Restructuring and sale of AEB: transparency and stakeholder management are key to success
In 2019, the Amsterdam waste disposal company AEB found itself in a crisis. In order to survive, the company had to be restructured. It was also then that the Municipality of Amsterdam decided to sell AEB. Gita Hoogeveen and Wessel Buijs, respectively Associate Partner and Manager at Boer & Croon, were brought in to supervise this process. With the sale to AVR, this trajectory was successfully completed in December 2021.
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At the same time, you can say very little as that could potentially affect the sales process. Internally, we briefed a select group of employees every fortnight on the state of play of the process and the steps we were going to take without sharing process-sensitive information. Structured communication plays a crucial role within a sales process not only to promote the continuity of business activities but also to minimise any potential unrest amongst employees.
'First of all, there was a phase in which AEB had to provide a lot of information so that advisors could form a picture. 'The entire organisation had to open its doors', Wessel continues. 'From technical matters to processes, results and employee contracts, it all had to be collected in a data room. This needed to be given structure. Do we have it all, is it accurate and can everyone have access to it? Prospective buyers then have the opportunity to view this information and ask the organisation questions.
Then every day, hundreds of questions poured in. This influx of questions had to be coordinated, answered, checked by the management, then sent back to the questioners, all within 24 hours. Internal coordination took up a lot of time and I took care of most of it. Stakeholder management was in Gita's hands.'
Over the years, there had been some friction between various parties. However, I was able to start with a clean slate and restore communication by taking an open approach. CEO Paul Dirix told me later: within two months, the relationship with the shareholder had normalised again. The same was true for the consortium of four banks that we had been dealing with. Don't forget, this was in the middle of the corona era, so everything was handled by phone, with several contact persons per bank. Mistrust was rife.
At one point we had reached an agreement, but we had to renegotiate because the European Commission had imposed new requirements on the restructuring plan. Eventually, we managed to get one representative each from all of the banks and the lawyers in one room. We could then look each other in the eye. That really made a world of difference.
'You can only bring such a trajectory to a successful conclusion by talking and negotiating with all parties. We brought stability into the place, put affairs in order, streamlined processes. It provided clarity for everyone. I really enjoyed doing this trajectory with Wessel. It helps if there is someone from the same club.'
'The same goes for me,' Wessel says in closing. 'It was fantastic to form a tandem partnership with Gita, with all the experience she has, and to be able to spar on certain issues. I learned a lot from that. It is also nice for the client that you are not bringing in a whole consultancy pyramid, but a small dedicated team that just gets things done.'
Paul Dirix, CEO AEB
'We first had to make new agreements with the banks and the municipality. The municipality helped us with an additional €35 million in financing. The municipality registered this as state aid, which means that you also have to submit a restructuring plan to Brussels and indicate how you intend to repay the money.'
'In Amsterdam, we used to manage six waste disposal locations where people could bring their bulky waste. We sold these to the municipality. We also divested ourselves of a recycling service centre via a management buy-out. And after that, we sold our 50% interest in Westpoort Warmte back to the municipality for a considerable sum. This helped us to become financially healthy again. This is another area where Gita has made a significant contribution. Gita is approachable, maintains an overview, asks the right questions and simply rolls up her sleeves to get things done. And what also helps is her sense of humour. She sees to it that people discuss things with each other'.
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Boer & Croon provides you with the right kind of management solutions that come with the optimal combination of knowledge, calibre, and character. Our Associate Partners in the CEO/COO group are focused on successfully solving complex change related issues at operating companies in, among others, the trade and industry sector, the food sector, the logistics and maritime world, the mobility sector and the energy & utilities sector.