DeltaQ may not be one of the most well-known brands among the general public, but the Brussels-based company excels when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of buildings larger than 5,000 m². This Brussels-based company, resolutely in tune with the times, deserved a portrait, as did its CEO Khadija Nadi, a "boss" firmly planted in her day and age.
With a bright smile and sparkling eyes, Khadija Nadi is happy to confide in us. She details a rich professional and personal journey that, barely a few months ago, brought her to the head of DeltaQ, a company that was born within 3E but which now stands on its own two feet.
THE VIRTUES OF SMES
She enthusiastically recounts the seven years she spent at the beginning of her career at Devan, a highly innovative SME in the field of intelligent textiles, which over a few years experienced "good, sensible growth", she comments before listing the different positions she held there, from Marketing Assistant to Sales Manager, mainly in Europe. She notes: "SMEs are less fashionable than multinationals or start-ups. However, they offer their employees many opportunities within a professional organisation, which is far from always the case with a start-up. So for me, it was a great choice that allowed me to try my hand at different responsibilities."
IN THE WORKINGS OF A MULTINATIONAL COMPANY
Khadija Nadi also recalls her next professional experience, as part of the multinational company AkzoNobel, which at the time employed 55,000 people worldwide and which she joined out of curiosity, to discover how such a behemoth works from the inside. "Quite a change of scale! Initially, I only intended to stay for a short time, but I ended up staying for seven years." During this period, she discovered different markets, multiple roles and various situations: international business development, which took her to the four corners of the globe, operating management which meant improving negative results, building a more efficient team, and of course a joint venture in Spain between different parties where everything had to be done, from recruiting sales representatives and building teams, to setting up operational processes. "It was a small business project in a very large company with an intrapreneurial feel that I liked and that helped me quite a bit with what I do today."
TIME FOR REFLECTION
Khadija Nadi's career path would take another important turn, starting with a few months' break to return to her roots in Morocco, home of her parents and her adopted son. It was also a time for reassessment: "In the small mountain village where I was staying, a thousand miles from the high-rise business district of Amsterdam to which I was accustomed, it barely rained more than two days a year. In this agricultural society, parents could no longer earn enough money to send their children to school, buy them school equipment, etc. As a result, climate change has become very real to me!" It challenged the 'Bill Gates model' which until then was the only one she knew, which was that you have to make money and then give it back.
On her return to Europe, the young woman yearned for something else. She turned to entrepreneurship, which had long tempted her and which would allow her to reconcile her professional and private life. All that remained was to find a niche in which should could give her best while satisfying her ethical concerns. 'Effective altruism', a recent philosophical trend that encourages a rational consideration of the 80,000 hours that make up a professional career in order to ensure that the social return on investment is as high as possible, provided the beginnings of an answer. "I didn't quite have 80,000 hours left, but I quickly realised that I could help others, especially entrepreneurs who had what I called 'positive projects', in other words social entrepreneurs, social impact companies etc., to have greater impact." It was in this context that Khadija Nadi met and worked with Piet Colruyt, 3E's director and founder of the Impact House and its investment fund Impact Capital. Particularly sensitive to reducing CO2, she discovered with astonishment that buildings are responsible for 40% of the global impact in terms of CO2. It so happened that 3E had DeltaQ, a start-up dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of buildings over 5,000 m² (office buildings, shopping centres, etc.) which was about to become independent. Khadija Nadi joined the board of directors in January 2020 and took over the management in September. "We don't claim to be THE solution to reducing the CO2 footprint by 55% to meet the requirements of the European Green Deal, but with the help of the available software, we can help our customers save the first twenty percent. If through technology, we can come up with great things, we shouldn't hesitate!"
HEADING UP A STRONG TEAM
However, it is not an easy market. From Brussels, where the company was born and decided to stay, "because Brussels is a real nerve centre and has a cosmopolitan and multilingual side that resembles us," DeltaQ targets very large European and Asian real estate portfolio managers. In a building, there are a lot of people involved which makes the task more difficult. Nevertheless, the young woman has flourished in this organisation where everything had to be done on the organisational level and where she developed surrounded by a team as international as it was talented. A team largely made up of experienced professionals who arrived at a moment in their career when they wanted to get involved in a project that made sense or were pushed into it by their children who were aware of the environmental issue. About her team, she says, "I want better people than me throughout the company. It's important that they feel comfortable there, simply because that's how they will perform well." And it doesn't matter if her role shifts from strategic to very operational in the same day: "In fact, the CEO's job is mainly to facilitate, to help, with the added pressure of responsibilities. When things go well, we want to leave it to the team, but when things go badly, it's up to the CEO to take charge. The job is to deal with problems every day. So you always have to be prepared to deal with things that need to be resolved. Right now, I feel like I fit right in, but in a few years, DeltaQ may need a different type of CEO and that's fine, I'm totally open to it."
FALL IN LOVE WITH THE PROBLEM
As you might expect, Khadija Nadi is not one of those who believe in rigid, well-thought-out career plans. "There are different ways to get from A to B. Everyone will do it depending on their circumstances. It doesn't matter if you are an employee, an entrepreneur or even an intrapreneur in a large company. What is important is the underlying motivation for making one choice over another. Do you want to make money, create impact or be flexible? It's really important to be honest with yourself. That's the secret to getting it right. I don't believe in sacrificing five years of my life because it's important for the next step." The young woman is therefore inspired by social entrepreneurs for a final piece of advice: you have to fall in love with the problem. "You get into entrepreneurship to solve a problem. And this solution may well be very different from the one you initially imagined, without causing any frustration. So I want to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to fall in love with the problem and I would advise them not to 'get too caught up' in career plans that may not be necessary."
There are different ways to get from A to B. Everyone will do it depending on their circumstances. It doesn't matter if you are an employee, an entrepreneur or even an intrapreneur in a large company. What is important is the underlying motivation for making one choice rather than another. Do you want to make money, create impact or be flexible? It's really important to be honest with yourself. That's the secret to getting it right.