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