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“We want to become a well-balanced European company”

From more than one hundred and fifty LTD companies and approximately eighty businesses to eleven large companies, in the four core countries and the domains in which we are already active. This organisational change will take shape within the Designing our Future project that was initiated at the end of 2020. The COOs Mark van Haasteren (responsible for the Netherlands and Belgium) and Giuseppe Santagada (Germany and Switzerland) discuss the steps that have been taken since then. “Given the goals we have and how much progress we have made towards accomplishing them, we have definitely reached the point of no return.”

Designing our Future is, among other things, aimed towards making Vebego one single company. What do you think is the most important aim of the transition?

Mark: “We are going from more than one hundred and fifty LTDs and around eighty companies to eleven large companies in the countries where we will be active as of 2022 (Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland) and in the domains in which we already operate, namely facility management, healthcare, cleaning and landscaping. This means that we will be merging companies and that we are going to simplify processes and (IT) systems. This is the bigger picture, in the ‘backdrop’, whilst in the foreground there will more of a cultural change: we are going to start working (together) in a different way, operating as one company per segment as well as visiting the customer even more than we already do now. An important goal is to become a mental market leader; we want to be the first name that comes to mind when people think about meaningful jobs in facility management, landscaping, cleaning or care. That change in culture is ultimately more important than the change in structure. A change in culture is a lasting, long-term change”.

Why is this transition important for Vebego?

Giuseppe: “We now have nearly eighty years of success behind us, and we want to keep it that way. Not by making as much profit as possible, but by improving quality and being more proactive in influencing our sectors and our values for our customers.”

Mark: “We currently work in a very tender-driven way, for example, in which we are often situated at the end of the commercial process. As a mental market leader, we want to make sure that we are more frequently involved before the tenders come on the market, which will allow us to grow and become more powerful.”

Designing our Future indeed has a lot of influence on the business operations of Vebego’s companies. What will this mean for their day-to-day activities?

Mark: The individual companies within a segment will be merged into one large company per segment. The commercial side will often remain regional, but activities such as marketing, IT, finance and HR will be managed more centrally within the large company.”

Giuseppe: “Of course, you can’t carry out changes such as this all at once. That is why we not only talk about the challenges, but above all about the benefits of building this new structure and creating a single brand. This is probably even more important for the companies in Germany and Switzerland, because these companies have traditionally been very autonomous.”

Mark: “Besides this, daily business of course carries on as normal. To make sure we know what’s going on ‘outside’, every month we sit down with each company to see how things are going with the business, with our people and with our customers. We do this with the management teams from all the companies, and it is really valuable for us. It ensures that we, but more importantly the companies themselves, stay in touch with reality.”

The acquisition of hectas, early 2022, is an important pillar for development in Germany. Can you tell us more about that?

Giuseppe: “In the Netherlands, Vebego is in first place when it comes to cleaning. But in a country like Germany, where our turnover is €47 million with the company Servico, we do not have the critical mass needed for our growth ambition. The acquisition of hectas – active in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria– instantly makes us one of the twenty largest players in Germany in the area of facility services and cleaning. This purchase gives us the size, structure, the footprint and the competencies that we are looking for in the context of Designing our Future.”

Vebego wants to become a mental market leader within the domains and countries in which it operates. How are you going to go about that?

Mark: “At the moment, when we sit down in a meeting somewhere, we often have to explain who we are and how big we are. By structuring the organisation as large companies, we are automatically situated among the top companies in every segment. This immediately makes us more visible. Visibility involves more things, however. During the coronavirus pandemic, we had a very important role in the area of care and cleaning, for example, but we mainly acted in the background. In the future, we want to sit at the table on talk shows and be called directly by the government in The Hague. We want to do this for all segments in which Vebego operates – think of topics such as working in a greener way, increasing sustainability, for example.

Giuseppe: “We are going to define specific customer segments in which we want to become market leaders. Our business is currently being run in an extremely opportunistic way, which means that we are unable to create USPs for all our customers. By defining the customer segments, we can approach the market and the customers more from a data-driven point of view, and we can establish our position before a tender comes on the market. ‘Focus’ is the key word here.”

How does thought leadership (mental market leadership) contribute to Vebego's ultimate goal of creating meaningful work and impact on society?

Mark: “By becoming a “mental market leader”, we exercise our power of attraction on the market. At the same time, we want to gain more appreciation for the work we do. The handyman, receptionists and cleaners all play a very important role. If we stop, then the offices and hospitals are immediately down, but this really needs to be far more visible. Our care company Altrio in Belgium is doing a very good job in that regard, as we see from the way that they are helping people in Ukraine. And during the coronavirus pandemic, Altrio was the first company to deploy mobile testing sites, news which made it into the headlines. This creates a positive vibe for Altrio, which attracts professionals as a result and builds appreciation for the profession.”

Altrio offers mobile Covid test locations at schools

Giuseppe: “By becoming more visible, we can create more meaningful jobs for our people and make a positive impact on society. In Germany and Switzerland, meaningful work has more to do with the way we work, how we deal with people and what we expect from them. There are also schemes in place in the Netherlands that can help people with a distance to the labour market to find a job. We do not have these arrangements in facility services within Germany and Switzerland. The ultimate goal - meaningful work - is the same for all of us, but the path towards it will differ from country to country.”

The current tight labour market is making it very difficult to find people, but also to keep them. How is Vebego going to make sure staff remain with the company?

Giuseppe: “Many people with part-time jobs often only work a few hours a week, and sometimes also for various companies. For us within management, it is therefore our challenge, as well as our obligation, to make sure all our employees are involved and that they experience their work as meaningful. That’s why once a year, in Switzerland at least, we organise a Vebego festival so that employees from across the different regions and companies can get to know each other better. This allows us to get our employees involved with the Vebego culture, and to thank them for the fantastic work they do. By playing music from their home country and dancing and enjoying it together, among other things, we want them to feel at home with Vebego, and at the same time with their own ‘roots’. We do this so that our people will feel recognised by and proud to work for Vebego.”

Mark: “The integration of companies means that some jobs will disappear, but we are also growing, and new jobs are emerging in the large companies. At an individual level, it may happen that a person’s job will disappear or change. We are therefore trying to include everyone in the process as much as possible.”

Vebego wants to become one large European company. How are you approaching that?

Mark: “We once started out as a regional Dutch company, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time now. Internally, we try to give everyone equal attention, both in terms of countries and segments. We want to become a well-balanced European company. We are still growing in this respect, but all segments and all countries must become equally important.”

The best of both companies

The purchase of hectas brings with it additional organisational changes. In Germany, for example, hectas and Servico are being integrated into one facility services company for the German market (under the name Vebego). In the Netherlands, hectas will form part of the cleaning company in the making. The Dutch part of hectas is taken from the German organisation for this purpose. Giuseppe: “The processes and IT systems will also be aligned. Our aim here is to have a neutral, open and transparent process in which somebody from hectas and Servico is always involved. We are comparing the systems of both companies, weighing them up against each other to see which system is best. We will make the final decision together, so that everyone is included in the process.”

Point of no return

Mark: Looking back over the past year, we have already taken many steps for Designing our Future. In the Netherlands, the designs for by the green company and the cleaning company are complete, and there is one facility management company. In Belgium, there is one healthcare company and we have begun restructuring the facility services company. We have also sold and purchased a number of companies, and we have made considerable progress towards establishing a single administrative system. In short: we made choices, and we saw them through. Given the goals we have and how much progress we have made towards accomplishing them, we have definitely reached the point of no return.”