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Interview with Louis J. Mercken

PMI Belgium

Let me continue the series “Everything you wanted to know about the Past Presidents” …

I would like to introduce you to Louis Mercken, President nr 2.Louis.png

Louis was Founding Vice President PMI Benelux Chapter 1998 – 1999 and President PMI Benelux Chapter 2000-2001.

Hello Louis,

Hello Christine,

As a first question I would like to ask you: how are you doing?

Thanks for asking. Considering my steady progress in age and number of years of retirement I’m doing well and still very busy playing a lot of golf. Since my retirement I also picked up and further developed a late growing hobby as “hobby cook”. So far successful because no serious complaints about my prepared food😊

How did you come to the PMI BeNeLux Chapter? And why did you decide to take the mandate as President?

A major part of my career I worked for Exxon Mobile (previously Exxon Chemicals). In that organisation, project management was a key skill, especially when having ambitions to become an executive. My responsibility was mainly managing IT careers of about 1200 individuals in Europe, both in business and plant information systems.

Later I joined as an executive a major outsourcing provider in the Benelux, with activities in computer operations and delivering projects, for large customers, both local and international. In the first years I had the responsibility for the realisation of projects in the Benelux, with a staff of about 320 project individuals both project managers and their teams. My last 2 years when I was CIO Europe for that organisation, I started realizing that international projects became a major challenge because of the lack of common approach for projects. My staff and I explored the possibilities of adopting a well-structured standard for managing our projects. That was the moment that we discovered the value of the early version(s) of the PMBOK and its best practices.

In 1995, I decided to become a PMI member but unfortunately the nearest Chapter was the PMI Northern Europe Potential Chapter, led by Jim Roofthooft, a senior project manager at NCR. In that period the potential Chapter organised yearly some 3-4 evenings with presentations from different companies sharing their experiences with project delivery. It turned out that the Chapter was too big and inconvenient for meetings because of the distance. During the first European Congress in Paris, that Jim and I attended, we discovered the way how other European Chapters where functioning and in returning to Brussels we played with the idea to create a more convenient way for our members to attend activities. We decided to create a task group with the objective to establish a PMI Benelux Chapter. In the 4th Quarter 1998 our submission for new Chapter was officially approved by PMI Worldwide with Jim as the first Chapter President and me as Vice-President/ Director of Programs. Our starting Chapter membership counted at that time 83 members and a Board of 7 individuals.

Our real start year as a Chapter was 1999 with ambitious plans, amongst them to hold more structured membership meetings in Belgium and the Netherlands, a significant growth in membership and sponsors.

I was elected PMI Benelux Chapter President for the business period 2000-2001. One of the items from our plans of late 1999 was to organise and hold PMP Certification Exams (paper/pencil) in our Chapter. This became a significant challenge, but we succeeded to have the first one done in Brussels on March 18, 2000, with 49 final participants and another one in June with 42 final participants.

The membership presence in our events was very satisfactory but we recognized that distance for Dutch members to these activities could become a hurdle. That initiated the idea to explore the potential for a PMI Netherlands Chapter in 2001. As a first step we added 2 Dutch Board members, both with a large experience in Project Management, René Vielvoije from EDS Netherlands and Rudolf Homburg, Partner of Actiono - ICT Managers.

October 21 oct 2000 was a milestone in organizing member events for our Chapter. We held the first PMI Benelux Day organised for our members and potential exposure to non-members and company executives, with the main objective to promote the PM Profession. Courtesy invitations from members were encouraged. The success of the first PMI Benelux Day was a welcome indicator for repetitive organisation of this event.

By the end of 2001 the PMP Evolution in our area was significant from 37 at the start of our Chapter to 368 by year end 2001.

In November 2001, the new PMI Netherlands Chapter was founded and because of this split our Chapter was renamed PMI Belgium Chapter from January 1, 2002, onwards.

At the end of 2001 I got elected as a Director of the PMI Board Worldwide where I served 3 terms. In the first year already, I had the opportunity to replace an Officer of the Board of Directors who left the organisation. As a result, I became a member of the Executive Committee. I occupied over the following years of my terms several interesting Officer positions. In 2005 I was elected by the PMI Board to become Chairman of the PMI Board of Directors. This was a novelty in PMI since it was the first time that a non-American occupied that position.

In 2000 I was fortunate to find 2 excellent friends and business partners that believed enough in professional project management to create Threon, a company focused primarily on training and delivering projects for large customers.

What do you remember from that time?

Christine, for your question I must separate 2 distinct time frames. Firstly, my involvement in the start-up and early years in the Benelux Chapter and secondly my 3-terms stay in the PMI Board of Directors Worldwide.

  • Let me start with the PMI Benelux Chapter involvement.

What I recalled from the First PMI Europe Congress in Paris is that some Chapters took a long time to get up and running and both Jim and I were not at all willing to copy that example.

That’s why I look back with a lot of satisfaction on my years as co-founding Board member of the Chapter and President. Since we were all volunteers, we should be proud to see what could be achieved in a short time. The enormous drive and motivation of the Chapter Boards since the Chapter start-up was remarkable. Today it gives me a good feeling to see that some of the achieved cornerstones from that early timeframe are still in place and further improved or extended. With pride we can look back at the successful creation and growth of PMI Netherlands (and later Luxemburg), the continued success of the PMI Benelux Day (now called PM Fair) and not to forget the growing number of certified individuals.

  • About my involvement in the PMI Board of Directors Worldwide my recollection is somewhat different.

At the Chapter level, I was used to get a lot of things done in a reasonable short timeframe and it was a surprise for me that this was different in the PMI Board of Directors of that time. I found that in the early days of my assignment too many taskforces and related meetings were held before any progress was measurable, and a lack of international insight. The positive thing is that it changed quite a lot over time. The Board became more international which is an important asset.

During your mandate, what is your good experience?

My involvement in PMI (both Benelux and Worldwide) gave me a lot of new friends and relations. It was always a pleasure to meet with motivated colleagues from over the world who shared with me the same passion for professional project management. It surprises me sometimes how much contacts I still have with individuals of the PMI Community. Hope this never stops!

Also, at the time that I got involved with PMI and the Benelux Chapter, project managers had a major challenge convincing their organisations and company executives about the value of their profession. It was good to see this changing enormously over time.

And what do you identify as a bad experience?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a bad experience in dealing both with PMI Benelux and the PMI Board of Directors Worldwide.

When looking back at things that happened and where I felt some level of dissatisfaction or disappointment, I can refer to two things, one in the Benelux Chapter period and one on the Worldwide level.

In 2000-2001 when the Benelux Board was preparing the creation of the PMI Netherlands Chapter, we had some ideas for membership growth if we could get a closer relationship with “PMI Nederland”. This Dutch organisation, focused also on Project Management, was well established in the Netherlands but had no relationship with PMI as an organisation. Several meetings were organised to explore the added value of acting as one larger Chapter. It was a process that in my opinion took far too long to end up in a no-go. The willingness to make it happen was not there which I believe was a significant missed opportunity.

One of the reasons why I was a firm believer in the best practices described in the PMBOK is that they helped significantly to convince executives of the value of professional project management. Those best practices could be applied for to all projects in different sectors. They are generic and could be used for different types of projects, from building industry to IT. Just for clarity they are best practices and not a “methodology”. When companies developed their tailored project life cycles or project management plans this could be called their specific methodology. Preferably based on the right selection of best practices. In this context I believe PMI should continue in enhancing Global Standards because they became valuable cornerstones for project success. Over the years PMI updated the PMBOK in several editions, each time including new insights. My disappointment was that one of the versions published in 2019 was announced PMBOK Sixth Edition + Agile Practice Guide. The Edition counted 976 pages of which 181 were dedicated to what I consider a methodology (Agile)!

If you look into the mirror, how do you evaluate your mandate(s)? What would you do differently?

I believe that the initiatives we took to create a solid PMI Benelux Chapter are a significant evolution in both promoting and applying professional project management in our region. I am looking back on this period with a lot of satisfaction and pleased of having played an active role in this realization. During my mandate it was also the timeframe that project management got the interest of universities. We had several occasions where university specialists joined us in research and contributing to presentations. In that context it was good to see that project management was taken up in their management course offerings. During my mandate it was also the start for me to become an executive professor in portfolio, program, and project management at UAMS (University Antwerp Management School)

If growth factors are a good measurement for evaluation, I think we have done well. Significant increase in membership and PMP’s. Strong appreciation of organized Chapter activities in Belgium and the Netherlands. Start of the PMI Benelux Day.

Given the means we had to do something valuable for the profession in that timeframe could not be done differently, refined maybe.

And what would you wish it still existed?

Enhanced cooperation with neighbouring Chapters, especially with the founding PMI Benelux Chapters. Having the approach of the former PMI Benelux Days re-installed. PM Fair is a good name for the event if it covers the interested membership the three founding Chapters.

How to attract members to become presidents?

We should promote to our membership the importance “to stand up get counted”, becoming part of a Chapter Board is an ideal message. If it turns out that some Board members have the potential of becoming Chapter president some form of grooming program should be considered. Make it clear to the members in the Chapter that a Board position is an important level of volunteer that brings a lot of knowledge and experience that can be used in their career.

What do you advise to the current president and to the coming presidents?

“Don’t rock the boat”!  Apply the lessons learned approach from the past and continue to offer the attractiveness of activities and events, if needed refine or enhance them. Some advice is in the saying “don’t try to mend it, if it isn’t broken”.

Before planning new ideas, have them evaluated by a “sounding Board” somewhat broader than the Chapter Board. The idea of a taskforce can be considered, and it is an opportunity to explore the future potential of members.

Any anecdote to share with us?

In the second part of 2001 I attended a PMI Worldwide Leadership event in Orlando with a large participation. In those days it was an excellent opportunity to find out more about PMI in general and meeting with fellow Chapter leaders. For this occasion, there was a compulsory fun task for the Chapter presidents to highlight their area in a presentation, wearing their national flag as an outfit. I asked some help to create this outfit but how to weare 3 different national flags. So, my friends designed a shirt with the Belgian flag, trousers with the Netherlands flag and a huge hat with the Luxemburg one. Wearing this in front of about 800 people gave me an inconvenient feeling, but the audience liked it!

How do you imagine the PMI Belgium Chapter in the future? And how do you imagine Project Management?

I know that the PMI Belgium Chapter became a solid and experienced organisation. The activities offered over the years were from an excellent level. I cannot imagine that it will drastically change over time. I’m convinced that existing and future members of the Chapter will steer their future Boards and presidents in the right direction.

As mentioned earlier I learned in my first experience in the Petrochemical sector that Project Management was a key skill for career progress. More organisations will adopt this thinking and that can only be beneficial for our PM’s and their career.

What can I wish you for in the future?

When I retired from a very busy and active career some of my friends told me that there was a risk for me to fall into “a dark hole”. I’m sorry for them because up to now I have not found that hole yet.

Do I miss an important question for you?

Dear Christine, I think we covered the essentials and I wish you and future presidents and Board members the same positive experience with PMI that I had.


I would like to thank you very much, Louis, for agreeing to share your experience with our members and I am looking forward to welcoming you at the PM Fair on 13th of October 2023.

Christine Dassy

President 2022-2023



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