Ultimatum for Van Hool family: settle heritage or go belly-up

The clock is ticking even faster for Belgian bus maker Van Hool, which can go bankrupt as soon as the following Monday if the descendants of the eight sons and two daughters of founder Bernard Van Hool don’t manage to burry the hatch among themselves in a heritage question that jeopardizes a take-over by a third party.

According to De Tijd, crisis manager Mark Zwaaneveld has given the family an ultimatum to solve the problems by Monday. If not, he says bankruptcy will be unavoidable, which would play into the hands of possible candidate acquirers, like Guido Dumarey, MAN, or eventually a third party waiting in the coulisses to grab the opportunity.

Eight sons, two daughters

When Bernard Van Hool died in 1974, he divided the company among his eight sons, giving them all leading positions and parts of the enterprise while leaving his two daughters, Ingrid and Simone, out. He presumed they would be part of the heritage later in another way.

However, after years of internal struggle among the brothers, part of them was bought out by the family branch, which is still active in the company today. The two sisters and their relatives claimed their part of the heritage.

That conflict hasn’t been settled in court yet, and after decades of fighting, a judge ordered the sequestration of two-thirds of the company’s shares. The judge’s notary can obstruct any action, including a take-over or new shareholders, as long as this heritage isn’t settled.

Pressure at pistol-point

Mark Zwaaneveld is now putting the family under pressure at pistol-point to find an agreement. If not, bankruptcy is unavoidable, and the family will lose all shares, as the judge will appoint a curator to sell the company or parts of it. And that’s precisely what Belgian entrepreneur Guido Dumarey openly hopes for, while others like MAN (?) and presumably a third player are waiting in the shadow.

Guido Dumarey confirmed in an interview with Radio 1 earlier this week 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 by adding a defense branch, where money is still to be made.

Although not officially confirmed, Dumarey’s competitors for a take-over 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%.


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