“All shareholders now clearly know the objectives.”

Lighthouse Invest supports generational change with family charter

Lion De Clerck, Copywriter Marketing & Communication BDO Belgium

For four generations now, entrepreneurship has been in the blood of the De Jonckheere family. What started out as a grocery shop in the early 1930s has in 2022 developed into a thriving real estate and hospitality business on the coastline of Nieuwpoort-Bad. Today, the family business is on the verge of a new phase in its long history. The next generation of directors is ready to take the helm. A family charter forms the basis of this transition. We spoke to current director Koen De Jonckheere.

What does your family business look like today and what is your role in it?

Koen De Jonckheere: “Today, Lighthouse Invest has two restaurants on the seafront of Nieuwpoort-Bad, a hotel and a new project, The CORNR Hotel. The project built a four-star hotel on the site where my great-grandmother started her grocery shop Chez Marthe in the 1930s. I’m the fourth generation in the company, and the current managing director. The shop later became a hotel, where I often visited my uncle, the owner, as a child. Although being in this line of business did appeal to me, it was never my goal to get involved.”

“For family businesses it is important to find a good balance between active and passive shareholders.”

Koen De Jonckheere, Director of Lighthouse Invest

How has the structure of the company changed over the years?

Koen: “In recent decades, the company has evolved from a family business with one director at the head to a structure with multiple captains and shareholders. Bringing the various points of view into line and keeping them there was by no means as easy as it used to be, but not less necessary. The management and governance organisation became more complex generation after generation. What greatly helped us to gain a better understanding of how the various parties within a family business can be structured was the Masterclass by BDO Partner Jan Oosterlinck. Personally, I found the psychology of doing business with family members and the complex tax and legal systems particularly interesting. The testimonials and best practices of fellow family businesses that represented a similar generational change were equally instructive and inspiring.”


Why is a family charter so important to you?

Koen: “For family businesses, it’s important to find a good balance between active shareholders who are closely involved with the company on the one hand, and passive shareholders on the other. Each shareholder has their own values, with their own rights and obligations. To structure this relationship within the family and the general running of the company more effectively, we started a process to develop a family charter. Here, BDO took on the role of neutral third party, to analyse the situation independently and mediate between the various parties within the family with their specific interests. This was greatly appreciated in discussions around sensitive, often personal issues.”

“What is self-evident within the company is often not at all obvious to the younger generation.”

Four-star hotel

Lighthouse Invest’s new CORNR Hotel opened in June 2022. A four-star hotel in a modern building with all the facilities designed to provide excellent service and customer-friendliness for carefree enjoyment.

What else would you like to improve?

Koen: “What is so self-evident for my uncle Yves De Jonckheere – from whom Koen is taking over the directorship – in the company is often not so obvious to the younger generation. That’s why the transfer of knowledge and information to the next generation must be structured even more effectively and more with the future in mind. The aim is that only items on the agenda are discussed at shareholder meetings. Today, that agenda is still too often criss-crossed with individual items. In time, this should also result in a more stable and regular monitoring system.”

What are your ambitions for the future?

Koen: “In the long term, we are aiming for solid growth in our hospitality and real estate activities. There’s a need for more diversity, especially in real estate, both in terms of geographical spread and in types of projects. As regards the operation and structuring within the company, I hope that when the family charter is completed, agreements will be better formalised and more structure will be built into the operation so that the shareholders understand exactly what the objectives are and what is expected of them.”