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
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
“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
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