Article Index — 12
Annual Report 2019

“Driven by the pride of creating something beautiful and sustainable”

“At the end of the day, there’s only one boss: ‘the customer’. They’re always right”, says Paul Gheysens, the founder of and driving force behind family firm Ghelamco.

Thirty-five years on, Ghelamco is still a family business, a fact determining the company’s DNA. “In a family business, every decision is well-considered. Tough decisions keep me awake at night”, explains Paul Gheysens, the strong man behind Ghelamco.

“The family shareholder structure has never held us back from growing. We started from scratch. To get where we are now, we’ve always been quick on our feet. We have always been able to finance our own growth”, Gheysens explains. “We use professional bond holders and bank loans, without seeking funding from private investors. Most of all, we seek investors who understand our business.”

“I’m fortunate that my children share the same passion. Without that, you don’t have the intuition it takes to do well in this business.”

Paul Gheysens CEO Ghelamco

Nonetheless, building a family business requires a particular approach. “On the one hand, a lot of work needs to be done by yourself and you have to keep things under control. On the other hand, you have to assemble a great team around you. We’ve always managed to do just that. The trick is to give people responsibility and trust.”

The next generation

The whole family is involved in the company — the children too, and from a young age. “Everyone is incredibly committed to Ghelamco”, Gheysens says. The next generation is waiting in the wings. “I’m fortunate that my children share the same passion. Without that, you don’t have the intuition it takes to do well in this business.”

“In our family, all ideas get challenged.”

Marie-Julie Gheysens Senior Investment & Development Associate Ghelamco

As if to prove his point, daughter Marie-Julie Gheysens pulls up a chair. She works at Ghelamco as a Senior Investment and Development Associate. “We’re eager to learn. We want to learn something new every day”, she says, speaking also on behalf of her brothers. “In our family, all ideas get challenged. We’re involved, we listen and speak a lot, and we’re open and honest with each other.”

Entrepreneurship runs in the family’s blood. “I often tell the children they shouldn’t work so hard while they’re still young. But there’s no stopping them. I was exactly the same”, Gheysens says.

It’s impossible to imagine life without Ghelamco. “Wherever we go, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities. Entrepreneurship is all about intuition. At the end of the day, there’s only one boss: ‘the customer’. They’re always right.”

Fast and perfect

According to Gheysens, Ghelamco is also known for its speed of execution, despite its deep-rooted perfectionism and eye for detail. “That has become our quality label”, he says. And then there’s the group’s vertical integration. “We do everything in-house. A building is our own product from A to Z. We plan everything down to the tiniest detail. That way, we maintain control of the process and keep costs in check.”

“We haven’t missed a single day of work in the corona crisis.”

Paul Gheysens CEO Ghelamco

Gheysens is driven by the ‘pride of creating something beautiful’. “We create entire environments. A shining example is The Spire, an office tower in the heart of the Polish capital, Warsaw. The building is surrounded by the new European Square, home to stores, restaurants and its own underground station. “This setting creates a unique experience, something tremendously important to the 8,000 people working there. On top of that, 20,000 people drop by each day. The square has become a meeting point for the whole city.”

The future

Ghelamco’s future is assured, according to Gheysens, thanks inter alia to its large land portfolio. “We own enough land to keep building for five more years in Belgium and ten more years in Warsaw.”

Ghelamco has a lot of office towers in the pipeline. “Those are a developer’s nec plus ultra. The wealth of experience we’ve gained in such projects means that new projects run to a tee. It’s become a ‘system’ where we do everything to maintain and extend our technological lead, anticipating new trends in employee experience.”

Corona crisis

The corona crisis is not that great a problem for us, even though the global outbreak is obviously impacting all companies, including Ghelamco. “We have to take this very seriously”, says Gheysens. “A vaccine will be found somewhere down the line, but until then we’re going to have to live with the virus. That means stricter observance of hand hygiene, humidity levels, and respect of distancing rules. We’re very disciplined about that.” 

Much will depend on how the recovery takes place. With multinationals as its chief clients and big investors as its main buyers, Ghelamco is dependent on international markets. “Old buildings — from my perspective, any building over ten years old — will have a hard time finding new tenants. But for new builds with long-term tenants, I don’t expect any problems.”

“Moreover, quality, energy efficiency, and employee well-being will be more important than ever. New builds will have to meet the BREEAM ‘excellent’ criteria (a measure of sustainability in real estate). The ‘very good’ label just isn’t good enough anymore.”

Gheysens concludes that the coronavirus won’t have that big an impact on Ghelamco. “If you deal with this crisis sensibly, it’s not so bad, really. We haven’t missed a single day of work. Our trademark is on-time delivery. For tenants and investors, that is essential.”

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