Dumarey to face MAN in struggle for Van Hool take-over?

The clock is ticking for Belgian bus maker Van Hool, which will go bankrupt if no private investor is found before the end of March. Belgian entrepreneur Guido Dumarey confirmed in an interview with Radio 1 that he’s convinced he can ‘rebuild’ Van Hool to a profitable, streamlined production company with 1,800 of the current 2,494 employees and adding a defense branch.

But there seems to be another powerful rival waiting for bankruptcy, like truck and bus builder MAN, part of VW’s giant Traton Group, as rumored – a giant with ‘deep pockets’ and good access to parts and supplies.

Although not officially confirmed, they would also be betting on bankruptcy to free the ailing company of its €400 million debts. However, Dumarey estimates his chances of winning this battle to be no more than 30%.

Not a Simple Simon

According to Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon and Minister for Work Jo Brouns, several possible candidates are ‘lining up’ and showing interest in investing in a restart of bus manufacturer Van Hool in Koningshooikt (Lier).

Guido Dumarey, CEO and founder of the former Punch Group, now Dumarey Group, said on Sunday in an interview on Belgian public radio that he’s willing to take over Van Hool and restart as quickly as possible once the bankruptcy is a fact.

But he says he is not a Simple Simon, suggesting he will not bet blindly and that it is imperative to keep today’s skilled staff and years of craftsmanship within the company to get it back on track. He would first implement a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system before the end of 2024 to streamline production in 2025.

Modern ERP systems

ERP software helps you run your entire business. It supports automation and processes in finance, human resources, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, and more. Dumarey says he has visited Van Hool several times in recent years and that the ERP the company uses today dates back 20 years or more.

“That’s like going on the ocean in a ship with 4,000 crew without having a compass,” he said, like navigating blindly. In his own companies, Dumarey uses modern SAP systems. He sees many possibilities for streamlining production by using more standardized components and exploiting synergies with other companies (his own?) to the full extent.

Adding a defense branch

But it will be a step-by-step process. Dumarey says he tried to take over other European bus makers, like in the UK, and knows the city bus market is complex, with 4% or less thin margins. He sees more future in coaches, where margins are around 16%, like the ones Van Hool is building for ABC Companies in the US, where it catches 30% of the market.

He sees opportunities for industrial vehicles (a wide variety of specialty truck trailers) where Van Hool is still profitable, which could be expanded with a defense branch. If there is one branch where money can still be made today, it’s building military vehicles, Dumarey adds.

Expertise and craftsmanship

He will definitely need the expertise and craftsmanship available today and the innovative R&D that Van Hool showed. VOKA, the Flemish employers federation, is propagating that over 209 companies are raring to lure away about 900 skilled workers of the 1.116 who would lose their jobs in the scenario of current crisis manager Mark Zwaaneveld.

Dumarey says that’s the wrong thing to do if you want to give Van Hool a chance to relaunch. He also says it is crucial to keep all divisions together instead of “splitting up the pearl you have today into little separate pearls”.

If the curator decides to split the company into parts after bankruptcy, Dumarey’s appetite for a take-over will end. “I’m only interested in taking over big companies with over 1,000 staff now.” That many Van Hool workers are over 50 doesn’t scare him off. “I’m 65, and I love older people for their discipline. It’s something younger people should better model themselves on.”


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