CEO couple Kelly De Dijcker and Pieter Balcaen are no longer in charge of Zeebrugge ECS, a specialist in transport to the UK. It sold its shares to sister-in-law Christine De Dijcker. The basis was a difference in vision for the future.
In a brief statement, the Zeebrugge logistics group ECS, which has a turnover of 440 million euros and 600 employees, announced last week that it has restructured its family shareholding. Christine De Dijcker and her husband Marc Lanckriet take over the 50 percent share from sister Kelly De Dijcker and brother-in-law Pieter Balcaen, thereby acquiring all the shares in ECS.
The CEO pair will be succeeded by Philippe Mathieu, former chairman of ECS. The current director Bart De Smet (Ageas) will be the new chairman. “ECS will communicate about its future plans after the summer,” it reads.
The logistics world reacts with surprise. Kelly De Dijcker (44) and Pieter Balcaen have transformed ECS over the past decade as CEOs from a small transport company to an international logistics company that has doubled in turnover in the last ten years. With its location in Zeebrugge, it became one of the main players in the transport of goods to Great Britain and Ireland and one of the largest customs agents in the country.
Big sister Christine (58) has in recent years been less involved in the day-to-day running of the company, but is director of ECS. In 1985, she founded the family business DD trans with her father, who subsequently took over her biggest customer, ECS. In 2001, her sister and brother-in-law joined the company.
If it no longer works together, it is better that each branch of the family goes its own way.
‘Why did we sell? Because there was disagreement about the company’s future ‘, says Kelly De Dijcker. ‘Over the last ten years, we have strongly professionalized the company with a strong management team. We would like to expand it further. My sister especially wanted to preserve the family character and see an important future for her two children. ‘ Christine’s son already works in the company, her daughter would soon start working there.
‘Our visions were different’, Kelly De Dijcker sums up the problem euphemistically. According to her philosophy, a family can benefit from a business, but it is not obvious for a business to be adapted to a family. “We suggested my sister buy her share, but she declined. In the end, we did not come out and sell our interest to her. It was a very difficult decision.”
The sale was preceded by long discussions and mediations. At one point, various ‘interested parties’ were reviewed, but eventually everything was arranged internally. ‘It’s a shame it turned out that way,’ says Kelly De Dijcker, ‘but if it no longer works together and there is too much negative stress, it’s better that each branch of the family goes its own way’.
There was a difference in the shareholders’ views on the company’s future.
What they do then has not yet been decided. There is a non-compete clause which stipulates that they may not carry out activities in the field of logistics for a certain period of time. Kelly De Dijcker: ‘My husband comes from the real estate world and has a number of stores that are rented out to, among others, Carrefour, Brico and ASAdventure. Maybe it’s a path we keep going. But nothing has been decided yet. It is too early. ECS is still too much in our heads and in our hearts. ‘
“It is true that there was a difference in the shareholders’ vision of the company’s future,” says Christine De Dijcker. “We have also communicated this internally. But I would rather not say more about that. ”
When asked whether Philippe Mathieu, who according to insiders is not a real logistics man, will temporarily take over the CEO position pending a new CEO with broad knowledge of the sector, Christine De Dijcker did not want to answer. To finance the purchase of her sister’s share – an amount was not disclosed – Christine received support from Kartesia, a European specialist in providing capital financing to companies in which the Frère holding company GBL invests money.
Christine De Dijcker intends to continue to execute the current strategic plan without prejudice. Among other things, this predicts an increase in the gross operating profit from 30 to 40 million euros in 2025.
In Zeebrugge, ECS, which bought 2XL in 2017 and settled in northern France a year later, operates a giant warehouse, sometimes referred to as the British pantry. Approximately 300,000 shipments to and from the UK pass here each year, the majority of which are exports. They are mainly food and groceries for UK supermarkets.
ECS gathers customer flows of goods in Zeebrugge and arranges as a kind of ‘Brexit service company’ all formalities to get the goods to the supermarkets the next day by truck. That way, they avoid the extra logistical handling – and costs – of the UK.
ECS is working on the completion of another fully automatic high-bay warehouse in Zeebrugge, an investment of 42 million euros. It is almost exclusively destined for Aldi, which will organize supplies for its stores in the UK from there. That warehouse will be ready in 2023. Brexit will also give ECS more UK customers who want to organize their goods flows to the mainland via Zeebrugge.
On the European mainland, ECS, which also has a branch in Venlo, provides logistics to, among others, P&G, Ikea, Ardo and other major players. Much of this is done by rail. ECS manages a fleet of 10,000 containers, moves 70 million kilometers by rail a year and has 500 trucks on the roads. The group handles 1,000 loads a day.
Logistics company, owned by the De Dijcker family, headquartered in Zeebrugge.
Last year it had a turnover of 440 million euros and employs 600 people.
Specializing in transport to the UK. Has branches in Zeebrugge and Venlo.
Took over its competitor 2XL in 2017.
Invests 42 million euros in a new fully automatic warehouse in Zeebrugge.