Bekaert NV

Publicly-traded Bekaert, with 2004 revenues of 3.1 billion euros and 18,400 employees, is big in advance metal transformation and advanced materials and coatings. You know that wire in the champagne cork, the steel cord in your tires or metal fencing around your house? That's just a sample of the applications of Bekaert's products.

Kortrijk, the largest city in western Belgium with a population of 75,000, lies less than10 miles from the French border. Headquarters for Bekaert is a two-story brick building in a light industrial/office park about three miles from downtown Kortrijk. Right across the street is the headquarters for Barco, a company I just visited. Flags emblazoned with the Bekaert name flap on flagpoles outside the building's entrance. The company's name in large blue lettering near the front door lets people know they're at the right place.

Minimalist would be the word to describe the reception area with two brown leather chairs being the only occupants. In a few minutes I'm meeting with Christine Verhaeghe, Executive Secretary to CEO Julien De Wilde. It's an enjoyable visit thanks to the personable Verhaeghe. I mention having just come from Barco (across the street) where Christa Deprez, Executive Secretary to the CEO, gave me a nice reception. I also mention Ms. Deprez having been with Barco for 37 years. Well, Verhaeghe isn't doing so bad in that department either with 35 years and counting.

I'm surprised when Verhaeghe says the company has been here 20 years because the building doesn't look that old. That might be because it was recently renovated. Between 30-35 people work here. Parking is free and plentiful with those commuting via bicycle enjoying covered parking, smoking isn't allowed in the workplace and the company cafeteria serves hot food (as opposed to just cold sandwiches). There's no corporate aircraft, no formal dress code, it's a mile to the nearest freeway and an hour's drive to Brussels airport. There's no corporate art collection or on-site recreational facilities. Any employee perks? Special prices on fencing.

CEO De Wilde occupies a second floor, middle office. I count three family pictures, one computer, a flat screen television and dried flowers. All the furnishings (including his desk) are black, except for the back of the chairs, which are white. What's the view out his window? The headquarters of Barco directly across the street.

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