The two families behind the TVH lift truck group split up and split up the family business. The Vanhalst family will become 100 percent owner of the Mateco machinery division. 60 percent of the TVH Parts parts division ends up with the Thermote family. A partner is sought for the remaining shares (40%).
You could call it a small revolution. For years, the fast-growing TVH from Waregem in West Flanders conquered the world with the rental and sale of forklift trucks and aerial work platforms and the distribution of parts for those machines, crucial to oil the logistics machinery of warehouses and e-commerce. The niche player unstoppably reached the 1 billion euro turnover mark six years ago. The new ambition was a turnover of 2 billion euros within a few years. Among other things, the takeover of the British Lavendon (see inset) had to sign for a quantum leap, but failed. The French Loxam ran with the prey.
But even apart from that missed opportunity, TVH became too big and too unwieldy to remain efficient. That was why the group, which employs 7,000 people (more than 2,500 in Belgium) and has a turnover of 1.8 billion euros, split its operational activities in 2018 into TVH Parts, the parts business, and Mateco, the rental. and sale of the machines.
Any division had a separate growth strategy and its own CEO for the past two years: Dominiek Valcke, a longtime confidant of the Thermote and Vanhalst families, heads TVH Parts. The German Armin Rappen leads Mateco. ‘I see the division of TVH as children who leave home to build their own future’, as Valcke described it in an interview a year ago. “They don’t live with you anymore, but they still belong to the family,” said Valcke. Only the shareholders remained the same – and their discrete selves: Ann and Els Thermote, the daughters of co-founder Paul Thermote, and Pascal Vanhalst, the son Paul Vanhalst, the other founder, who died in 2002.
Until now. The two families, who had united their interests in the group through the Luxembourg holding company Quertus, each go their way. Pascal Vanhalst becomes the full owner of Mateco, Ann and Els Thermote will acquire 60 percent of TVH Parts. For the remaining 40 percent in TVH Parts, the search for an investor outside the family starts. The investment bank JPMorgan and the law firm Allen & Overy have been approached for this.
A clear succession planning and transfer to the third generation – ten children between the ages of 2 and 22 – is the only motive for splitting up the family business, according to Valcke. ‘In view of the third generation, the families wanted a clear division. They didn’t want to end up in an AB InBev scenario where share ownership becomes too fragmented. ‘
According to insiders, however, there would be serious disagreement between the two families about the course to be followed, something Valcke firmly denies. ‘Both families have long had their own vision and affinity with each division. Paul Vanhalst has always been the man of the machines, Paul Thermote was more interested in parts. That has always lived on. ‘
For 40 percent of TVH Parts, we are looking for a buyer who understands the company. Someone who says in advance that he will be on board for a maximum of five years will not enter.
The deal is partly closed by a share exchange, partly by the search for an external partner. Valcke does not want to lose the appreciation that is attached to both groups. Also the gross operating profit (EBITDA), which can be used to calculate the total value (as a multiple of the EBITDA), was never disclosed. According to observers, this amounts to 300 to 350 million on a turnover of 1.8 billion euros. It is well known that the Parts division is traditionally the most profitable.
The external party must agree with the long-term vision of the Thermote family, says Valcke. ‘We are looking for a party that understands the company and can agree with its values and culture. Someone who says in advance that he will be on board for a maximum of five years will not enter. We also don’t want to end up in an aggressive situation with heavy leverage. ‘
There is an exception in the whole story. TVH Equipment nv, the Belgian branch of Mateco where it all started 50 years ago, remains in the hands of both families, through a joint venture. ‘A specialleke‘, Valcke calls it. ‘There is a certain emotional connection here with the origins of the company. It also shows that there is no major quarrel between the families. ‘
In 50 years from 0 to 1.8 billion euros turnover
TVH’s success story began in 1969, when friends Paul Thermote and Paul Vanhalst started a trade in lift trucks that the army had discarded. 50 years later, the divisions of the TVH group have a joint turnover of more than 1.8 billion euros, a fourfold increase compared to 2006. More than 7,000 people work for the various group divisions, 2,500 of whom are in Waregem.
Three years ago, TVH fought a fierce battle to recruit the British aerial work platform rental company Lavendon, but had to give up on its French competitor Loxam. A year later, the group’s structure was rearranged, with the division into TVH Parts and Mateco.
The family shareholders withdrew from the operational management. After the sudden death of Paul Vanhalst in 2002, Paul Thermote continued to manage the business, together with his two daughters Ann and Els, and Pascal Vanhalst.
Until now, they only sat on the boards of directors of both Mateco and TVH Parts, in addition to a series of external directors. At Mateco, Luc Missorten, former CEO of Corelio and director at Recticel, has been an external director since 2018. At TVH Parts this became Jan Van der Stichele, chairman of Lotus Bakeries and of the food federation Fevia. Besides the family members, Patrick Lecluyse, ex-CEO of Betafence and ex-CEO of Van Moer Logistics, is the only connection between the two. He is chairman of both boards of directors.
Ask about the profit or the annual investment budget of TVH Group and CEOs Dominiek Valcke and Armin Rappen stick to the answer ‘significant’. “Our ambition is to reach the 2 billion euro turnover mark for the entire group in a few years’ time,” said an interview with both last year.
It shows the company, which has been shrouded in mystery for years. The group consists of a maze of hundreds of companies, and does not publish any consolidated results, neither in Belgium nor in Luxembourg, where Quertus, the family’s umbrella holding company, is housed.
To get a picture of the profitability, we look at the statutory annual accounts of the largest company in the group that we can find at the National Bank: TVH Parts (not to be confused with the holding company). This generated a turnover of 569 million euros in the 2018-2019 financial year (until the end of September), against which was an operating profit of 98.5 million euros.