S4S: How did it come about that you joined shipping industry and your field of expertise specifically?

I.R.: I have been following transport policy for ten years as a political advisor of a Member of the European Parliament.  I left the European Parliament to become the Director of the European Federation of Inland Ports; Already in the Parliament I followed many port and maritime files. At that time already, I was very much interested in ports.

S4S: What about your current job/ role most excites you and why?

I.R.: I think the port sector is a very interesting sector.  For instance, I find it fascinating how port managing bodies in Europe combine commercial and public interests, and need to find a balance between both. They are not only thinking “business”, but are also taking care of societal interests; they are mission driven.

In order for me to function as the single voice of European ports, I need to make sure there is a common denominator between all our member ports. Finding and making a good compromise and building up a common position, is something I really enjoy doing, besides trying to defend the interests of our member ports as best as possible.

S4S: Who is/was the most influential person/mentor to you & why?  

I.R.: Dirk Sterckx, the Member of the European Parliament I worked for, has been a great coach to me. I studied law and was thinking as a lawyer. He was a former journalist, with very broad interests and was very much gifted in finding cross party compromises, in bringing together diverging opinions. I have learned a lot about bridging differences, seeing the common goal, setting small steps forward to reach big results and putting things into perspective.

S4S: What is the best and what was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?

I.R.: The best pieces of advice that guided me through my life came from my father. He always repeated to me that I should “do well and never look back”. I personally think this is an important piece of advice, which helps in periods of hesitation. You can only try your best, but if something doesn’t work out the way you wanted, you should not dwell into the past. My father also told me to always remain humble and enjoy the simple things in life.

I think every piece of advice is in some way or another positive.

S4S: What is the most worthwhile career investment (in energy, time, money) you’ve ever made?

I.R.: That would definitely be my investments made in people. When I say those words, I think back at my times at university, were I spent and “lost” a lot of times with friends. An investment that payed off, as so much years later I can still count on those friends. After university, I have continued to invest in a social network, and it has proven to be very valuable both in terms of achieving professional goals as well as making your work life more exciting.

S4S: If you could give a piece of advice to your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be and why? What piece of advice should you ignore?

I.R.: Be a bit more like the 18 years old of today: more out spoken and self-confident!

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your business life?

I.R.: Five years ago I started running. Even if I am only doing short runs, I enjoy it a lot and it gives me an incredible amount of energy.

S4S: What would you like to change in the current maritime landscape and your area of expertise specifically and why?

I.R.: I think European policy makers should fully recognise ports as strategic assets of vital importance for Europe’s economy and future.  Ports are traditionally gates to trade and  are at the crossroads of supply chains, but are nowadays also hubs of energy. On top, as clusters of industry they can contribute a lot to the decarbonisation of the economy, by avoiding needless transport and be a matchmaker for circular economy.

This important and complex role should be better recognised by policy makers.

S4S: What is your personal motto?

I.R.: “What’s next?”


Isabelle Ryckbost is the Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) since 2013. Before taking up this function, Isabelle has been working as Director of the European Federation of Inland Ports (EFIP) and Senior Advisor of ESPO for four years. She studied Law (University of Namur and KULeuven) and European Law (UCL Louvain). Before joining EFIP, she worked in EU Public Affairs for almost 20 years. After a short period at the European Commission (DG Agriculture), she worked in an EU Public Affairs consultancy. In 1994 she started working in the European Parliament, as a political assistant and between 1999 and 2009 she was the political assistant of Dirk Sterckx, where she was mainly active in transport and port-related fields. She is co-author of the handbook “Zo Werkt Europa” (1st edition 2007, 2nd edition 2010).