Agfa-Gevaert N.V.



Back in 1995 I visited Gevaert NV, a holding company with interests in a slew of big companies around Europe, and received a crummy reception with Managing Director Marc Francken's secretary giving me an abrupt brush-off via the lobby phone. I never did find out why the company was headquartered in the Agfa-Gevaert factory complex near Antwerp. Especially since Gevaert had sold their 50% interest in Agfa-Gevaert to Bayer.

Researching companies to visit in 2005 I came across Agfa-Gevaert and remember reading how it was sold off by Bayer and is no longer in the film business. Publicly-traded Agfa-Gevaert, with 2004 revenues of $5.1 billion and 16,000 employees, makes and markets imaging systems for graphic arts, printing and medical imaging processes.

Heading five miles from Antwerp's city center brings me to Mortsel, a quiet town with no industry except for one big exception: the sprawling factory complex of Agfa-Gevaert. The factory has been on the site for over 80-years.

As you can see in the photo accompanying this story the head office is a complex of connecting buildings built over different periods of time. The visitor's entrance is via the building to the left of the white 10-story structure.

After checking in with the receptionist I'm soon meeting with Alexander Deblond, Investor Relations Officer, and Nadine Saenen, Management Assistant of the Healthcare division. Getting my questions answered and being shown around is no problem thanks to the accommodating twosome.

About 3,000 people work here. Employee parking is free and plentiful, those who bicycle to work enjoy covered parking for their bikes, there's no formal dress code and no corporate aircraft. It's 10-minutes to the nearest freeway, a 30-minute drive to Brussels airport and smoking isn't allowed in offices. There are no onsite recreational facilities, though showers are available. With four major cafeterias on the grounds employees can vary where they eat (the record is still 13 cafeterias at 3M's head office/factory complex in Minneapolis, Minnesota).

Looking out a window from one of the top floors gives you an overview of the size of the factory complex but, what's most interesting is the fact the place is now hemmed in on all sides with housing.

Nothing special about the boardroom or the U-shaped table and ditto for Chairman Ludo Verhoeven's second floor middle office. What's the view out his window? The parking lot and factory across the street.

Company website: www.agfa.com

 

** Sidenote Remember Gevaert, the holding company which gave me the brush-off here 10 years ago? Gevaert owns 25% of Agfa-Gevaert. Gevaert is now part of KBC Group, the large bank/insurance concern. Gevaert still occupies offices in this building but plans to vacate in a few months.

 

1995 Gevaert NV/SA Story
The day before visiting Gevaert, a financial holding company, I rode around Antwerp trying to find a self-service launderette. In some countries they're plentiful and some they're not. Next to getting a haircut (it's not fun having a new person experimenting on your hair each time), doing laundry every week is the least favorite part of my traveling. Since I move around almost every day it's hard to have a hotel do it (plus they charge TWO arms and a leg). Most of my clothes are cotton requiring no dry cleaning. Earlier this year I remember passing through Stockholm, a city of 1.5 million people, and found only ONE self-service place in the whole city (and the owner said she was barely staying in business). How was she surviving? By doing laundry for hotels. Matter of fact, during my several months touring Sweden it's the only self-service Laundromat I found! Why? The Laundromat owner said, "we're a prosperous country and everyone has their own". Oh, and the price tag for those two small loads I DID MYSELF in Stockholm: $25.00!

I rode five miles from downtown Antwerp and found a self-service Laundromat on the main street of Mortsel, a quiet community. It's a nice small-town street lined with mom & pop stores on the ground floor and three and four-story apartments above. Of course I was in hog heaven because two doors down was a tasty pastry shop (which reminds me: I think I lost five pounds in The Netherlands because they have lousy bakeries and I've been putting it back on thanks to Belgium bakers sumptuous treats).

Well, there's a reason I told you about doing my laundry in Mortsel. The next day I go looking for Gevaert's headquarters and find it located two blocks BEHIND the Laundromat in a gigantic, sprawling factory complex I couldn't see from the Laundromat because the apartment buildings on the main street hid it.

Hmmm, this is odd. Across the street from the massive factory complex there's a block-long, six-story office building and the name AGFA on it. AGFA, which I know produces photo film, also can be seen on some of the factory buildings. I wonder, does Gevaert own AGFA?

Entering the building you encounter a receptionist. Behind her is the large glassed-in lobby area. You don't get to the lobby unless she buzzes you in. I don't get buzzed in. Why? The receptionist connects me with Christine De Boeck, secretary to Managing Director Marc Francken, who states "no one's available to meet with you". I'm given an annual report but that doesn't explain Gevaert's relationship with AGFA. Gevaert does however, have holdings in over 20 big companies including: 3.9% of insurer Aegon, 7.5% of KNP BT, 18% of shipper Hapag-Lloyd, 1% of airline Deutsche Lufthansa and 1% of Bayer. I ask the receptionist to explain the relationship with AGFA and she ends up calling over a guy who hands me a press release from AGFA. Here's the story:
In 1890 Lieven Gevaert set up his own workshop for producing calcium paper. In 1920 Gevaert Photo-Producten N.V. was founded. In 1964 Agfa AG, a subsidiary of Bayer AG, and Gevaert Photo-Producten N.V. merged. Two working partnerships were created Agfa-Gevaert N.V. (Mortsel, Belgium) and Agfa-Gevaert AG (Leverkusen, Germany) in which both parent companies, Gevaert Photo-Producten N.V. and Agfa AG, each had 50% of the shares. In 1981 Gevaert Photo-Producten N.V. exchanged its shares in Agfa-Gevaert AG and Agfa-Gevaert N.V. for a package of Bayer shares. In this Gevaert Photo-Producten N.V. became purely a holding company without any further participation in the partnerships within the Agfa-Gevaert Group. Later the name of the holding company was changed to Gevaert N.V. To summarize: Agfa-Gevaert is the industrial concern, producer of chemical and electronic imaging systems owned by Bayer. Gevaert N.V. is a financial holding company--the ones who haven't time to meet with me. The press release goes on to say, "today both firms don't have any direct relations". But, they do have an indirect relationship because Gevaert's offices are inside the block-long Agfa-Gevaert building. Oh, and incidentally if you're wondering what Agfa stands for here it is: AktienGsellschaft Fuer Anilinfabrikation.