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The automotive world is his natural habitat and perhaps DAF blood flows through his veins. Vincent van Doorne is CEO of Willy van Doorne International. He runs the business as his father did. With commercial insight and respect for customers and employees.
Hilde Van Raemdonck – Photos Benjamin Brolet
Willy van Doorne International. A name like a clock and a business empire that neatly covers the eastern half of the country. It was father Willy who founded the business in 1982 and expanded it into the holding company, active in three sectors: automotive, forestry and construction tools. The family business comprises nine DAF branches under the banner 'Truck Trading Group', with related activities, four Mercedes-Benz branches in the Kempen, two Used Centers, two rental companies and two construction tool outlets.
Founder of the holding, Willy van Doorne was the son of Wim van Doorne, the man who, together with his brother Hub, founded van Doorne's Automobiel Fabriek (DAF) in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in 1928. It was the modest construction workshop in Eindhoven that formed the basis for what later became the leading truck manufacturer.
"We're a big group, but we're trying to stay accessible."
Willy worked for DAF for 20 years until in 1982 – at the age of 43 – he thought the time was right to start his own business. It all started with the takeover of the DAF branch in Wijnegem. The business grew and gradually expanded over Antwerp, the Kempen, Limburg, East Flanders and the Province and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The VDH Group, with Mercedes-Benz garages in Aarschot, Diest, Herentals and Mol, also belongs to the holding. Today, DAF, Mercedes and Iveco are the major brands that the group represents in the Belgian and Luxembourg markets.
Commercially driven as he was, Willy continued to look for opportunities and – above all – diversification, by attracting related activities such as maintenance, spare parts, crane construction, rental, second-hand vehicles... The intention was to be able to help customers in every possible way. Vincent van Doorne would actually like to offer Mercedes-Benz vans in all DAF locations, but that is simply not possible because the regions were already historically divided.
Building materials and forestry
Thus the second pillar was added – construction tools – which evolved into Salco and Sercomat today. The first is a B2B wholesaler where people from the construction sector can buy their tools. The second has been the specialist in all kinds of construction tools for contractors for 15 years. Van Doorne still succeeds in growing in this sector by constantly expanding its range.
The third part of the company – specifically for forestry – revolves around Garage Mioli in Bande (Nassogne), the importer of John Deere Forestry machines, the well-known American tractor and agricultural machinery manufacturer with the green/yellow logo of a jumping deer.
The holding also includes Truck and Auto Center (TAC) Grobbendonk, Truck Trading Parts (TTP), DIF-RENT (second-hand, rental & lease), De Kempen Verhuur (garbage trucks), Hydromat in Lontzen (surface-mounted cranes), and Bee Line Trucks (bodywork) in Henri-Chapelle.
"The holding company is still 100% owned by the family."
100 % family holding
Son Vincent van Doorne (57), today CEO of the holding company, joined the business in 1990. After studying business administration, he first worked for about three years for the competition, more specifically Iveco, in England, "to learn the tricks of the trade". In 1996, at the request of his father, he returned to Belgium and to the family business. First as COO until 2017 and since then as CEO.
Van Doorne was a family business and Vincent wants to keep it that way. "The group is still 100% owned by the family. The head office is located in Schilde, where mainly the policies are mapped out and where the financial control body is located. Furthermore, each company has its own management, but reports are central." Important decisions are taken in consultation and a number of aspects (telephony, IT, computer programming for the entire group, the purchase of fuel and the like) are arranged centrally; economies of scale obviously play a role in this.
'Live and let live'
"My father was a charismatic man and much loved for his sense of justice and social commitment. Commercially a natural talent, but always in an atmosphere of 'Live and let live'. Transparency and respect are still fixed values within the company today. "This gives all companies the necessary freedom here, but we exchange statistics and turnover figures and also organize quarterly meetings. This way we are always well informed."
The atmosphere that prevails in the workplace is also excellent. "We are an extensive group – in number and geographically dispersed – but try to remain accessible. Feet on the ground too. And everyone is addressed by their first name. In general, we have limited staff turnover."
"Finding talented people remains a daily challenge. Moreover, good mechanics are sometimes 'bought out' by the competition. But we have seen some of these people again after a while with the question whether they 'can' come back. The best compliment you can get as an employer, right?"
"Nothing is left to chance."
Safety is another hobbyhorse at WvDI. "We therefore employ two people full-time for accident prevention at work. They visit our sites – unannounced or not – and organize fire drills, check emergency buttons, monitor the environment, check the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)..." Reports are then made, with photos, evaluations and further follow-up. "Nothing is left to chance."
In terms of strategy, the holding company consistently follows the line set. "But the automotive sector is facing profound changes. Independent dealerships are being transformed into agents, with local entrepreneurship being more restricted. Showrooms are becoming smaller, experience spaces and sales will increasingly be done online. Margins will come under pressure." Vincent van Doorne himself is not really convinced of the formula, "but the constructors will leave us no other choice. The seller of the future is more likely to become a relationship manager." And, he adds, "it won't get any easier for the customer either".
The new mobility? "We can't ignore it, although I only see electric driving as a solution for city traffic. For long-distance journeys, the inconvenience of loading capacity and loss of time remains a justified obstacle today. For long distances, it will undoubtedly be hydrogen."