For the origins of WILLEMEN GROEP, we take you back to the nineteenth century. Seven generations ago, Pierre-François Van Poppel launched his bricklaying business at Oude Liersebaan in Mechelen. Years later, in 1956, NV Algemene Ondernemingen Van Poppel would emerge, established by Alfons Van Poppel and his brother-in-law Paul Willemen. Sales grew year by year, and more and more space was taken up by additional warehouses. Thanks to the commitment of Paul Willemen in countless national and international professional organisations, such as the National Belgian Building Confederation, the BBRI and the FIEC, the name Van Poppel also became increasingly known outside the Mechelen region. The growth process had begun.
In 1972, Paul's son Johan joined the company. Alfons and his son Paul Van Poppel focused on residential construction, Paul Willemen and Johan on the other work. NV Van Poppel acquired Sanitechniek in 1984, but the first real expansion took place in 1996 with the acquisition of Ergon from the Finnish holding Partek. Ergon at that moment was market leader in Belgium in the production of precast elements in prestressed concrete. Franki was acquired in 1998, a large contracting company specialising in civil engineering.
1999: Willemen General Contractor
Not only did the number of projects increase sharply, so did their size. When - with Tom Willemen and Bob Van Poppel - the third generation entered the company, the decision was taken to split NV Van Poppel in two. The Van Poppel family continued to dedicate itself to residential building, the Willemen family would handle commercial and industrial construction (offices, apartments …). And thus Willemen General Contractor was established in June 1999. Together with Ergon, Franki and Sanitechniek, it was brought under what today is Willemen Groep. At that time, the group enjoyed sales of 150 million euro.
With a view toward developing its own identity and continued growth, Willemen General Contractor took up residence in the offices in Boerenkrijgstraat, Mechelen in 2000. Starting in 2004, the contracting and holding activities were brought into separate companies. A year later, Ergon was sold to the Irish group CRH. Via Ergon, the group had its first large foreign production plants. The Industrielle du beton facility close to Paris was converted from a heavy loss-making production unit into a very profitable and modern precast plant. In Mszczonów (Warsaw), a complete new precast plant was built from scratch to introduce prestressed concrete to Poland. And it was a major success. With the sale of Ergon, these foreign facilities were also acquired by CRH.
Acquisitions and reforms
In order to organise materials management in a better and more efficient way, the logistics services of the three contracting companies were combined under TOOLS during the middle of 2006. A year earlier, Cosimco and Groep De Waal had also joined Willemen Groep. Then followed Réforme (in 2009, merged in 2010 with the Walloon branch of Franki), the Aswebo group (2011) and Aannemingen Van Wellen (2014) as Willemen Groep's most important milestones. During this period, each of these construction companies also further developed its foreign activities or took its first steps outside Belgium.
In addition to these acquisitions, important internal reforms were also implemented starting in 2008. A Supervisory Board was established with outside directors. The Board has as goal guiding the group in its ambitious growth plans, and professionalisation of the organisational structure. Since 2009, the supporting departments (Finance, IT, HR and Legal, Risk & Insurance) have been bundled in Shared Service Centers. This allows each company within Willemen Groep to concentrate on its core tasks and gives it the space needed to develop.
Largest family construction group in Belgium
Today Willemen Groep, with more than 2,200 employees and annual sales of 600 million euro, is the largest family construction group in Belgium. The group recently also set foot on the African continent. Cosimco has an office in Casablanca (Morocco), and Willemen General Contractor is constructing the new Belgian embassy in the Congolese capital Kinshasa.
Entrepreneur of the Year 2013
Willemen Groep was elected Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013.