaëlle is the first to recognise the contribution of the employees to the success of the business and, since becoming CEO she has empowered Gevers’ employees by increasing management autonomy and opening up the firm’s capital and ownership to in-house senior professionals, with the intention of creating a strong partnership to motivate key people and grow the business further.
Gaëlle says, “I’m not scared of making decisions or empowering others to. I think I have a very logical mind, and a consistent and caring personality.”
Despite being born into the family business, opportunities did not simply fall into Gaëlle’s lap. She had to work tremendously hard. “There were two challenges for me; being a woman, certainly. I was lucky to be brought up in a family where there was no distinction made between sons and daughters – everyone was judged on what they could do. Also being the daughter of the boss. That was hard because people talk to you as though, ‘it’s too easy for her’”.
This has driven Gaëlle not only to grab every opportunity, but to make sacrifices to empower her business career. A perfect example: Gaëlle chose not to take maternity leave when her children were born. For her, however, it was never a case of career before family. “I had a nanny, but I’ve always been there for the important moments in my children’s lives.”
As a CEO, she believes in rewarding talent, not gender. “For me, it’s irrelevant in our organisation if it’s a woman or a man. In my teams there’s women and men. I even think that there are more women in our organisation than men. We reward talent. It’s a non-issue for me,” she adds.
Having been born into the Gevers family, Gaëlle’s career has gone full circle, ending up as head of the family business. However, her varied career and continual success demonstrates how much impact family advice had on her. She has certainly proven herself more than worthy of running the family business.