Francis Van Steenberge is an American born in the US, but as a child he had the opportunity to live is Southeast Asia, Germany, and Belgium. He completed his middle school and high school years in Waterloo, Belgium and then obtained a Master’s degree in Economics and business from the University Libre de Bruxelles in 1997.
He joined the General Electric Company straight out of graduation within the prestigious Financial Management Program (FMP). This was a 2-year, rotational role that brought him to work in Belgium, Spain, and the US. After graduating from the program, he handled the finance functions at various manufacturing plants throughout the US and Puerto Rico from the office in Hartford, Connecticut.
Frances was again promoted to finance manager and sent to work in the Atlanta, Georgia office where he held multiple finance roles that focused more on service businesses. During those seven years in Atlanta, Francis obtained an MBA from Emory Business school as a Beta Gamma Sigma graduate in 2008. In 2010 he was further promoted to the GE headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut where he managed the financial planning and analysis.
In 2014, Francis decided to move his family from Connecticut to Dublin, Ireland so his wife could take advantage of a significant opportunity. After reflecting on his 15 years with General Electric, moving from one business to another and from one geography to another while constantly adapting his leadership skills to each unique experience, he decided to capitalize on all these valuable learnings and experiences and launch his own business in the field of corporate coaching and leadership.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I call what I teach through my coaching business “leadership from within” because I believe everyone has traits of leadership, but in some it is just a matter of developing them. From the start as a manager, I was always fascinated by leadership, developing one’s skills and partnering with others in order to succeed. I have a natural trait to communicate and motivate others, and I quickly observed that others gravitate towards me for career advice, opinions, and personal development. In 2014, I decided to take a leap of faith and follow my instincts and start a leadership consulting business.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I believe in building a foundation of mental and physical wellbeing prior to focusing on enhancing one’s personal impact with others. I apply this to myself. Therefore, I carve out time to drive my daughter to school each morning. I follow-up with a short walk with my Hungarian pointer in the hills of South County Dublin. Only after this daily routine do I head to my office and start my professional calls and obligations.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I believe in the power of networking. I like sounding out ideas on others, and then listening to the feedback and feeling the energy resonating from others. I like building plans and structure. I like including others in the execution of my ideas.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am excited by the rise of hybrid working and the limitless possibilities this offers. These changes require an emphasis on clarity of roles and responsibilities, the clarity required to make this work with a workforce that is partially working from home but also working at the office. Making this seamless will require adaptation and focus. It is a challenge, but I absolutely think this is the new norm. COVID will be an inflection point.
Companies are now trying to create models where you work 3 days at the office and then 2 days at home. They are now organizing the technologies to make it seamless for people in the office and those working from home. I think it is critical for them to provide that flexibility to people, especially within the tech sector with younger employees that may be forming families.
Travel has been redefined. Before we would always prioritize meeting people in person. It is still very important but getting on a Zoom call to organize work has become very doable.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I create space for myself each day to meditate and focus on positive thinking and reenergizing myself.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid of failing, making mistakes. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Practice doesn’t necessarily make one good at something. One can practice questions and answers without understanding the underlying concept. Practice and repetition can narrow your creativity. Think large, think bold, don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll learn more from your failures than from your successes.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen. Always listen. You won’t learn anything from your own monologue. Listening intently to others offers you a world of possibilities, learning, and self-development.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Don’t overstretch yourself. Be selective. Don’t take on customers that you know you won’t be able to successfully win over. Don’t oversell or overpromise but go the extra mile and surprise your customers by overdelivering.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early on in my career a made the mistake of not defining exactly the scope of a particular mission and leaving it too vague for the customer, and then realizing only when it was too late that we were not on the same page. This experience taught me to be very clear in my mission statement, to explain what success looks like, and detail the intricacies of our professional partnership.
I have definitely been able to apply this lesson within my coaching business. People come for coaching because they feel like they’re not working at the top of their potential. They have a specific issue, but you know as we start the session it turns out that there is you know, multiple aspects, multiple challenges that they are facing, and this can very quickly expand the scope into all different things. You have to narrow your scope and hone in on the deliverable early on so that people feel the tangible benefit of the coaching session. The client and I talk together to define the challenge so we can work on the solution. After that, we can discuss if we want to take this further and go through other avenues.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Think digital. Build your competitive advantage online. Disrupt your traditional business and think digital and how you can bring more of your services online. For instance, there is a lot of commonality in the challenges that many of my clients face, so I am planning on creating a module online around the issues of growing your inner peace and being comfortable where you are in your organization. It will enable me to be very specific to my clients’ needs. It will provide more customization for each client. With a digital product, you can serve clients in different time zones and different geographical locations. Also, building your brand online will have an enormous impact.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought the Ottolenghi cooking book called “Simple”. Wellbeing starts with what one eats. “Simple” means easy, healthy but more importantly, tasty recipes for all to enjoy. It was a great purchase.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Google Cloud Services. I find Google cloud to be easy, secure, and insightful. I share documents, presentations, queries with my customers and use Google to extract key insights from my CRM database.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. This book will give you a new perspective on us, humans. It outlines the power of community, adaptability and what drives our interaction with others.
What is your favorite quote?
“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” Mike Tyson.
• Believe in yourself.
• Don’t over promise but do overdeliver.
• You are the result of your past experiences, so make them as interesting as possible.
• Create headspace for reflection and meditation.
• In the long term, one cannot deliver and be creative without mental and physical wellbeing.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.