CEO Davy Demuynck sets the example for ION employees

“MANAGERS WHO DON’T ALLOW THEIR EMPLOYEES TO EXERCISE DURING WORKING HOURS ARE RUNNING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION”

Davy Demuynck is the CEO of Waregem-based project developer ION, and used to cycle together with Tom Boonen and Gert Steegmans in his youth. Now an adept runner, he dreams of doing his first marathon before he turns forty, while also encouraging his employees to exercise and eat healthier.

TEXT: JOOST HOUTMAN

PICTURES: DAVID STOCKMAN (BELGA)

There’s a stiff wind in Baron Casier Park in Waregem. And it’s raining, too. But this doesn’t seem to bother Davy Demuynck as he laces up his running shoes: “On the contrary! I actually prefer running in the rain. There’s more oxygen in the air, and there are fewer people out and about.” Davy also seems to like going fast, keeping an intense pace. “I’m pretty competitive”, he laughs.

You look trim and toned. Is that the result of running and a sportsman’s diet?

DAVY DEMUYNCK: (laughs) “It’s a gift from Mother Nature. But I also watch what I eat. There are lots of business lunches and dinners in my line of work. I almost always order fish, because it’s easily digestible. And I have an extensive breakfast, because that’s the healthiest. At our company, you’ll also find healthy snacks and fruit in our snack pantry. And we’ve stuck a little chart to the drinks machine, showing how many kilometres you need to run to burn the calories in one coke. Just a small gesture, but with a big impact, as the numbers have shown. A chart like that really makes you face the unhealthy facts, making it easier to eat and live healthier.”

What other measures have you taken to make your company healthier?

“We’ve outlined an active and healthy roadmap for our employees, and we’ve given them a sports watch, so they can monitor their activity levels. Every employee has also received two running outfits, one for summer and one for winter – with ION branding, of course. I encourage people, but I don’t want to force anyone. It’s all the same to me whether an employee exercises a lot or not. But I do try to lead by example.

Soon, we’ll be moving to a new building, where we’ll finally have showers! That’s something we’ve been missing, because people will be more inclined to come to work by bicycle or to go out for an hour-long run if they can shower afterwards. This new building is also right near a so-called Finnish trail. I’d like to go for regular runs there with some co-workers during our lunch break. After a good run, you can take on the afternoon with a refreshed mind. (laughs) So that makes total business sense from an employer’s standpoint, too! Managers who don’t want their employees exercising during working hours are running in the wrong direction.”

Do you also take part in competitions?

(nods) “We’ve done the Beatrun in Waregem, a tower-running event, a Spartacus Run … and now we’re gearing up for the Dodentocht [an annual ‘Death march’ of 100 kilometres in under 24 hours]. Employees can request a coach.”

Are you an early bird?

“I set my alarm a bit earlier, so I can get a run in at six thirty. Depending on my schedule and my mood, I run about 10 kilometres. I never do the exact same route, but I always keep a good pace. (laughs) I have a need for speed. Not far from here, in Anzegem, I can run several kilometres on unpaved roads. That’s nice, as my ankles are my weak spots. I need to go easy on them.”

Do you mull over the day ahead, or do you try to keep your head clear while running?

“I never listen to music while I run. That allows me to think clearly – I love it! I also believe I work better afterwards. Many days, there are tough negotiations ahead of me. After my run, I’m reinvigorated and I’m good to go. Running in the evening is not really an option. I put in a lot of hours, so by the time I get home, I’m usually exhausted. But when I’m travelling, I make sure to pack my running gear, in case there’s some room for an evening run then. Usually I go running on Tuesdays, Thursdays and on the weekends. If I have any stress, those are good times to get it out of my system.”

So you always run by yourself?

“On the weekends, one of my daughters might accompany me on her bike, but usually I run by myself, yes. Both of them practise a lot of sports: hockey, gymnastics, track and field … and I’m glad they do. Recently, my wife has taken up running again, so now and then we go for a run together. Then we do maybe five kilometres together, and then I do another five. I only run outdoors, by the way. I need to see bunnies hopping about. (laughs) You won’t find me on a treadmill.”

You used to be an avid cyclist. How does cycling stack up to running?

“The big advantage of running is that you see your condition improve over a short period of time. In cycling, that happens much more gradually. But the big advantage there is the scenery: you get to see so much more. Sometimes it bothers me how little ground I cover while running.”

Apparently, you were a natural cycling talent. Why did you quit?

“My brother was a cyclist, my cousin … It’s pretty much in our genes. As a boy, I would win the occasional race at a town fair. It came naturally to me. Before I went to college, I was a semi-professional. That was pretty high-level, alongside the likes of Tom Boonen, Gert Steegmans and Stijn Devolder. Whenever I would see those guys on TV, I would get that itch again – actually, I still do. I quit because I went off to college and I wanted to enjoy life. You can’t do that if you have to train every day. The hermit’s life of a professional cyclist no longer appealed to me. My family and the cycling federation did try to change my mind. They thought it was a waste of talent.”

You decided to pursue a degree in Physical Education.

“My father urged me to study something I enjoyed. For that, I’m still very grateful to him. Through my studies, I got to know a lot of other sports. Cycling was virtually all I knew before that. I did okay in many sports, but I didn’t excel in any one in particular. Through sports I ended up in sports management, and then in management, period. This left me with little time to exercise. Between raising two children and my demanding job, I only managed to get a run in maybe twice a month. Three years ago, when the children started primary school, I found the time to go running more often again. It’s fascinating – and at times frustrating – to see how fast you get out of shape, but also how fast you get back in shape.”

Do you still have any specific running goals?

“I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I get a kick out of challenging myself! (laughs) It’s in my nature, I can’t help it. But it’s also in the nature of my job: at ION, we go from one project to the next. I promised myself I would run a marathon before turning forty. So that’s what I’m training for now. I want to do well, or my sense of pride wouldn’t be satisfied. This challenge motivates me to set my alarm to go off a bit earlier. I always enjoy those runs, though I have to admit it takes some willpower. There are plenty of excuses not to go: an e-mail to reply to, something to tidy up … I’m always pleased when I manage to ignore such distractions. No time to run? That’s rubbish. You have to make time. Watch half a Netflix episode less or wake up a little earlier. Because living a healthy life and looking fit gives a positive impression. He’s quick on his feet, people might say. (laughs) And they would be right.”


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