C&A



I'm eight miles north of Brussels on the outskirts of Vilvoorde, a town of maybe 20,000 inhabitants, and looking for the headquarters of C&A. With revenues of $4.8 billion, 30,000 employees and over 800 stores in13 European countries, moderately-priced clothier C&A packs a punch. In front of me stands a very large, zig-zagging four-story red brick structure and until spotting the familiar C&A logo near the side of the building I wasn't sure this was the place. It's a light industrial area with, as you can see in the accompanying photo, muddy waterways running through.

I don't know what to expect here having read articles regarding privately-held C&A's aversion to giving out much information. Entering the building you pass several security guards in a glassed-in room. Farther ahead the receptionist sits behind a long ceiling to floor piece of glass (similar to bank tellers) and can see where there's room for two more receptionists alongside her. I explain who I am and how I sent a letter of introduction a month earlier to CEO Lucas Brenninkmeijer. Calls are made and after spending a few minutes sitting in one of the11 red waiting area chairs a woman walks out. Jeez, it turns out she's head of the company's charity department and had been told I was looking for a donation.

More calls are made and before long I'm meeting with the hospitable Gerry Dieleman from Corporate Communications. Built in 1997 by C&A, about 500-600 employees work here. However, eight outside firms also occupy space in this very large building.

Parking is free and plentiful, conference rooms aren't named, smoking isn't allowed in the building and there's no formal dress code. There's parking for commuting cyclists and no formal corporate art collection--though local artists are featured on the walls. Onsite recreational facilities include an outdoor volleyball court and snooker with showers available. Did I mention they have a piano? There're no executive dining rooms, no corporate aircraft and the subsidized cafeteria is shared with the tenants. It's 20 minutes to the city center of Brussels, five minutes to the nearest freeway and 10 minutes to Brussels airport. Any unusual employee perks? 20% off store prices. Anything unusual about the headquarters? Dieleman heard unconfirmed stories of this being the site of a former graveyard.

C&A was founded back in1841 by Clemens & August Brenninkmeyer, the C and A name derived from the first letters in their names. Several business magazines rank the Brenninkmeijer clan's wealth as being in the billions. Walking down a long second floor corridor, Brenninkmeijer's middle office is no different in size or stature than the dozens of others I pass. Judging from CEO Brenninkmeijer's small plainly-furnished office, the billions hasn't gone to his head. Then again, he's only here several days a week as most of the time is spent in the Dusseldorf, Germany office. I don's see any plants nor computer but a large map of Europe hangs on a wall.

Company website: www.c-and-a.com