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
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
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
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
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
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.