Test Engineering Manager, Stijn Schepers, always had a keen interest in traveling, discovering new places and ‘going against the grain’. In 2006, he boarded a plane to New Zealand only to return to Belgium only ten years later. ‘Luckily, Accenture has an office in Wellington too,’ he smiles.

Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Babs van Ballegooie and inspires him on a daily basis? How has  Javier Leonor's life, career, ambitions and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Youri de Koster made in his life? Through a series of portraits, we answer these questions and introduce you to our people: those who make Accenture the thriving company that it is.

Introducing Stijn Schepers, Test Engineer Manager at Accenture Netherlands.

‘I studied to be a chemical engineer. However, soon after I started my first job, I realized that working as a chemical engineer was completely different to what I expected. This was in 1999, when there was a huge demand for IT specialists. I decided to pursue a second degree in computer science in South Africa, and never gave chemical engineering a second thought.’

‘After eight years of being in the same job and following the same daily routine, I desperately needed a change of scenery. Around that time, the Belgian government decided to issue so-called ‘working holiday visa’ for the first time. These visas were meant for Belgians under 30 who wanted to explore the world and gain work experience overseas. As a then 29-year-old, I realized it was a golden opportunity, so I applied for a permit to live and work in New Zealand. What sold me on New Zealand was the fact that it was far away and presented a lot of the unknown. It could have very well been Australia, but that application process was a slightly more complicated: the documentation was all in French whereas there was an English option for filling out the New Zealand forms.’

Old Habits Die Hard

‘While I had planned to spend my working time in New Zealand plucking kiwis or something similar, I inevitably ended up working in IT. What can I say - old habits die hard? My visa was only valid for a year, and when I was about to leave the country, I was offered a job by a local IT consultancy company. I returned to Belgium to apply for my permanent resident visa for New Zealand. Then, of course, there was the tiny fact that I had fallen in love with my now wife, Ann, who I first met while living in Leuven and who later visited me during my initial year in New Zealand.’

‘There’s a funny story behind her visit, actually. She was 25 at the time and at a travel agency was running a promotion to celebrate its 25th anniversary: 25-year-olds could travel to New Zealand for next to nothing. Ann came to visit me as ‘just a friend’, but amidst the beautiful, romantic landscapes, we fell in love. After I returned to Wellington, we did the long-distance thing for two years before she eventually joined me in New Zealand.’

Quality of Life

‘Our three children were born in New Zealand; they all hold dual citizenship. They are the main reason we returned to Belgium; we wanted to be closer to family, but also give them the opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in this country. I’ll admit: if it wasn’t for them, I could have, and probably would have, stayed in New Zealand. The quality of life there is simply amazing; not necessarily financially, but more from a social point of view. Life revolves predominantly around the family and spending valuable time together, which is one of the things I definitely miss most.’

‘I had to get used to the Belgian mindset again. For instance, you don’t just pop in to visit friends or family without having made prior arrangements. But I also miss the 20-minute bicycle journey to work every morning through the mountains, past the sea and the beautiful nature; and the fact that we could be in the city, on the beach or at the zoo all within a 15-minute car ride.’

Most Innovative Country in the World

‘There is this perception that New Zealand isn’t really a pioneer in anything. On the contrary, New Zealand is amongst the most innovative countries in the world. In fact, returning to Belgium to work in IT felt rather regressive; I often find myself doing things I was already doing in New Zealand three years ago. But I use this to my advantage, and it’s certainly one of the reasons why I have been placed at the client I am working with currently. It’s an ideal fit because the client’s company is ushering in a new DevOps and scaled Agile delivery model, for which my skills are perfectly suited.’

‘It is my goal to implement this New Zealand-inspired efficiency here in Heerlen’

‘One the things I like about my job is the fact that it’s not only a technical role, but also has a strong strategic component to it. As a member of the extended management team, I am lucky enough to have some say in the strategic thinking of the organization, too. We meet every six weeks to discuss how to best operate our innovation center in Heerlen, best engage employees and drive innovation further.’

‘I have a strong desire to have a positive impact on changing our organization and lead it in in the right direction. One of the things I mean by “the right direction” is moving towards having fewer processes in place. New Zealand incorporated this effectively, which proves that there is definitely room to streamline processes even more. It is my goal to implement this New Zealand-inspired efficiency here in Heerlen and see people getting paid for the work they do, not for how long they spend doing it.’

Digital Innovation Should Be Social, Too

‘As much as I love digital innovation, I sometimes find its impact too small or short-lived. Ideally, digital innovation should have a social component, too. That’s what defines whether something only has an impact tomorrow or a lasting one on the future.’

‘What I like about my role as Test Engineering Manager is that it’s fun, diverse and extremely challenging. Most of all, I love my position enables me to really make a difference for my client. For instance, if we don’t do something quickly, the whole ICT system can fail within a few months - with major financial consequences. Being part of the task force that’s adjusting the whole business infrastructure to guide the client smoothly in this transition is fantastic. I am proud of the fact that I can convince my client of the need and urgency to change, and raise awareness regarding the need to make sure certain systems have to be designed in specific ways. And, as a result of sharing that insight, I am equipped with all the essential tools and instruments to reach those goals. Again, the advantage of having the ‘sneak preview’ in New Zealand of what’s ahead, is very beneficial in this case.’

Limburg as the Epicenter of Innovation

‘For now, we’re happy living in Bilzen. I love being part of the Heerlen office, and having the opportunity to empower the region. People in Limburg tend to be modest, and often seem to think they can’t compete with cities like Amsterdam and Brussels. This is totally false; I am convinced we can drive change and innovation for the whole of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and even the rest of the world from Limburg.’

‘That said, it’s good to know that Accenture has an office in Wellington, too. Having three kids does limit my professional flexibility somewhat, but for now, I am perfectly content. I am a hands-on father who likes to be home in time to have dinner with his kids, bathe them and read them bedtime stories. Not to mention, my wife just started another three-year degree, so returning to New Zealand is out of the question… for now...’

Stijn Schepers (1975)

Studied: Chemical Engineering, Environmental Science, University of Antwerp (1999)

Started working at Accenture: January 2017

Relationship status: Married to Ann, father of Noa (7), Tomas (4) and Arden (1)

Loves: My family

Gets annoyed by: Bureaucracy

Favorite food: A good steak

On my nightstand: My mobile phone

Listens to: 80s music

Last purchase: Small pool for the kids in summer

Would like to sit next to in the plane: Donald Trump. I would like to ask him some challenging questions to see what he is really like. Of course, it’s very likely that I will request to be seated elsewhere within 3 minutes of our interaction

Life-changing event: The birth of my children

The best lesson life has taught me: Never give up!

What I learned last week: Realizing that today’s leadership needs to shape culture so as to suit millennials and create an environment in which they can flourish. How can managers make a difference?

Most beautiful place on earth: New Zealand

Hobbies/passions: XTERRA (off-road triathlon - running, mountain biking and swimming in nature)

What nobody knows about me: That I participated in the XTERRA World Cup in Hawaii in 2010. Because our daughter was born just before it, I wasn’t perfectly fit, but managed to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. It’s my dream to do it again when I’m 60, but then I want to end up on the podium

Life motto: What can’t be done today, can be done tomorrow