“We don’t hire contract workers, we employ our people”
André Hofman started at Venko as a project leader carrying out maintenance work on Haringvliet Bridge. In the years that followed, he witnessed how Venko was transformed from a local maintenance firm into a professional, international organisation that remained true to its roots.
Maintenance of high-tension pylons
Venko was founded forty years ago, initially devoting itself to maintaining high-tension pylons. As it progressed, it turned to the maintenance of constructions and industrial locations, and eventually to the oil and gas industry as well. I have been working at Venko since 1997; my first project was performing maintenance on the impressive Haringvliet Bridge that links the provinces of Zuid-Holland and Noord-Brabant.
Transferring the company to the workforce
In 2003, Venko was transferred to the workforce via a management buy-out. By then, I was manager of the offshore division, so I was able to participate in this. Although things were going well with the firm, the new ownership structure proved far from ideal. There were too many participants to manage the company effectively, and the buy-out had an unintended effect: people soon sold off their shares, whereas the real aim had been that they should feel closer and more loyal to the company. Around 2011, we realised that the new structure was untenable and we started looking for alternatives. Maybe it was coincidence, but at that time Jeroen Quaegebeur from Mentha called me and invited me to have a coffee with him. And from that very first cup of coffee, I had the feeling that Mentha could be the company to help us.
New ownership structure
Mentha understood the dynamics of Venko; we clicked well together and so we decided to go along with it. The investment enabled us to simplify the ownership structure and make a one-off payment to the staff. Now we participate with a smaller group of committed managers. The result is that we have the best of both worlds: a professional shareholder structure and the culture of a family firm. We also made a number of strategic decisions with Mentha. For example, we reduced the number of divisions to two: offshore and outdoor. In a fairly short time, Venko’s turnover grew from 40 million to 60 million.
Fast-growing offshore activities
Venko has always shown healthy growth, but in recent years things have progressed really quickly because the offshore activities have expanded rapidly, partly due to a really good deal with Shell. We had been carrying out maintenance work for Shell for some time, but in a consortium with other companies. When Shell decided to put the maintenance of 35 platforms out to tender as a single project, we put in our bid via that consortium. Shell was happy with our maintenance work, but they could not come to an agreement with the consortium. It was quite a surprise for us when Shell then asked us to take on the project as the main contractor. But we developed a unique concept, and with that we gained the project! Thanks to the order from Shell, we were able to open a branch in the United Kingdom. That turned out to be a good move, because in the first year we acquired a new, second order, this time from Perenco. Last year we added an exciting job for Total in the Netherlands.
Royal Netherlands Navy
We have been active in the outdoor field from the very start: high-tension pylons, bridges and canal locks are all part of our regular work. And for the last few years, we have also been working for the Dutch Navy – an unexpected client for us. The Navy had a site it used for maintaining its ships, but came to the conclusion that it didn’t fit in with its primary process. It therefore invited a number of parties to come up with a way of divesting itself of the location. Venko was the only party which, in the discussions with the Navy, came up with a construction that was attractive to both parties. We eventually agreed to take over the factory for ten years. Thanks to the relationship with the Dutch Navy, we also participated in the tender process for the maintenance of the four Walrus class submarines which had to undergo preservation to extend their service life. We didn’t have any experience in this, but we came out top in the tender process and the Navy had a lot of confidence in us, so we got the contract. We now manage not only the submarines, but also a number of other naval ships.
No contract workers, we really employ our people
The nice thing about the Venko Group is that we are very diverse. On the one hand, we do a lot of offshore work, even though we are only a small player from the international perspective. On the other hand, with a workforce of 500, we are the biggest metal preservation company in the Netherlands. Unlike many of our competitors, we don’t hire contract workers, but really employ our people and that generates a strong commitment to the company. We can tell by the fact that the sons of employees also often come and work for us. When someone has 25 years of service behind them, they get a visit from the entire management, bearing a bunch of flowers and an envelope, and then we really notice how proud people are to work for Venko.
As a company, it is not in our nature to work with a defined strategy. Much of what we do has, in a sense, simply ‘happened to us’. We are enterprising; we see opportunities and pick things up – a new line in high-tension pylons, drilling rigs, submarines… People know they can rely on us because we have a good reputation. But now, together with Mentha, we have developed a strategy for how we intend to grow over the coming years. We already had much of it in our heads, but we have now translated that into a document defining the sectors and regions in which we see growth opportunities and how we will exploit these. For example, among other things, we want to open a branch in Amsterdam or Rotterdam to serve the industry there, and in the long-term we see ourselves becoming active in Germany too. Venko has a fine future to look forward to!