Construction

The Principle—no
Job half-done

A construction company successful throughout Europe unites the values it lives by and its tradition with innovation.

05/2023

For Chief Financial Officer Peter Zents and businessman Wim ten Brinke (right), reliable and sustainable construction is top priority. Their conviction: “Everything from a single source—from pre-planning to key handover—is the best solution. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Just estab­lish­ing val­ues is not enough. You have to live them. That is often eas­i­er in fam­i­ly busi­ness­es with a rich tra­di­tion. They are the busi­ness­es whose for­mu­las often sound amaz­ing­ly sim­ple, feel time­less and become “clas­sics.” Just like Dutch build­ing com­pa­ny Ten Brinke, estab­lished in 1902 as a local con­struc­tion busi­ness: “My father taught me that you should always build with pas­sion,” says CEO Wim ten Brinke. Pas­sion, passed on from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, is cen­tral to Wim ten Brinke too.

But pas­sion? Is that still pos­si­ble? Par­tic­u­lar­ly in such a tough sec­tor? “Admit­ted­ly, it’s get­ting ever more dif­fi­cult,” Wim ten Brinke says. This is why he is build­ing a firm strate­gic foun­da­tion and based on solid prin­ci­ples: “The projects we pre­fer and almost always take on”, says the CEO, “are those where our com­pa­ny per­forms every phase, from plan­ning and site acqui­si­tion right up to hand­ing over the keys.”

Solid craftsmanship—the cornerstone of success

In 1902, Theodorus ten Brinke founded his company as a small construction business in Varsseveld in the Netherlands. The mason quickly found success and his business laid the foundations for the company we know today, Ten Brinke Group B. V. Over recent decades, Ten Brinke has grown into an international and innovative construction company, contractor, project developer, financier and investor. The group achieves an average annual turnover of over one billion euros and employs 1,300 staff across 24 locations in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

If you want top points for client sat­is­fac­tion, it is impor­tant to iden­ti­fy with your work and the com­mon goals of a project. Ten Brinke there­fore uses its own exper­tise across the entire value chain so as to pro­vide ben­e­fits for clients in con­struc­tion time, qual­i­ty and value for money. Any­thing assumed to be unavoid­able in con­struc­tion projects, i.e., unnec­es­sary delays, cost­ly amend­ments dur­ing build­ing or repairs fol­low­ing com­ple­tion and the asso­ci­at­ed non-con­for­mance costs, and the gru­el­ing argu­ments between con­tract­ing par­ties often aris­ing from a lack of trans­paren­cy, is dras­ti­cal­ly reduced. “Our ulti­mate tar­get is the over­all result. For the desired result, coop­er­a­tion between project devel­op­ment, plan­ning and con­struc­tion oper­a­tions has to be per­fect. In our com­pa­ny, project devel­op­ers and builders are one team: “Every­one has their own project, which sup­ports the com­mon goal—and that’s what counts at the end”, says the CEO, and here is where he has also sought the advice of Porsche Consulting’s man­age­ment consultants.

Wim ten Brinke (left) and Peter Zents (center) speaking with consultant Christian Bücker, Manager at Porsche Consulting. Smart innovations should improve the construction and preservation of buildings. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Trusting family businesses

Clients with high demands appre­ci­ate the val­ues of fam­i­ly busi­ness­es as many of them are fam­i­ly busi­ness­es them­selves. In the com­mer­cial sec­tor, Ten Brinke builds local branch­es for large dis­count gro­cery stores, build­ing sup­plies stores and spe­cial­ist retail­ers or vehi­cle deal­er­ships. It also builds logis­tics cen­ters for large tex­tile mer­chants, hos­pi­tals, schools, stu­dent res­i­dences or care homes and hotels. Even BioN­Tech, the suc­cess­ful coro­na vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­er from Ger­many, has decid­ed to use the end-to-end build­ing ser­vices of the Dutch com­pa­ny from tran­quil Vars­seveld (pop. 6,000). This is to build its new head­quar­ters as BioN­Tech urgent­ly needs to expand its premises.

How­ev­er, almost no indus­try has to react to eco­nom­ic changes as dynam­i­cal­ly and exten­sive­ly as the con­struc­tion indus­try. Employ­ing 1,300 staff across 24 loca­tions in the Nether­lands, Ger­many, Spain, Greece and Por­tu­gal, Ten Brinke has delib­er­ate­ly increased its pro­por­tion of res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion projects from one to two thirds of its entire busi­ness over the last nine years.

From their modern headquarters in the Dutch town of Varsseveld, close to the German border, Peter Zents and Wim ten Brinke (right) manage the Ten Brinke construction firm, with 24 offices in Europe. It all began with a small general contracting firm in 1902. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Just recent­ly, the CEO trav­eled to Frank­furt am Main to break ground on a con­ven­tion­al con­struc­tion project. 207 apart­ments and 67 hous­es are being devel­oped in a mod­ernist, straight­for­ward archi­tec­tur­al style in a for­mer indus­tri­al area. How­ev­er, despite a high hous­ing demand, infla­tion, increas­es in inter­est rates and falling eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty have abrupt­ly reduced new devel­op­ments. “We can sense the ret­i­cence, par­tic­u­lar­ly among insti­tu­tion­al investors,” says ten Brinke. “Investors are becom­ing more cau­tious. Their ROI expec­ta­tions are drop­ping due to sharply ris­ing costs, high­er lend­ing inter­est rates and addi­tion­al demands includ­ing the nec­es­sary use of renew­able ener­gy sources in heat­ing and power sup­ply or other sus­tain­abil­i­ty requirements.”

“Revitalization of existing buildings is becoming ever more relevant. We were quick to recognize that as well,” emphasizes builder Wim ten Brinke in an interview with Porsche Consulting Magazine. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Timely and transparent

Once again, com­pa­ny man­age­ment has had to rethink quick­ly and prove its flex­i­bil­i­ty. “We have to know pre­cise­ly what the mar­ket will demand tomor­row,” says Peter Zents, Chief Finan­cial Offi­cer at Ten Brinke. Wim ten Brinke adds: “Revi­tal­iza­tion of exist­ing build­ings will become ever more rel­e­vant.” His motto: “Ten Brinke always lays the first brick.” For that to work, things have to move fast at com­pa­ny head­quar­ters and locations.

Tech­nol­o­gy is need­ed to accel­er­ate process­es, so a shared data­base has been devel­oped, which every­one uses and from which every­one has a com­plete oper­a­tional pic­ture. This enables all staff, even those in ser­vice and admin­is­tra­tive posi­tions, to col­lab­o­rate opti­mal­ly. This not only cre­ates trans­paren­cy, but also answers stan­dard ques­tions “auto­mat­i­cal­ly.” Wim ten Brinke says, “Every­one in our com­pa­ny has to know where they stand. That only works if the data­base shows every­thing as sim­ply as pos­si­ble, every­one real­ly uses the data­base and every­one ensures that its infor­ma­tion is cur­rent, cor­rect and com­plete. We have to be able to share all our knowl­edge cen­tral­ly. That’s why, for exam­ple, we store every sin­gle record our peo­ple write.”

“We have to know exactly what the market will demand tomorrow,” says Peter Zents, Chief Financial Officer at Ten Brinke, noting the rapidly changing economic factors affecting the construction industry and their consequences. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Equal­ly impor­tant for Ten Brinke is sus­tain­able cor­po­rate gov­er­nance on all lev­els, imple­ment­ed in its in-house ESG (Envi­ron­men­tal, Social and Gov­er­nance) pro­gram. Revi­tal­iz­ing real estate is a good exam­ple of the prin­ci­ple in prac­tice. This goes far beyond sim­ple ren­o­va­tion. Wim ten Brinke says, “Revi­tal­iz­ing or repur­pos­ing sites, par­tic­u­lar­ly in inner cities, can be not only a cost-effec­tive option when com­pared to new devel­op­ments, but also offers greater prof­itabil­i­ty for investors and future users. Sim­i­lar­ly, regen­er­a­tion also helps to reduce CO2. In terms of ener­gy, a good design can sup­port main­tain­ing exist­ing real estate, from suit­able roof insu­la­tion right through to using solar-gen­er­at­ed elec­tric­i­ty for oper­at­ing the new heat pumps.” To cal­cu­late exact prof­itabil­i­ty, the Dutch com­pa­ny is work­ing with sophis­ti­cat­ed loca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic analy­ses to gage all issues and adjust them to how the prop­er­ty will be used. “It’s impor­tant to mon­i­tor the results and liq­uid­i­ty of cur­rent projects.” We must ensure that liq­uid­i­ty is always suf­fi­cient to be able to spot oppor­tu­ni­ties, even in eco­nom­i­cal­ly dif­fi­cult times,” says CFO Peter Zents.

Even if the con­struc­tion indus­try has to nav­i­gate chop­py waters, both men at the helm con­vey the relaxed demeanor of an expe­ri­enced cap­tain on the high seas. Their skill keeps them on the right course. Ten Brinke con­cludes, “We are only com­mit­ted to our­selves, our clients and employ­ees, not the stock mar­ket. And that approach has worked very well for the last 120 years.”

The memo

By Roland Sitzberger,
Partner, Porsche Consulting

Modules form the new foundation

A graduate in civil engineering, Roland Sitzberger is a partner with the management consultancy Porsche Consulting. Porsche Consulting
The construction industry must now set the course, for cost-effectiveness, expertise and even for socio-political aims such as addressing the housing shortage. Large project developers and building companies like Ten Brinke no longer want to see the industry and their customers suffer on multiple levels due to traditional work patterns. Loss of time and money due to too many interfaces from planning through to handing over keys, to skilled labor and material shortages, is the most common obstacle. This is why the path pursued by Ten Brinke is the right one. Reliability is key. Ten Brinke takes on the entire project themselves centrally, guaranteeing price, punctuality and precision in delivery. This requires an organization to plan fully and with foresight, communicate comprehensively, work collaboratively and in coordination with all parties, and take complete responsibility. A strong process which optimally facilitates cooperation is essential to this. Clients benefit from this transparency. As well as the process, the right product and efficient production are two important aspects, on which we as consultants focus in transforming the construction industry. Without careful client and product orientation there can be no meaningful prefabrication work. This is extremely important because Porsche Consulting’s industry experts know from extensive analyses: Building a well-planned development from cleverly designed prefabricated modules enhances quality, prevents problems at interfaces between different groups, counters time lost by skilled labor and material shortages or inclement weather and, to top it all, keeps the project within the agreed budget. This allows housing developments to be built more reliably if, for example, the washroom area is produced as a whole “prefabricated bathroom” in a factory, quickly transported to the building site by flat-bed truck and positioned in place by mobile crane. Everything is prepared; only the various utility connection points have to be connected using quick couplings. Plug and play! The bathroom is a great example because this is where various groups have to work most closely and in the shortest time to manufacture and deliver a product together. This can be realized considerably more efficiently in factory-based mass production. It does not hamper individuality. The automotive industry demonstrates this: Every vehicle can be fitted with a wide range of options according to the customer’s configuration wishes. It is similarly not rocket science for a bathroom with its various sanitary features, installations, tiles and colors. Personnel are also be trained precisely for tasks directly at the factory and trained further centrally. This is an important factor in today’s rapidly increasing use of technology. Prefabrication is essential outside the bathroom too, in efficient, high-quality building projects and for avoiding subsequent amendments and defects. Quickly progressing digitalization is helping to take construction to a new level. The industry needs to adapt and learn. Companies ready to do this now are laying strong foundations for the future.
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