Belgian entrepreneur and tech pioneer Jan Callewaert has passed away. Callewaert was the founder of Option, the (in)famous Leuven-based specialist in wireless technologies and, later, IoT hardware and software. As the CEO, he maneuvered the company through highs and, especially, lows, until he was ousted in 2017. Mister Option died on 1 February at the age of 65.
Callewaert and Option experienced their heyday in the mid-00s (link in Dutch). Founded in 1986, the company had risen to become the number one supplier of 3G PC modems in 2006, with a market share of 32 percent worldwide and a whopping 80 percent in Europe. Revenue skyrocketed to almost 300 million euros that year. At the peak, Option’s headquarters in Leuven housed over 400 employees, half of which were engineers.
In recognition of these achievements, Callewaert was voted manager of the year in 2005 by the Belgian business magazine Trends, the financial TV channel Kanaal Z and the Flemish management association VMA. Owning 18 percent of the ten million Option shares, at that time valued at 60 euros apiece, the success had also brought him wealth. This allowed him to do business in other areas as well. In 2005, for example, he bought a big monumental building in the center of Leuven, which was later converted into a luxury hotel and restaurant.
From 2007 onwards, however, business went downhill. Chased after by Asian competitors, Option could no longer meet its huge ambitions. With Callewaert on and off at the helm, revenue plummeted well below ten million and several rounds of layoffs decimated the workforce to a few dozen. After a couple of brushes with bankruptcy, the company in 2018 became Crescent, via a merger with Crescent Ventures, the investment firm of ex Barco boss Eric Van Zele. Van Zele had already taken over as CEO a year earlier, putting a definitive end to the Callewaert reign.