Celebrating its 90th anniversary, Dutch firm quietly goes from strength to strength but is now ready to shout about its ‘top three’ position in Europe’s EC market
The Dutch player – and founding member of the international CAT Alliance JV – is increasingly emerging from under the radar to claim its stake in the European environmental consulting sector with EC revenues nudging €100m. Environment Analyst gets the lowdown on the release of its latest financial results for 2018.
Technisch Adviesbureau van de Unie van Waterschapsbonden, almost certainly better known as Tauw Group BV, is a multidisciplinary consultancy with a history stretching back some nine decades. Translated, its full name translates as Technical Consultancy of the Union of Water Boards.
Founded in 1928 in Haarlem, the firm came into being – as its name suggests – on the back of a rising need for independent and technical advice on water management issues just as Dutch water utilities were negotiating the transition from steam pumping stations to electrical powered plants.
Since those early days, the now Deventer-headquartered firm’s expertise has expanded far beyond the water sector and far beyond the Netherlands too; today it describes itself as «an independent European consulting and engineering company» with a strong focus on the environment, servicing the industry, private equity, real estate and government sectors. With a total workforce of over 1,200 across 27 locations in six countries, it looks to address environmental issues, from strategic consultancy to environmental monitoring, and from on-site technical support to transaction services.
In fact, with a broad array of EC services – including environmental monitoring, environmental due diligence and compliance, soil and groundwater, infrastructure, sustainability, site development services – Tauw claims to hold «a top three position» in Europe’s environmental consulting sector. With around 650 environmental consultants and EC revenues accounting for around three-quarters of total €129m ($148m) revenues, it’s perhaps not an empty claim.
EC revenue is reported to have been climbing steadily in the past few years and was approaching €100m last year.
There have been some significant milestones along its journey including the establishment of a laboratory in The Hague in the 1950s, and the addition of engineering consultancy services – focused on construction, hydraulic engineering and environmental hygiene – in the 1960s. Then during the 1970s it played a central role in the emergence and development of Dutch environmental policy, and the 1990s saw the company’s expansion across the continent with the opening of branches initially in Germany, Belgium and France and later (from 2000) in Italy and Spain.
An active M&A strategy too has helped it achieve its current position. In the last five or six years notable purchases have included: German consultants, Lubag and Dr Stupp, Dutch housing consultancy, Atrivé; Italian environmental and energy consultant, Steam (EA 22-Oct-13); Belgian environmental consultant and soil expert, Geosan NV (EA 16-Aug-16); and Pro Monitoring (formerly part of Eurofins) adding air related areas, including emissions measurements, air quality measurements and workplace measurements (EA 23-Jan-18).
But getting to this point hasn’t necessarily been straightforward; recent years saw the firm severely challenged by the wider downturn impacting much of Europe, its core stomping ground. Region-wide recession and austerity began to bite just as Annemieke Nijhof took up the role of Tauw CEO back in 2012, notably in the firm’s domestic Dutch market when group revenues were that year squeezed by 8%.
Undaunted, Nijhof set in motion a recovery strategy (including redundancies), whilst crucially securing the financial help of a local venture capital firm, Wadinko, which took a 25% minority stake in Tauw in 2013. Buffered by Wadinko’s backing, the rewards of these efforts quickly began to be felt. In fact, just four years later the firm was sufficiently confident to buy back the minority share held by Wadinko, bringing Tauw once again fully back into the hands of its employees and management.
Employee ownership model
Now, under its ‘employee participation: participatory leadership’ structure, all permanent Tauw employees are given five certificates with at least 50% of them independently purchasing additional share certificates. It’s a model the firm feels strongly underpins its success: «In our view, this participatory leadership is a very logical choice. Our employees have always felt strongly committed to the Tauw organisation. We achieve our results together and everyone has an equal stake in them.»
And, building on an 8% revenue hike in 2017, Tauw’s most recent financial results are further evidence of the strategy’s success with 2018 full year turnover up 9% again to €129m, its best result in its 90-year history. Tauw’s domestic Dutch market represents around two-thirds of the total, whilst its wider European operations take the remainder. EBITDA rose to €7.2m in 2018 from €6.0m the prior year, whilst the net result stood at €3.8m up from €3.0m. The FTE staff total at year-end stood at 1,062, up from 1,003 the previous year.
With Tauw once again a «proud people-owned company» with a renewed sense of self-belief (bolstered by strengthening financial results), Annemieke Nijhof decided last year to step away from the top role for a well-deserved break. The firm is now looking to the future under the joint CEO leadership of Henrike Branderhorst and Ralph van Roessel who share management responsibility and the company portfolio…read more.