According to Alex Bongaerts, VP of Holding for Benelux, France and UK/Ireland, Flanders has always been a crucial region for Atlas Copco: “Our company is active in four business areas enabling everything from the next generation of electrical transport to advances in computer engineering and groundbreaking scientific and medical research. Two of these business areas, Compressor Technique and Power Technique, have their HQs in Flanders.”
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Atlas Copco, reaching for the sky in Flanders since 1955
Flanders and Atlas Copco through the years
So how does a Swedish company end up with the HQs of two business areas – which generate almost 60% of its total group revenue – located in Flanders? Alex Bongaerts: “We first started our activities in Belgium in 1955 when we opened a sales and service company in Brussels, which later moved to Overijse in Flanders. One year later, we completed our first acquisition in Belgium with Arpic Engineering, a firm in Antwerp that specialized in portable compressors. Today, it’s known as Atlas Copco Airpower, located in Wilrijk.”
“Once we realized how much technical and industrial knowledge we now had in-house, we decided to put it to good use,” Alex Bongaerts continues. “Consequently, Flanders became Atlas Copco’s hub for R&D and manufacturing of compressors. Through the years, we also established our competence center for Power Technique in the region. Today, it’s safe to say that Flanders is one of our most important regions, combining knowledge and decision-making power.”
Flanders is home to the HQs of two out of four business areas, which make up almost 60% of the Atlas Copco Group’s total revenue.
Flanders’ expertise in the field of compressor technology won Atlas Copco over initially. The region’s strong R&D ecosystem persuaded them to stay – and continues to do so. “Flanders’ well-reputed universities and extensive logistics network contribute greatly to our R&D success in the region,” Alex Bongaerts explains. “Here, we can source local talent, have our production sites close to our R&D activities and access a dense network of roads, waterways, railroads and airports. All of this is key to the success of our global business.”
In addition, it’s important for a product- and innovation-driven company like Atlas Copco to focus on enabling R&D. In Belgium and Flanders as a region, this focus is supported by incentives such as the innovation income deduction and R&D tax credits. Alex Bongaerts: “The government support helps us balance the considerable investment costs and makes Flanders an interesting location for R&D compared to its geographical neighbors.”
Innovation is at the heart of everything we do. Our investments in R&D and innovation, supported by the government, lead to an average of 30 new inventions patented each year.
With two business areas firmly established in Flanders, Atlas Copco began to realize the region had even more to offer, on top of know-how: a strategic location within the EU, for example. “Since 1990, our global distribution center is located in Hoeselt, Flanders,” says Alex Bongaerts. “This center covers three business areas: power technique, vacuum technique and industrial technique. What’s more, our compressor technology logistics activities are managed from our logistics center at Atlas Copco Airpower in Wilrijk, Flanders.”
During the nineties, Atlas Copco also started its generator and compressor rental business in Flanders. As this business continued to grow, the company even moved its global rental HQ to the region in 2017. It is housed in Boom, close to its other HQs in Wilrijk. “This shows Atlas Copco’s faith in the resources, expertise and potential of Flanders,” Alex Bongaerts points out.
Atlas Copco is a global company with many opportunities for mobility and developing a fulfilling professional career – and this is also evident at its sites in Flanders. Alex Bongaerts: “All our employees are in charge of their own careers and encouraged to gain international experience. All positions, except that of CEO, are open to apply for through our internal job market. At our sites in Flanders, no fewer than 51 nationalities work together – a true testament to our internal mobility. We believe in diverse teams. It drives innovation forward.”
“What’s more, from 2009 to 2017, the CEO of the Atlas Copco Group was Ronnie Leten, a renowned business leader from Flanders who is currently chairman of the board of Ericsson. Peter Kinnart – another top executive from Flanders – took over as the group’s CFO in July 2021.”
So, what does the future hold for Atlas Copco in Flanders? Alex Bongaerts: “Our executive committee recently approved a EUR 15 million investment in infrastructure and machinery for our smart factory in Wilrijk, along with a EUR 10 million investment for an upskilling and reskilling program aimed at our employees. This effort is also partly supported by the government of Flanders.”
Such investment dedication is not unusual for Atlas Copco, Alex Bongaerts points out: “Over the past 4 years, we have already funneled EUR 35 million into new production technologies to move towards becoming a factory of the future, a smart factory. This investment comes on top of our annual budget for research & development and innovation or R&D&I, which reached EUR 95 million in 2019 – an effort we intend to keep up!”