The Clan Vanden Avenne: "The syndrome of the entrepreneur" - Companies

The Clan Vanden Avenne: “The syndrome of the entrepreneur” – Companies

Hard workers, fundamentally Catholic paternalists, merchants at heart… This is how our Flemish colleagues from Trends described the Vanden Avenne clan in an article published in 1995. What about this family of western entrepreneurs today? -flandriens specialized in livestock feed?

Vanden Avenne brands are omnipresent in West Flanders. Impossible to ignore them. Especially those on the pink silos (pork) of livestock breeders, financed by Vanden Avenne on condition that the breeder obtains livestock feed from them.

Vanden Avenne brands are omnipresent in West Flanders. Impossible to ignore them. Especially those on the pink silos (pork) of livestock breeders, financed by Vanden Avenne on condition that the breeder obtains livestock feed from them. Where are we today? The descendants of the second generation Gomard Vanden Avenne are the best known branch of the West Flanders business family. Walter Vanden Avenne (95), former president of the VEV (1984-1989), was knighted in 1984. “At the time, the Flemish employers’ organization had to fight to break away from Belgian employers’ federations like the FEB. Affiliation was seen as an act of economic flamingantism and not all Flemish entrepreneurs were willing to do so.Walter was a refined West Flanders gentleman, always elegantly dressed and artistically styled, who entered the family food business for cattle more out of a sense of duty and family than any real conviction. He dreamed of becoming a garden architect.”It was only at age 90, in the summer of 2017, that Walter resigned from group’s delegated administrator. In reality, his sons Patrick (68) and Harold (64) had already been in charge for several decades. The two brothers both married a daughter of Baron Lucien Vlerick, sisters of Philippe Vlerick (67), Deputy Chairman of the KBC Group Board of Directors and Trends Manager of the Year 2006. Catholic-inspired paternalism has always been their trademark. “Mr. Patrick and Mr. Harold know each employee by his first name. They are not stingy with compliments and pats on the back”, indicated an employee in 1995. On Good Friday, the factory stopped running for a quarter of an hour. And a mass was celebrated before the staff party. The Vanden Avenne Vrieshuis holding company is now run by the fifth generation: Thomas (39) and Maurits (34), sons of Patrick who bought the shares from his brother Harold in 2016. “Like any good West Flanders family , we have inherited Christian values, says a key figure in the family. But it’s terribly old fashioned. These values ​​are no longer really current in the younger generation. No more than paternalism”. The range of activities has expanded considerably. Two large compound feed factories have opened in Ooigem and Floreffe. With a production of 625,000 tons per year, the group thus becomes one of the main players in the market. Total Belgian production amounts to 7.3 million tonnes, according to the sectoral organization BFA. But the holding also includes other activities, such as pork and chicken meat, often sold under the brands of large retailers. It also has a halal meat factory in Hasselt. The Vanden Avenne Vrieshuis company achieved the impressive turnover of half a billion euros in 2020. Deceptive appearance if it is because no less than 412 million euros had to be paid for the purchase of raw materials. As the war in Ukraine reminds us, the price of raw materials fluctuates enormously. Profit margins have never been so slim. Between 2017 and 2019, the holding company even incurred a net loss after reimbursement of credit costs. The company compensates for its weaknesses by developing its activities in other links of the food chain. Nevertheless, prices are set at European or even global level. And the future looks a little less rosy (porcine? ) since the agreement on nitrogen spreading by the Flemish government should lead to a reduction in the Flemish pig herd of around 30% by 2030. The group Vanden Avenne Commodities, active in particular in the trade of agricultural products such as cereals, soybeans, rapeseed and sunflowers, recorded better results. This branch of the holding is a continuation of the family adventure started by Zéno Vanden Avenne in 1889. The great-grandfather started a flourishing trade in agricultural products in Ooigem, along the Lys canal towards Roeselare . 1962 marked the split of animal feed production and commercial activity. The latter was entrusted to the descendants of Medard, today represented by Xavier Van den Avenne (54 years old), managing director, and his cousin Bernadette (66 years old). They each own half of the group’s shares. Other members of the family are also shareholders in a whole series of activities through NV Vandema. The profit margins of this company are also very narrow. Its turnover of nearly 1 billion euros (once again subject to high costs for the purchase of raw materials) enabled it to generate a profit of 24 million euros in the previous financial year, but the net profit is significantly higher by 50 million euros thanks to lower financial costs and minority interests which had the effect of boosting the profit. And in particular the 29% stake in Alco Bio Fuel, a biofuel producer at the port of Ghent, which distributes generous dividends. Xavier is also steeped in paternalism of Catholic inspiration. His uncle Toon was a missionary in Africa. “My father Ignace almost became a priest, confides the managing director, a bit thoughtful. One of my aunts, a nun, devoted her whole life to social work in the United States. Another aunt worked at the CPAS in Izegem. stems from our idealism, our desire to do something good for society. It is not enough to succeed in business. You also have to take care of your employees.” So much for the two main Vanden Avenne family groups. Other members of the clan have made themselves famous in the world of entrepreneurship, but often in a lesser financial and economic dimension. Impextraco is thus a large company in the hands of the descendants of Georges, third offspring of the second generation. His grandsons Marc (61 years old) and Yves Vanden Avenne (58 years old) bought the Heist-op-den-Berg company in 1987 thanks to the purchase by the knight Walter Vanden Avenne of their father Arsène’s shares in the activities from Ooigem. Yves married Veronique Van Hool (56), a descendant of the eponymous manufacturer from Koningshooikt, whose shares were bought back in 1999. Impextraco supplies micro-ingredients such as vitamins, mineral salts and amino acids to premixers and wholesalers. animal feed manufacturers. The company and its subsidiaries in China, Mexico and Thailand achieved a turnover of 129 million euros in the last financial year. With an operating profit of 7 million euros, Impextraco can boast a higher operating profit margin than that of the two historical companies of the Vanden Avenne family. A subsidiary in Brazil shows even better results. The fragmentation is more marked at the level of the fourth central branch, around René Vanden Avenne. The descendant of the second generation was quick to secede to focus on linen. When the flax industry showed the first signs of a slow but certain death in the 1960s, its descendants moved into the manufacture of chipboard. Spanogroup, one of the European market leaders, was sold in 2013 to Ackermans & van Haaren, the West Flanders building materials group. The profit from the sale was shared between the different offspring of the family. One of the biggest shareholders was the couple Jan Ide (63) and his wife Katrien Vanden Avenne (63), granddaughter of René.

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