When the Moorkens family owes their fortune to cars, the fourth and fifth generations are determined to change course. “We have not approached this process lightly. We thought about it for a long time and the decision triggered great emotions – and still does.”
A Zündapp Janus, a small car from 1958, shines in the entrance hall. Axel Moorkens (55) and Damien Heymans (58) sat in front for the photo. They have been managing directors of the Alcopa family holding company since spring 2018.
A Zündapp Janus, a small car from 1958, shines in the entrance hall. Axel Moorkens (55) and Damien Heymans (58) sat in front for the photo. They have been managing directors of the Alcopa family holding company since spring 2018. But when this small car is the ideal backdrop for a photo shoot, the two third-generation members want to immediately remind you that Alcopa is not an “automotive holding company”. A surprising statement, because the Moorkens family owes its reputation and fortune mainly to the sale of cars in recent decades… Grandfather and founder Albert Moorkens had a good nose when he launched brands unknown in Belgium at the time such as BMW and Mitsubishi. After his unexpected death in 1979, the six children combined the family interest in Alcopa holding company – an acronym for Albert, Constance (his wife) and heir. Dominique Moorkens (73), patriarch of the family and managing director of the holding company from 1981 to 2009, is also a car man: it was he who introduced Belgians to the South Korean brands Hyundai and SsangYong. This focus on the car has proven to be very profitable. When Alcopa was founded in the summer of 1981, the share capital was 22 million euros. By the end of 2020, equity including shareholder loans had grown to 13 million euros. The partners are still the six children of the second generation. No branch controls more than a fifth of Alcopa’s shares. The individual holding companies of the family shareholders also have very solid balance sheets. The Moorkens family now has 116 members, with branches going up to the fifth generation. With the third generation, however, a change of course began. The car is no longer queen. “Our grandfather was above all an entrepreneur,” comments Axel Moorkens. Yes, he was a car fanatic and he was in this industry. But our great strengths are above all the launch of products and brands, as well as the management of dealerships and logistics processes “In addition, our fourth generation has decided to create a different group. Today’s youth think differently. Of course, this change was not taken lightly We thought a lot and the decision aroused – and still arouses – great emotions. We had to explain to our second generation that we intended to pass on their life’s work, which we value very much, but in a different way important that the family can unanimously support a business project.” This new path has been expressed even more clearly in recent years with the partial sale of the automotive activities. Parallel to Covid, it led to a sharp drop in sales in 2020. Sales fell by 300 million euros. The car dealerships were sold to the Dutch group Van Mossel, which quickly became the leader in the Belgian market. A 60% stake was sold to the Spanish family automobile group Bergé, today Astara, for the import and distribution of automobile brands. “We looked for relationships with a larger group because they bring economies of scale,” explains Damien Heymans. We see the emergence of large European or global corporations in the distribution and import of automobiles. participate in this consolidation movement. We would, for example, not be able to understand the investments in digitization, the costs of which remain the same whether you sell 25,000 cars like us or a quarter of a million like Astara, hence the integration into a larger group. For Axel Moorkens, Alcopa “hung the wagon on another locomotive”. “We have co-partners in many of our holdings. Sharing success is in the family genes. For the Spaniards of Astara, the activities in Belgium represent an important step. And that is easier to reach with a Belgian family company that has been operating there.” This market for decades. In reality, not much has changed for our dealers.” Alcopa also has other mobility interests. However, the duo does not want to see it as a “pole of activities”. “That’s really not our vision,” emphasizes Damien Heymans. We actually started these holdings out of an interest in cars. But these are all specific professions, all approached and practiced differently, with their own characteristics and management. For example, selling used cars through Alcopa Auction in France has nothing to do with selling two-wheelers through Moteo. Lavance is a French car wash group. Is this activity related to cars? no It is a knowledge center with 350 employees who oversee hundreds of car washes in France.” But what determines the investment policy in this case? Three core values of the family: entrepreneurship, achieving goals and showing respect. “To achieve one’s goals is not just about It’s about making money, emphasizes Axel Moorkens. We want to expand our businesses. When it comes to acquisitions, we always turn to family companies. It has to fit culturally. Our acquisitions are encounters between two entrepreneurs and the company. If we share the same DNA and the current is flowing, the club will work. Usually they are entrepreneurs who want to see their project take off. At some point they want to sell part of their holding in which they have invested all their resources their whole life. Is it easy? No, not always. But we have found a few in recent years and all have been success stories, for example Alcopa participated in 2014 with 65% in Groep Thys, a family-run manufacturer of interior doors and kitchens based in Kapellen. Since then, sales have increased by a third to 40 million euros and the operating result by two thirds to over 6 million euros. The founders, sixties Eric and Luc Thys and Sabine Kreusch, were looking for a buyer. “These are entrepreneurs who sell their hearts,” emphasizes Axel Moorkens. Of course the price is important. But above all, these entrepreneurs want to know what is happening with their employees. We too see this as a moral obligation. Employees must keep working.” among the best possible shareholders. The three are still active in the company. Luc and Sabine are CEO and CFO, Eric is responsible for ground activities. Even if we are the majority, they stay. Because we want to stay with the An entrepreneur is often alone. We don’t often stop here, but an entrepreneur is pleasantly surprised when he can share his experience. It’s not just about numbers. He also wants to talk about the stresses of everyday life.” For the Moorkens family, good financial results and a good story are not enough. “If the electricity doesn’t go through on a personal level, we don’t invest,” insists Damien Heymans. We create a business plan together. Respect is essential like lone wolves, people who cannot work in a group. That’s why we also have an indefinite time horizon when we invest in a company. This is a completely different perspective than equity funds. venture capital. They certainly have their place in the market, but they make decisions regarding the resale of the business within a given time frame. We will never do that at Alcopa as it would mean putting the interests of the shareholders ahead of the interests of the company.” However, we also have to take care of the shareholders. Despite the pandemic, the distributed dividend increased from 6.3 million euros a year 2016 to 10.6 million euros in 2020, with a peak of almost 20 million euros in 2019. “You have to find a good balance,” explains Axel Moorkens. If you want a happy shareholder, he must be proud of the company and the products. He must be adequately remunerated for the assets provided. Therefore the business must grow and that requires resources. We live for our businesses and not from them. We inherited a family business from our parents and we have a duty to to pass it on to our children in a better condition.”