Fortis SA/NV

I'm back at Fortis for another visit, with 2004 revenues of $82 billion and 49,000 employees, this bank/insurance behemoth ranks as one of Europe's "big boys". Ten years ago during my first (and only previous) tour through Belgium I dropped by the head office of Fortis and still remember the dismissive reception extended to me (click for1995 story).

Ah, the address I have for the head office brings me to different location. Fortis has moved about a half-mile to a much, much more prestigious location. Let me give you a quick overview of where I'm standing. Directly across the street there's a very large formal fenced-in park (Parc de Bruxelles) measuring about two blocks long by two blocks wide. Flanking the park is the 19th-century palatial Royal Palace (where the King of Belgium conducts business but resides several miles away on the Royal Estate) and at the other end the Palace of Nation, where the Belgium Parliament meets. The narrow three-story, Georgian-style building of Fortis I'm standing in front of seems to continue the two-block length of the park but it's hard to tell because renovations are going on. Hmm, the place looks vaguely familiar.

The main entrance is closed due to the renovations so I lock my bike and make my way to the temporary entrance. A receptionist and security guard man the reception counter. After checking in I plop down on one of four black chairs on rollers and scan the very small reception area. I note the fake plants on the reception desk, the two five-foot tall plants (fake) and the two vases of flowers (real).

It's a great visit thanks to Wilfried Remans, Director Press Relations, especially considering he hadn't seen the introductory material mailed a month earlier to CEO Jean-Paul Volton. However, as we start to walk around the place I see something that makes me blurt out "hey, I've been here before!" Inscribed in a corridor wall is the name "Societe Generale de Belgique S.A.". Ten years ago Societe Generale, a holding company with interests in many of Belgium's biggest companies, was headquartered here. In 2003 Societe Generale was swallowed up by Suez, the French water and energy giant. (Click to read 1995 Societe Generale story).

Much of the building is undergoing renovations and since I was given an extensive tour of the place 10 years earlier, what is there for Remans to show me? Well, taking a look at the picture accompanying this story you can see part of a brown 1970's seven-story office building directly in the rear–that's a Fortis building. Actually you can't see but there's another similar tower, each tower using the same base with another seven floors built on the hillside. So, when Societe Generale moved out it was a no-brainer for Fortis to take over the space next door. Over 2,200 personnel work in the two brown buildings and about 100 in the head office.

It's less than a half-mile to Brussels' famous Grand Square in the city center, a half mile to the nearest freeway and 10 miles to Brussels airport. There's no formal (written) dress code, no onsite recreational facilities, meals in the company cafeteria are subsidized, employees cycling to work enjoy covered parking for their bikes and smokers have designated rooms for smoking.

Checking out CEO Voltron's second floor middle office I note the hardwood floor, flowers (real), computer and, plaque which reads "no whining". What does he see when looking out the window? The park across the street. I can't see the boardroom as it's being remodeled.

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