Dexia Group

Five blocks away from the European Union Parliament stands Square de Meeus. What makes this square so unusual is the well-kept, tree shaded park covering the entire area. Various office buildings including a hotel line the square's perimeter and it's definitely one of the more prestigious addresses in Brussels. It's here in a corner building that I find the head office of Dexia Group but, finding the head office of one of Europe's largest bank/insurance companies is one thing and visiting it turns out to be a whole different matter.

Built in 1996, I guesstimate the building to be about eight stories tall. Dexia shares the building space with the embassy of New Zealand. One can't enter without the glass doors being opened remotely by the receptionist. The reception area is very small. I check in with the receptionist and explain who I am and how I mailed a letter of introduction a month earlier to CEO Pierre Richard. The receptionist says it's her second day on the job and isn't sure if Richard's secretary is in. She spends several minutes looking through an employee phone directory. I'm visiting several other companies close by so I leave my introductory postcard and tell her I'll be back later in the day.

Returning I find the rookie receptionist has been joined by another receptionist and am told CEO Richard works out of the Paris office. "Is Paris or Brussels the head office?" I ask. "It's here" replies the non-rookie receptionist. "So", I reply, "he must keep an office here, can you call his secretary in Paris and find out who ended up with my letter of introduction?" "No", replies the rookie receptionist, "my boss says not to give out any information". I ask, "Did your boss see the postcard I left you?" She nods. I ask, "can I talk to your boss?" "No", is the response. "Look, I'm just trying to find out who ended up with the letter sent to Mr. Richard. Can you call up someone in public relations or corporate communications to see if they're familiar with the letter?" Both receptionists shake their heads. Frustrated I say, "I don't understand why you won't help me, what do you suggest I do?". One says to re-send the letter. I reply, "why would I do that, wouldn't the same thing happen again?" They refuse to give names, phone numbers of anyone in public relations or corporate communications or let me use a phone. I leave a not very happy camper and those two seem to be pretty pleased with themselves.

A few days later I go to Dexia's website ( looking for addresses of other Dexia offices in Brussels. I challenge anyone out there to find a single listing of a PHYSICAL address posted on the company's extensive website. Every heading which says "contacts" lists only phone numbers or email addresses. Jeez, the more I learn about the Dexia Group, the less impressed I get. Clicking on a heading for Press Department contacts in Brussels I find the email address for Ulrike Pommee, a Press Officer. I send an email to Pommee (who I later find out is a woman) explaining who I am, what I do and the problem I'm having finding out where my letter to CEO Richard went. The next day comes a reply from Pommee acknowledging that Mr. Richard is more in Paris than Brussels and the head office of Dexia is indeed Square de Meeus 1 in Brussels. I'm then asked, "What do you want to see in our head office and who do you want to meet?". I reply to the email and since there's no response in a few days I resend it again and then again the next day. Hmm, maybe Pommee went on vacation.

It now only a few days until I leave Brussels and not having visited one of Europe biggest financial concerns ($22.3 billion in revenues, 24,000 employees in 21 countries and assets under management totaling 389 billion euros) wouldn't be right. I'm gone from my hotel room by 7:30 AM and usually don't return until after 5 PM.. Since I'm just traveling through Belgium I don't carry a mobile phone so, I stop by a hotel to use a phone and call Ulrike Pommee. Instead I get Thierry Martiny, who's also a Dexia Press Officer. I explain my situation to Martiny and ask if it's possible someone could meet me at Square de Meeus and answer my questions. Martiny says he'll look into it and I'm to call him back the next day. The next day I call Martiny and he suggests visiting the head office of Dexia Bank Belgium located about 10 blocks away from the Dexia Group building. I tell him "why would I do that? Dexia Bank Belgium is only a subsidiary and not the parent or holding company". Then Martiny (who by the way is a nice guy), says CEO Axel Miller of Dexia Bank will be succeeding Pierre Richard as CEO of Dexia Group on January 1st 2006. Hmm, I guess seeing where Miller hangs his hat would be okay but why am I being refused access to Square de Meeus?

Dexia Bank's blah-looking, 12-story headquarters was built in1970's and connects to another building in the rear. A total of 1,300 employees work here. Upon entering the building first time visitors could easily think they've mistakenly entered a museum. Why? Because of all the art displayed in the lobby which runs practically the entire length of this long building. My two favorites are the life-size and life-like sculptures of a woman sitting on a bench and the one of a homeless person with a blanket over the head–they remind me of works by Seward Johnson.

As Martiny walks me around the various floors I'm impressed by the extensive art displayed. It's primarily Belgian artists and encompasses everything from 14th century works to the Old Masters and Modernism. Meeting rooms are named after cities and inventors, smoking isn't allowed in offices and there's no formal dress code. Employees driving to work means footing the bill for their parking but, the company subsidizes employees using mass transit. It's a few blocks to Brussels' famous Grand Square and 20-minutes by train to Brussels airport. There's covered parking for cyclist and shower facilities. The cafeteria contains a bright red linoleum floor and wood beams from the rafters. Any employee perks? Free lunch and discounts on bank services.

So, what does the office of Dexia Bank CEO Axel Miller look like and what's the view out the window? Don't know as I don't get to see. Heck, Martiny isn't even sure if Miller hangs his hat on the 11th or 12th floor. The whole idea of visiting Dexia Bank was to pacify my disappointment in not being able to visit the offices of parent company Dexia Group and the carrot waved in front of me was seeing the office of Axel Miller, the designated next CEO of Dexia Group.

As I'm exiting the building I ask Martiny, "by the way, did you ever find out who ended up with my letter sent to CEO Richard?" "Yes", replies Martiny, "one of my colleagues".