How does someone go from being an International Business major at McCombs student to being a leading chocolate importer? Ask Christophe Van Riet.
With family in Texas, Christophe came to Austin from Belgium in 1985 and enrolled in the McCombs School of Business, where he was immediately impressed by the size of the university and the extensive opportunities it offered. He was also exited about its diverse student body. It was “magnificent” to meet and connect with people from all over the world, and Christophe made friends with students from Texas to Turkey — many of whom he still keeps in touch with to this day.
Christophe understood that a majority of his fellow students were interested in accounting, but he found himself interested in the International Business major, initially because his proficiency in French and Dutch gave him a head start, and then by the curriculum’s flexibility and inclusion of everything from entrepreneurship to cultural courses. An intriguing team project involving computer simulations sealed the deal. and Christophe graduated from UT with a BBA in International Business from UT in 1984, and ultimately earned his MBA from Emory University.
After completing his education, Christophe started his career at Colgate-Palmolive in a global marketing program. The program was interested in his ability to speak several languages, as well as the adaptability he demonstrated by studying abroad. The program gave him the opportunity to interface with multiple departments and eventually to become a brand manager. Christophe continued his career at the Gillette company in their international division.
Christophe’s path changed in 1999 when, in the midst of a wave of internet start-ups, he decided to “forget the big companies” and make the jump to start his own online business. Despite many encouraging him to keep his day job, Christophe was fully committed to his new endeavor, and ultimately established an innovated, direct-to-customer shopping experience for those looking for the best chocolates from Belgium. In the early days his business received accolades for being a unique website from Time Magazine and New York Times, but he quickly realized he needed to adapt and within 18 months he was importing all kinds of other products from Belgium.
Today, Belgium’s Chocolate Source™ works with approximately 15 brands, including Mondelēz International, which owns both the Oreo and Sour Patch Kids brands. His work is an eclectic mix of all things international business, from managing suppliers to crossing currencies.
Christophe credits his time at UT and his International Business major with preparing him for both his career in Marketing and ultimately with giving him the confidence to pursue his own path. The practical skills it imparted, and the exposure it gave him to the different ways in which business can be done, helped him see the way forward into his own business. As far as advice to current students goes, Christophe offers that “There are a lot of distractions in the world, there are more opportunities than ever in the global environment. Keep pursuing your goals. Reach out there, and follow your passions.”