David Suetens (State Street Luxembourg): Framing the big picture
Upgrading his computer every two years as a teenager helped David Suetens to embrace change. The head of State Street Luxembourg, who away from the office is passionate about nature photography, says a critical priority for the financial industry is trust and innovation.
A Message from Time
Growing up in Mechelen, between Brussels and Antwerp, David Suetens was influenced by his local environment, learning how taking care of things and making the most of good weather can lead to success. From an early age, his summers combined holiday and work, which taught him about what he didn’t want to do for a living, as well as how to save money. He bought his first computer when he was 14, a 48kb Oric, and got into the habit of selling his machine every two years in order to upgrade both hardware and software. By 18, David owned a Macintosh Plus, which strengthened his fascination for innovation and technology. At home, there was always a copy of Time magazine on the table that was sending out an urgent message: “The world is bigger than Belgium.” So after studying in Leuven, he headed to America.
Closing the Circle
Having spent a year at Boston University, David greatly enjoyed being part of an international group of people and wanted to stay in the US, but the economic situation was not encouraging. So he consciously decided to join an international company, Euroclear, and moved to London. He then moved to Amsterdam with ABN Amro, before joining ING in The Hague. Working in the Netherlands, he enjoyed the country’s ‘trader’ culture that promotes being direct, entrepreneurial and taking ownership of responsibilities. “The Dutch went around the world to trade, not to conquer,” David says. When he received a call from Boston-based State Street, he felt he was closing the circle. He sees his on-going role, as well that of the company’s, as contributing to financial services in general, especially by promoting trust, which he believes is a critical priority for the industry.
His own ‘Triple A’ reads Arctic, Alps and Africa, where he went with his wife to do nature photography. The secret to taking amazing pictures is “not to look through the lens at first”. First you should observe the animals for hours to understand their dynamics, he says, in order to anticipate when the best pictures will be possible: “When I finally pick up my camera, I take thousands of pictures in order to get one really good one.” He was privileged to witness lions, polar bears and cheetahs, but David also enjoys walking in the forest near his home whenever he can, nurturing his close relationship with nature. “Last weekend, I only took my binoculars,” he says. This fascination for visualisation has prompted him to organise ‘thought labs’ at which people get together to develop a vision for the future by integrating the impact of technology, economic factors as well as left-field ideas. He also sits on the board of the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT Foundation), arguing that Luxembourg has a rare ability to embrace change, in the same way that he does.