Katoen Natie: ‘I saw Indaver’s potential, and now it's sexy!’
Fernand Huts has been at the head of the Katoen Natie group for four decades now. In 2015, he incorporated the waste processing company Indaver into the group. ‘When we bought Indaver, it was not a sexy company. But by focusing on sustainability and the circular economy, it’s now a really hot business.’ The entrepreneur’s dreams of internationalisation don’t stop there.
Besides the multinational logistics company, the Katoen Natie group also includes Indaver. This waste processing company originated as a partnership between the Flemish government and various Antwerp-based chemical companies looking for a joint solution to the industry's waste. ‘At one point, the majority stake was held by a Dutch company, but nine years ago they wanted to get rid of it. In fact, Katoen Natie came really close to not even getting the chance to make a bid. I really had to fight to put a bid in,’ explains Huts.
The ambitious entrepreneur ultimately won the battle and succeeded in fully acquiring Indaver, making it a second pillar within the group. ‘I saw its potential, but it was anything but a sexy business at the time. We process waste streams for cities and municipalities, provide composting services, and are active in chemical waste treatment. We then use that chemical waste to make steam and electricity, but we’ve also been working hard in recent years to develop a concept to recycle plastics into a viable raw material for plastic producers.’
This all means that Indaver is now firmly part of the trend towards sustainability and the circular economy. Following years of research, its first pilot facility for the recycling of chemicals is now under construction. Huts is enthusiastic: ‘If we can succeed in producing a high-quality raw material, it will be revolutionary. We will then be able to roll out the concept wherever petrochemical concerns are operating and plastic can be recycled, because they’re waiting for exactly that kind of product to come along. Sustainability is key in today’s world.’
Internationalisation with the support of KBC
Huts is also developing Indaver into a global player. The company is already operating in 30 locations across nine countries. ‘Once again, we follow our customers abroad and seize opportunities as they present themselves. For example, the British still export a lot of household waste, so we bought an old airport at Rivenhall in Essex. We’re now in the process of building two large plants there to process household waste. Once we get them up and running, we’ll serve the region between London, the Thames and the coast. We will convert their waste into energy.’
The company is turning to bank finance for this project, and one of the partners involved is KBC Commercial Banking. Senior General Manager Wim Eraly explains: ‘Much like the Katoen Natie group, we also follow our customers abroad. That means that if they want to do business in areas such as Europe, the UK, the US or China, we make sure there’s a team with local market expertise in place to assist them. They also have the reassurance that they can ask questions and receive solutions in the just same way as they expect from their relationship manager in Belgium.’
Much like the Katoen Natie group, we also follow our customers abroad.
Wim Eraly - Senior General Manager KBC Commercial Banking
The personal relationship comes first
KBC and Katoen Natie have been business partners going back to 1986. ‘At the time, we were looking to acquire a company that was four times bigger than Katoen Natie and there was only one banker who believed in us and in that project back then and that was Lucien Deman at KBC. He helped us out and we worked together to successfully carry out that acquisition,’ Fernand Huts recalls. ‘That laid the foundation for a collaboration that continues to this day. When working together, the personal relationship is extremely important to me. For example, I know I can also discuss my succession strategy with the bank and prepare for the future.’
‘We always work with a relationship manager who has in-depth knowledge of not just the client in terms of their company, the sector and macroeconomic context, but also aspects such as the company culture,’ adds Wim Eraly at KBC Commercial Banking. ‘The relationship manager is the main point of contact, but they are of course supported by a wide team of experts, and we also have operational support that ensures all services run smoothly. This means we can always respond quickly and come up with the right solutions.’