Nicolas Bouckaert is the head of his family’s carpet-making business, Beaulieu of America. But that hasn’t stopped him being an entrepreneur.
I wanted an opportunity to get some outside experience – get my feet wet really – before jumping into the family business. It is more valuable to learn by doing things on your own. You will make mistakes, sure, but you learn from them – it is just a different type of learning that you may not get by going directly into the family company.
The idea was to do something in a clean, environment- friendly and safe way, which was linked to the main family business, Beaulieu of America. At Beaulieu, we are very conscious about reprocessing and using as much recycled products and raw materials as possible. The first venture I set up was Avalon Industrial Products in 2005, straight after a master’s degree in marketing from the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium. Avalon recycles and reuses cardboard tubes left behind after carpets have been made.
Business is all about people. I am still involved with Avalon, but a manager looks after the day-to-day activities. The real key, in any entrepreneurial venture, is finding good people you can trust to put in place to run operations.
My entrepreneurial streak is largely inherited from my family – my grandfather was a huge entrepreneur in Belgium. He started Beaulieu International in 1959 and set up all his six children separately to start their own businesses. The companies consolidated in 2005, but Beaulieu of America, which was founded by my parents in 1978, has always been separate.
My other passion is music. I enjoy going to concerts and festivals and when I was at a big music festival in Belgium in 2002, called Rock Werchter, I realised it can be a successful business model if done right. My parents have a big farm near Atlanta in Georgia, which I thought would be the perfect location for a three-day music festival promoting awareness about the environment. Bands such as The Killers and The Roots performed at the Echo Project in 2007, which was to promote green issues. We organised river cleanups, used biodegradable cups and plates, and a solar-powered stage. It was almost like building a small city for three days, where, again, the key was working with good people and production companies that have done it before.
Obviously, not everything always works. Unfortunately, we didn’t sell as many tickets as we would have liked, so despite a 10- year permit to use the property, we decided to take a few years off. In retrospect, it was a wise decision considering the recession that hit right after that. But you just learn from your mistakes and you learn more by trying things on your own.
I grew up in carpet factories. Since I was eight, I worked one month every summer in Beaulieu of America – wrapping rugs, loading trucks and eventually testing machines. That was the family way – to appreciate working at a young age and learn the actual physical work that goes into the carpet-making process. I became a board member only in 2007 and began working full-time a year later. My first job in the business was heading up the sales divisions in Australia and New Zealand – I spent a year there. I was named chairman of Beaulieu in February 2011, but it feels like I have always been a part of the business.
Even as chairman, I am still involved in my other projects. I set up a recycling and industrial waste sales company called Renuco in 2008. And more recently, as part of Renuco, created a new website called Rmxchange. It has been live since January 2012, and my younger brother Stan, who used to work for a solar panel installation company, is now its president. Rmxchange is basically an online auction-type platform for buying and selling recycled raw materials to the highest bidders.
It helps to be entrepreneurial while being part of a family business. You have the support of a larger organisation, access to people, ideas and information, and a wealth of knowledge to draw from. I also have two elder sisters – Stephanie lives in Patagonia in south Chile and runs a sheep and cattle ranch, while my other sister Nathalie lives in Georgia and has founded some entrepreneurial ventures along with her husband. But all my siblings sit on the board of Beaulieu of America. It is just a lot easier to become entrepreneurial with the backing of the family business than to go out and do something completely on your own.
As told to Rashmi Kumar
First published in CampdenFB, Issue 53