“The interesting thing is that they chose a diplomat to represent the industry”, Luxembourg for Finance CEO Nicolas Mackel told Delano
Photo: Mike Zenari/archive
Luxembourger Nicolas Mackel swapped a diplomat's lifestyle to head up public-private partnership Luxembourg for Finance in 2013. Delano features him as part of Maison Moderne's Celebrating Luxembourg series, recognising people who contribute positively to Luxembourg's reputation abroad.
Jess Bauldry: Can you sum up what you do for a living?
Nicolas Mackel: My job, the way I understand it, is first of all to lead a team. This is a team that serves Luxembourg for Finance as the agency for the development of the financial sector. Our task is to project outside of Luxembourg what’s happening in Luxembourg, bring new players to Luxembourg and basically be the spokespeople for the Luxembourg financial industry abroad.
Had you been born in another country, do you think you’d still be doing the same job?
It’s not easy to answer that, because each country has some sort of investment promotion business development agency, and they have a totally different set up. I don’t know if I, with my background, would have been chosen for it. Maybe, maybe not.
The interesting thing here is they chose a diplomat to represent the industry. We’re a public private partnership between the government and financial services industry. My predecessor came from the banking industry. It’s interesting that they had the idea of asking a diplomat to do this. That may be something unique.
What are the main obstacles you’re confronted with in your job?
The lack of knowledge about Luxembourg--that is what we have to battle with most of the time. Preconceived ideas about Luxembourg owing its success to banking secrecy, tax issues, regulatory arbitrage... There’s a lot of education we need to do. I spend a lot of my time trying to explain what Luxembourg truly is, how Luxembourg became one of the leading financial centres in Europe, other than the reasons other people think Luxembourg owes its success to. Luckily we do have a number of financial services professionals who are not from Luxembourg, but who have lived for some time in Luxembourg. These are very good representatives for Luxembourg around the world. Because people that spend a few years here, and then move on somewhere else, they know what Luxembourg is so we owe them a great debt of gratitude.
When you speak to people not from Luxembourg about Luxembourg, how do they respond?
Most of the time they are receptive to what I tell them. I think we have very good stories to tell, and thanks to our very dedicated team, I think we’re putting them out. But, we probably don’t reach everyone we should reach so we still meet people who don’t know this or that story about Luxembourg. Every time you’re given the opportunity to tell people about this or that in Luxembourg they say: “I should come”. It’s totally different when you talk to people in the industry who do know Luxembourg. Many of them have been to Luxembourg. They are very positive about it.
What’s the strangest thing anyone said to you about Luxembourg?
In the US we had an event at our embassy, so it was before my present position. Somebody told me very kindly “Luxembourg is fantastic. I love going there—skiing is great”. I thought OK, they obviously confused Luxembourg with Liechtenstein or Andorra.
In your opinion, what should Luxembourg’s main priorities be to remain competitive and a global player?
I think competiveness comes in multiple guises. You can articulate competitiveness in different ways. The tax environment is obviously a question of competitiveness but it’s more than that. It’s labour law, it is connectivity- how do I get from Luxembourg to the rest of the world? It’s access to international schools, it is quality of life, it is availability of talent. I think that is today the number one consideration, on a par with tax environment and regulatory labour law. Availability of talent is certainly something where we constantly need to try to remain competitive, by making sure that those financial institutions that decide to set up in Luxembourg find the talent they need. If they don’t, they will leave.
When was the last time you felt proud of your country or of being a Luxembourger?
In June. I feel proud of my country many times, but I was fortunate to accompany prime minister Bettel to China. Seeing how he, as the Luxembourg prime minster, was received there with the highest honours and the Luxembourg flag all over Beijing, that is something that truly, I was very proud of, because it showed how the work that has been done--I’m not saying by whom, it’s been done by multiple people--has borne its fruits. And that has helped position Luxembourg on a par with many other big countries. So, there I had a moment of pride.
Can you name a person or an organisation which you think make exceptional ambassadors for Luxembourg?
You have people like Denise Voss, Chairman of Alfi or Marie-Hélène Massard, chairman of the insurers association Aca. For me, these are the sorts of people that help make Luxembourg what it is. They are people who represent a larger category of expats that live and work in Luxembourg, and become our ambassadors within their group, and also abroad when they move on. I think we owe them a great debt of gratitude. One is American the other French, they speak as if they were Luxembourgers. That’s something I find fantastic.