Marco Houwen is the founder of LU-CIX and currently works with Infrachain.
Picture credit: Marco Houwen
Celebrating Luxembourg: Marco Houwen
Born in Luxembourg, Marco Houwen grew up on a farm in Ernster. Today he is chairman of Lu-Cix, an internet infrastructure development organisation. Houwen is one of a number of personalities to be featured in the “Celebrating Luxembourg” series.
Martine Huberty: Could you sum up in a few sentences what you do for a living?
Marco Houwen: For the past 18 years, I have been an entrepreneur in the internet field. I have created several companies over the last few years, namely DCL-Group, EuroDNS, Lu-Cix, and LuxCloud. Several months ago, I decided to act as an independent advisor in technology. Currently I am working on several projects, the most visible of which is Infrachain, a public-private initiative trying to set up and position Luxembourg as a leading hub of blockchain technology in Europe and the world.
If you could highlight three major dates in your life, what would they be?
I walked near the Galloway islands when I was 18 and I saw the beauty of grey, which was an epiphany for me. I understood that life is not black and white, but lots of different shades of grey. The second date was a personal development seminar with Anthony Robbins in 1997. I became aware of the potential we all have in ourselves. The third one would be when I stood at the bank counter and created my first company--having all that money in my pocket.
If someone said that you were a shining ambassador for Luxembourg, how would you take that?
I would take it very positively, because that is how I see myself [laughs]. We created Datacentre Luxembourg in 2000 around the idea of bringing new e-commerce businesses to Luxembourg. We were extremely naïve. Our internet infrastructure was a total catastrophe, and everything still had to be done. When the company was created, we had no choice but to promote Luxembourg externally, and internally to try to fix things as well as we could. Being the chairman of Lu-Cix is exactly that--I am heavily promoting the ecosystem as much as I can.
When you talk about Luxembourg to non-Luxembourgers, what do they say?
It really depends. Some say: “you can’t talk about any problems in the world because you’re too rich, everything works fine for you.” You have to try and make them understand that there could still be positive outcomes for them. In business, people say: “you are Luxembourgish, so it’s normal that you say that Luxembourg is great.” As I am a passionate person, people often say that it’s normal that you have a passion for your own country.
How has Luxembourg society evolved during the last 20 years?
Which one--the 20% or the 80%? I think, on the whole, Luxembourg society has changed a lot: it is way more open. You see it in the streets of Luxembourg City today--it is quite a cool city today. We opened up very much, especially with the fact that we had these large tech and fintech companies coming here. They brought a lot of international people with lots of talent and good vibes. That said, there is a disruption between Luxembourgers in the city and other Luxembourgers, who are not aware of what is really happening in the industry and in the economy, and that is quite a big challenge.
Do you feel there is a real national identity?
Luxembourgish identity is evolving; and evolution always takes time. The technology and financial industry is spearheading the new identity, but there are challenges of grouping everyone around it. The slogan “let’s make it happen” is in English. If you want to promote Luxembourg, you can’t do it with “mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn”--nobody understands what you’re saying! It makes sense--but a lot of people say: “Again, something in English!” This is a very sensitive topic. Identity is not fixed; it evolves over time and we are moving in the right direction. But there is a lot of explaining to do, which maybe is not done enough today.
In 2017, what will you do to ensure that that slogan--Let’s make it happen--will happen?
I will always try to combine my passions with interesting projects and promoting Luxembourg. Today I am not entrepreneurial in the sense that I create companies, but I have projects which are extremely interesting. I am in a situation where I can learn and evolve in these projects but also serve the greater good which is Luxembourg as an ecosystem, Europe as an ecosystem, if you talk about Infrachain.
What’s your favourite Luxembourgish word?
Marco Houwen was set to take over the family farm in Ernster, but decided not to and started a career as a salesperson in insurance. A seminar with Anthony Robbins in Brussels in 1997 made him realise that he wanted to become a successful businessman. He founded Datacenter Luxembourg together with Xavier Buck in 2000. Currently he is founder of LuxCloud, board member of EuroDNS and chairman of Lu-Cix. Houwen is also project lead for the Infrachain Foundation.
In 2017 Maison Moderne and Nvision celebrate Luxembourg by profiling 100 people who contribute positively to the country’s international reputation and brand image. The series will culminate in a gala evening on 13 December at Luxembourg Congrès.