Interview with Laurence Koutny – Founder of ‘Art of Chocolate’ & Winner of 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award

Laurence Koutny – Founder of ‘Art of Chocolate’ & Winner of 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman award

Hello Laurence, it is such a pleasure and honour to have you speak with me today! You have over 17 years in the chocolate industry…Truly amazing! Could you tell us some more about you, the woman behind all this knowledge and experience?

Hello, nice to meet you. Indeed, I am passionate about chocolate. As a kid, I was a fan of my Cote d’Or, as a student I started to discover the world of the candy-bar, when I finished my university, what a dream……Mars employed me on the campus. I worked there for 3 years understanding the world of multinationals and chocolate.

I then moved to Levi’s and travelled a lot. After years, my passion for chocolate came back and I got the dream job @ Godiva Chocolates. I was in charge of Marketing, the Retail design and then the entire innovation internationally.

I realised how much the Belgian savoir-faire was highly respected and recognised around the world. I then thought about how important it was to continue to claim our savoir-faire.

Your experience is overwhelming considering the various fields you have worked in, to mention a few: Accessory, Fashion, Sport, Education….Which one of these fields spoke to you the most and why?

I love fashion as it’s a continuous innovation process. You need to reinvent all the time and make people feel good in what they wear.

I love sport as it’s a must to live and to feel good and more importantly experience nature.

I love chocolate as it’s the best indulgence in life and then finally what’s best to pass legacy and educate people on what you love.

Which project has been the most difficult for you in your entire career?

On the 30 years of my career, there have been several.

Probably, the most recent one was the celebration of the 90th anniversary of Godiva in February 2016, where I organised an event with 150 journalists from all around the world. This event happened between the terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015 and the one in March 2016 in Brussels.

The level of stress was very high at our event, with everybody thinking that an attack might occur while we organised a week of events for these very important journalists.

You also were the winner of the 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award! That is a prestigious title to have! What were your feelings when they announced you as the winner?

I felt so thrilled as I had no idea I would win. It was a tough process to get there but when they call you on stage, I felt so proud……..amazing experience!

You are the founder of “Art of Chocolate”. Tell us about your journey in getting this huge project started?

It was a natural journey…after 17 years in chocolate, passionate about it, convinced that we have major talents in Belgium on the matter, I thought it was a must to share this savoir-faire worldwide.

I talked about my academy with highly respected people in the industry, to teach everything about chocolate from the bean to the consumer experience, to buying chocolate. They followed me on my thinking and supported me in the adventure.

Has “Chocolate” changed your life, because I know that the masterclasses you offer, do train and change other people’s lives?

Yes it did. I saw so many things in life but the most amazing thing is to see every smile on each face when people taste chocolate, not only chocolate but good chocolate. The nice thing is to keep contact with the participants after they pass by our masterclasses and see how they applied their learning.

One opened a chocolate shop in Ghana, another one launched a food truck ‘bean to bar’, and another one re-merchandised his entire store….so many nice stories!

I am so curious together with all my readers, to know more about your masterclasses. Could you tell us some more on that?

In the heart of Brussels, ‘Art of Chocolate’ delivers dynamic masterclasses aimed at chocolatiers, chocolate entrepreneurs, chocolate professionals in any field or anyone with a passion for chocolate from anywhere in the world, and interested in learning from the best to take their chocolate skills to a new level.

The philosophy is to cover all the steps from the bean to the consumer experience and cover the entire chain.

Our interactive masterclasses are centred around the following themes:

  • The chocolate making process for starting chocolatiers
  • Advanced chocolate making – Bean to bar
  • Sensory – Creating innovative, premium products
  • Building a successful chocolate business through developing rich customer experience

Please share with us some of your expertise in building a strong, coherent team and its impact on one’s business!

People are the base of everything if you want to succeed in business! It is crucial to have people with the same passion, respect and vision. With “Art of Chocolate”, I only met fully passioned, talented people who are ready to share their knowledge with others.

Everybody respects each other for their competency and the way they complement each other towards one same goal to train about the Belgian chocolate savoir-faire.

I replicated a recipe that I used during the last 30 years with the large numbers of teams I have had to manage.

Have there been other role-models that you have looked up to, or that have influenced you in some way?

There have been many people who had a real impact on my life. From a famous side, it goes from Mandela to Madonna to MèreThérésa (Mother Teresa) to Arétha Franklin to Simone Veil to Jorge Donn to Stromae to finally some amazing chocolatiers such as Laurent Gerbaud, Pierre Marcolini, Jean-Christophe Hubert from Milenisme, Patrick Roger, Stephane Leroux  and many others for their beliefs and passion!

Then on my career side, with 23 different bosses, you have some who really show you the paths and those who you really don’t want to be like, and you learn a lot from that too.

What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?

I wouldn’t say enough, have the passion for what you do, believe in what you do with concrete facts to validate your idea and be honest to admit the skills you miss and surround yourself with others who have those skills, to allow you to shine in your best qualities.

You must have a very busy schedule. What does a normal workday look like to you?

After a good breakfast….. it goes from managing the social network to recruiting participants; having to contact them to understand their real motivation. To develop new courses with teachers and to meet people for consultancy jobs, to organise sessions and prepare all the material.

Days go fast…..I constantly meet new fascinating people with the same passion for food and more especially for Chocolate.

The other day, I met an incredibly passionate ‘perfume’ guy, who was developing the best perfumes you would have never smelled before, in his garage in Brussels .

What do you do in your free time, and how do you manage to make time for it?

After having been in corporation for 30 years moving to Independent is a challenge! I want to be outside all the time but so much to do ……..I spend time with my 2 kids (or they do with me as they become older😊) and party with my friends.

I walk a lot, bike a lot , play golf and travel when I can to discover new things.

What is next for you…your next big project?

I have seven sessions to organise from now till end October. 3 very exciting confidential consulting missions in the chocolate business and I am preparing the whole schedule for 2020 with new, exciting modules.

How can my readers contact you, find your work?

The best way is to visit our website: www.artofchocolate.be or contact me at laurence@artofchocolate.be

BY CHRISELDA BARRETTO

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