The youthful Sven Vanbinst has risen quickly to reach his current post at De Lage Landen of country manager for Belgium and Luxembourg. After having recently completed a large-scale restructuring, he is certainly not resting on his laurels as Jason T Hesse discovers.
A more diverse portfolio also means better protection against volatile markets. Vanbinst has seen the office and construction equipment sectors hit particularly hard by the credit crunch, and he expects markets to worsen.
“We still have a substantial amount of office equipment in our portfolio, alongside construction equipment – and I think risk costs will go up in these areas this year. Thankfully, we’ve had a rather conservative way of looking at credit, so I don’t think that my risk costs will triple, but they will certainly increase.”
Previously an area sales manager at Volvo Financial Services, Vanbinst is a salesperson at heart. Indeed, alongside his management team of four, he increased new business volumes by 49 percent in 2008, and nearly doubled the number of lease contracts since he joined in 2006.
“I had to take over a small portfolio and grow it, and the trend has been very positive so far,” he explains. “Before, all country managers were more inward looking, but there is now a tendency for us to be a lot more than just the gatekeepers of compliance. We need to drive the sales force, too.”
Vanbinst is candid about the transformation his business has gone through: “Saying it took me two days to fix the business would be ridiculous – it took me two years to get the business where it is today, and there is still work to do.”
As soon as he was appointed country manager in 2007 Vanbinst saw the business was not cost-efficient, so he began a restructuring exercise which included the abolition all of the team leader positions.
“It was my choice to have a very simple structure,” Vanbinst explains. “Before I took over, some of our departments were made up of one manager and one employee. We had 28 people working here, seven of which were managers.”
Today the company has four departments – HR, finance, business support and risk – each of whose heads report direct to Vanbinst.
“It took a lot of effort to change the business, but it has paid off,” he says.
His new challenge is to work more closely with Athlon Car Lease, the car lessor which De Lage Landen acquired in 2006. Integrating the two businesses is a challenge, says Vanbinst, as Athlon Car Lease is a much bigger enterprise, with 180 employees.
“Although the business model is totally different to ours, there are still some important synergies to make,” he explains. His car and truck leasing background, having worked at Volvo Financial Services and KBC Auto Lease, helps him to understand the Athlon Car Lease business.
Athlon Car Lease and De Lage Landen have already started to pool resources in the legal, human resources and even credit departments; and are expected to move into the same building in 2010.
“The challenge is getting two different cultures to come together,” says Vanbinst. “But I am a strong believer in lean structures, and believe the two businesses can share some functions.”
Looking forward, one of Vanbinst’s aims is to reach a €250 million portfolio by 2010.
“Of course, it’s not just about having the €250 million, but also how you achieve it and what makes up that critical mass,” he explains. “Risk cost stabilisation is key to running a successful business, especially in these turbulent times.”
Risk costs increased “rather dramatically” in the last quarter of 2008, according to Vanbinst, but the business managed to reduce arrears by around 25 percent last year.
He is not sure how 2009 will pan out: “It’s very difficult to predict, but I expect a very difficult year. With our conservative way at looking at credit, and with a strong collections and recovery department, I believe we can keep things stable,” he says. “I hope to stay at the same profit level – I don’t think we have to fear we will be in a loss-making position.”