Even though finding a timeslot for this in the diaries of both Pieter Bourgeois (Chairman) and Pieter Loose (CEO) was not easy, they were glad to take the time for this interview. Once the conversation about Ekopak gets going, they are hard to keep up with because it’s obviously an important part of their lives. For Ekopak, no effort is too much for them. For Ekopak they dream up a bright future.
What prompted you to go public, with the IPO?
Pieter Loose. Actually, everything started a year earlier, when I met Marc Coucke. He was immediately enthusiastic about what we do at Ekopak. He is very conscious about the water problems in the world and he saw that Ekopak could make a significant contribution to the solution. To cut a long story short, Marc took an important participation with his investment company Alychlo. That’s how the ball got rolling.
Pieter Bourgeois. As an investment manager at Alychlo, I became closely involved with Ekopak. I saw immediately that Ekopak is operating in an area that will become increasingly relevant in the future, but that is today perhaps still a bit overlooked when talking about the environment and climate. There are still enormous growth opportunities for Ekopak, and by growing, Ekopak can also make a substantial contribution to solving the water problem.
Pieter Loose. At that time, I had already been on quite a growth trajectory with Ekopak. But I realized that I could use some help in order to grow further. I thought that with the help of Alychlo I would be able to get a long way but Pieter Bourgeois opened up a whole new dimension to me.
Pieter Bourgeois. If Pieter really wants to make a difference to the world with Ekopak, Alychlo’s contribution alone is not enough – perhaps to achieve the kind of growth he had in mind at the outset, but not to achieve the growth needed to make a real difference to the global challenge of water supply. That is a totally different dimension. This is how we came up with the plan to go public and thus gain structural access to the public capital markets. The IPO was a real success. It was not an end in itself, but rather a means to realize our dreams. With the IPO, Ekopak joined the league of large corporations. Different standards apply there: performance management, reporting, corporate governance, etc. As a young company we still have some way to go, but that doesn’t deter us.
The key points for Ekopak:rn• Have access to resources to realize our business planrn• Grow in the markets where we are already activern• Grow through geographical expansionrn• Sustainable entrepreneurshiprn• Focus on the WaaS business modelrn• Develop new conceptsrn
The IPO apparently gave Ekopak wings, because a lot has happened since then. What do you consider Ekopak’s most important achievements in 2021?
Pieter Loose. Every day brings something special at Ekopak; that is what makes it so attractive here. But if I have to make a business-driven selection, I come to five major events, of which the IPO was already mentioned. Actually, it’s more about decisions and strategies rather than events. We have resolutely opted for a growth strategy, and in the current phase this growth will be primarily achieved in the market where we are already operational. In addition, we have decided to achieve our growth also through geographical expansion. The establishment of Ekopak France is a very first step in this direction. Importantly, we have also decided that we will integrate the concept of sustainability in our organization; our growth must therefore also be sustainable. But, our growth should also be profitable. That is why we have initiated the strategic switch to the WaaS business model.
Pieter Bourgeois. These are indeed the five key strategies for Ekopak: (1) securing access to the capital markets in order to have the necessary resources at our disposal for the implementation of our business plan, (2) growing our business in the markets in which we are already active, (3) growing through geographical expansion, (4) focusing on sustainability, (5) fully playing the card of the WaaS business model. Actually, I would like to add a sixth strategy: develop new concepts, for which the Waterkracht joint venture in the port of Antwerp is a good example.
From your answer I understand that for Ekopak sustainability is more than just another project?
Pieter Loose: That’s right. At Ekopak, we have always been very conscious of our impact on the world. Sustainability is the balancing act between the social and environmental needs of our stakeholders on the one hand and the growth of our business on the other. This approach is the cornerstone of our sustainability strategy, but also of our entire long-term business strategy.
Pieter Bourgeois – Chairman
Ekopak’s growth strategy must be sustainable, but also manageable.rnThat is why we are already building an organizational structure that is anticipated for future growth.
Pieter Bourgeois: Sustainability is simply also a matter of common business sense. As a company that offers solutions to water supply issues – and thus enables its customers to operate in a more sustainable way – it is self-understood that Ekopak wants to be a sustainable company itself. That is why we signed the principles of the UN Global Compact in April 2021. Together with the specialized agency Encon, we have already had several workshops to integrate sustainability into our strategy and our activities. Joining UN Global Compact also implies our commitment to adopting a validated methodology to set our sustainability goals, to measure our progress in meeting them and to report on the progress on an annual basis. This annual report further explains this methodology and you can already track our progress in that regard. Our first sustainability report will be published in the second quarter of 2022. Starting next year, you may expect an integrated annual report from Ekopak, in which sustainability is entirely embedded.
Obviously there are a lot of things to do at Ekopak. How are you tackling all that?
Pieter Bourgeois. Our CEO’s energy and drive are impressive, and he also manages to take his entire team along with him. However, this will not be enough to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. It is the task of the Board of Directors to support and coach the management. We have carefully analyzed this challenge. Ekopak’s growth strategy must not only be sustainable, but also manageable. You can do two things to achieve manageable growth. Either you remove a number of things from the priority list, or you strengthen the organization. Considering the wave on which Ekopak is currently surfing, the first option would be a missed opportunity. So we have deliberately chosen to also provide the necessary resources to build Ekopak’s organization, systems, processes and procedures for the future.
Pieter Loose. I really appreciate the role that our Board of Directors has played in this respect. Together, we have opted to start building systems and processes that already anticipate Ekopak’s expected future growth. This option goes with a certain price tag, but in the long term it is the only solution. We do not want to muddle along in the margins, but we resolutely choose to build a solid structure. Just as we endorse the principles of the UN Global Compact for our sustainability strategy like many blue chip companies do – we are also building an organization that can emulate these large companies. The Corporate department will be further expanded. We have already taken this into account in the plans for our new headquarters, which we are going to build on an industrial estate alongside the E17 freeway near Deinze. This building, which we plan to bring to use in the spring of 2021, will be a textbook example of sustainability.
So, Ekopak will be working at several construction sites this year?
Pieter Bourgeois: Indeed, we also hope to be able to start the construction of the water treatment plant for the Waterkracht joint venture in the port of Antwerp very soon. Ekopak’s expertise mainly concerns decentralized circular water supply. But with Waterkracht this circular water supply will become more centralized, since we will supply the purified water from a central installation in the port to several customers in the port area. As of 2025, Waterkracht aims to purify 20 billion liters of water a year for circular use. If you can have that kind of impact in your area of expertise, then you should go for it.
Pieter Loose: Our stakeholders can count on us, Pieter.