Groep Bouwen, Lier - -‘Sharing is a moral duty’
Coffee and cake
Patrick Bouwen, a lawyer by profession in a previous professional life, has, as it were, rolled into the real estate and project development sector. First he founded Eurinpro / Uplace together with his business friend Luc Verelst, but soon he felt the itch to start projects himself.
In 2000 group Bouwen emerged in Lier as a new player in the project development market. At first Patrick didn’t have the ambition to start a family business. “With family you eat your breakfast pastries, you go for brunch, you keep it cosy and you definitely stay away from the business world” he says laughing. That turned out a bit different. Cousin Kim entered the company soon and in the meantime his daughter Cyrielle became his right hand in the well-oiled family concern. During the interview we notice soon that the atmosphere in the family is still great and that doing business together suits them well. Daughter Cyrielle can only assent to this. “I have always been interested in real estate and the move to the family business was a very obvious choice for me. It’s a super fascinating job and it never gets boring.”
Love brought Patrick from Lier to Brussels and he never left. He commutes daily between Brussels and Lier and he has to use his scarce time smart. He succeeds well in this and of course it helps that the other employees do live in a radius of 10 kilometres. “I often come to work on a quiet Saturday in my office in Lier, I love to have all the space for myself then. But I also look forward to the visits of my grandson, often he comes to say hello at the company after day-care. From my office we enjoy the beautiful view of the horse pasture across the street.”
Patrick started very small, as an investor with a few apartment blocks in Kessel. The projects have meanwhile been scaled up enormously and business is going well. There are concrete plans for the development of a new business site at the former site of Gazet van Antwerpen. A furniture boulevard in Londerzeel and a few luxury apartments at a top location in Ixelles will soon also be part of the Bouwen group's list of achievements. This latter real estate project took him some guts and perseverance because there were several competitors in the field.
On the other hand he insists on keeping the company ‘small’ as in a brief decision grid, with space for lots of creativity and participation. “I love brainstorm with my loyal team about projects and buildings that are timeless and functional. I also want to give something back to society. For example, a large auditorium will be provided on the new business site on the left bank that can serve as a theatre after office hours. This has become really scarce in Antwerp”, he explains. “A project is only successful if my team of co-workers and I have the feeling that we want to live or work there ourselves.”
Nomen est omen
The connection with Solid was quickly made through friend Luc Verelst, but the cooperation plans with Solid became really concrete through Inge Overmeer. “I already knew Inge from before. For me it has always been evident as an entrepreneur to give something back to society. Sharing is a moral duty.”
Patrick didn’t doubt long when Inge showed him the building plans for a cheese factory in the Montefino cow-shed of Solid in Ayacucho, Peru. “This project fits perfectly within our business philosophy, building to create something socially relevant and functional, Nomen est omen. It was also nice that my son Cédric was invited by Solid to follow the construction on site. In this way we immediately had live coverage from Peru.”
That latest visit to the construction site in Peru worked out slightly different, says son Cédrich laughing: “The building of the cheese factory suffered a huge delay. Construction in the middle of the Ayacuchan mountains at an altitude of 4000 metres is not obvious. Turns out that the drying time of the screed doubles at this altitude. Because I hate being inactive, I rolled up my sleeves and helped in the cow-shed. It was nice to be able to do something for the locals.” All of this within not so obvious living conditions, due to a changing climate and fierce temperature fluctuations during the day and night. In addition to his operational work in the cow-shed, Cédric also helped with administrative and financial assistance by a.o. setting up a marketing campaign and logistics system. Son Cédric soon won the trust and unconditional friendship of the local farmers. Meanwhile, he has a godchild there, a namesake Cedrik, this is the son of Edgar, the person in charge of the cow-shed.
Daughter Cyrielle stood 100% behind this project of course. “We sucked the generosity and engagement of my dad in with our mother’s milk. You can’t take anything for granted, we are very privileged, we can study, travel, be in good health and therefore it is only normal to help others”, she explains. It is clear that father Patrick prefers to give than to receive. “I had the honour to go on an audience with the Pope, together with my wife and the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was quite an adventure, full of protocol rules, but the Pope was very enthusiastic about the idea of the Peruvian project that we supported through Solid and could only encourage this.” Was it the Pope's South American roots, or the charms of Patrick's wife, we’ll never know, but they did leave Vatican City with a blessed llama and medal which they donated through son Cédric to the very Catholic Peruvian farmers.
Active development aid
“I like working with Solid because a very nice, open and constructive way of collaboration. The support of the project on site has been developed very intuitive. I also absolutely believe in active development aid. Solid gives the local community the opportunity to build beautiful projects themselves. We, group Bouwen, love to sponsor this kind of projects where the self-reliance of the sponsored people is encouraged.”
You also notice that the Peruvian project is cherished in the family business and that the project is not only supported by Patrick and his son Cédric, but by the whole company. Through the website and internal reporting, colleagues from group Bouwen follow up the activities on site. It’s also a very tangible and rewarding project. Meanwhile, the first anniversary of the cheese factory was celebrated in Peru at the beginning of March of this year. This project allows the production of cheese, yogurt, manjar (cf. Biscoff Cookie Spread, but completely different) at the shed itself. This allows the shed to grow into a truly integrated farm, where the milk is immediately transformed into finished products.
Patrick is clearly very curious about the following plans. He plans a big trip to Peru with his wife and family in 2020. Then he can immediately get acquainted with the further building plans for the shed and the cheese factory on site. Now, Solid likes to offer the local community a training centre and auditory, at the moment the capacity is too limited and the demand for training is high. The capacity of the training center can be expanded through the new building project and more new farmers can be trained. There are also a few conversations with "Via Via" Peru to promote Montefino via the local agritourism, which can mean additional income for the local community.
The building permit is almost complete and in the school year 2020-2021 they hope to get started. Now all that rests is finding the necessary sponsors!
A few days after the interview group Bouwen confirmed to Solid the sponsoring of the new project and thus it look like the deadline 2020-2021 will be met! Thank you very much on behalf of the entire Solid team!
Text: Valerie Molly Photos: Marijke Jans