The investment vehicle of AB InBev’s member Arnoud de Pret is one of the candidates to join the French certification and inspection giant Apave. Belgian haute finance is also already at the table with Apave’s competitors.
Apave is a more than 150 years old inspection and certification company. The French group – whose name is short for Association alsacienne des propriétaires d’appareils à vapeur – is responsible for technical inspections and assistance, measurements, but also certification, such as the well-known ISO certificate. With 12,400 employees and a turnover of almost 1 billion euros, it is one of the larger players in its industry.
By 2025, Apave wants to become one of the largest five in the world, both independently and through acquisitions. In order to implement these plans, it wants to bring on board a financial partner who, in exchange for ‘several hundred million euros’, has a view of a minority interest.
After an initial selection, five candidates remain, according to the French press, including the investment funds PAI, KKR, Core Equity and Montefiore Investment. There is also one other candidate: ‘a Belgian family office led by Gérard Lamarche’, writes the business magazine l’Agefi.
Lamarche, Engie’s former financial director and ex-CEO of GBL, has been an advisor to AB InBev billionaire Arnoud de Pret and his family holding company Multifin since 2019. De Pret (76) is one of the main representatives of the Belgian families behind the beer giant and has long been one of the top executives in our country, holding seats at AB InBev, Umicore, Delhaize, UCB and Sibelco, among others.
Lamarche and De Pret, who were not available for comment, have known each other for a long time. They met in the early nineties at the Société Générale, where De Pret led the financial department for a while. One of De Pret’s daughters met Lamarche through her job at the French energy giant Engie. Before joining GBL in 2011, Lamarche was Financial Director there.
Black yellow Red
De Pret is not the first Belgian investor to show interest in a company from the certification sector. GBL has been a reference shareholder of Apavess competitor SGS since 2013. It joined the Swiss group led by Gérard Lamarche, then co-CEO of the Frère holding. Lamarche has since retired from GBL’s CEO, but is still on its board of directors and is also a director of SGS.
SGS is the world market leader and has a turnover of EUR 5.2 billion. GBL owns 18.9 percent of the shares, a stake that was worth EUR 3.3 billion at the end of September and represented more than 17 percent of the holding’s portfolio.
But that is not the only link with our country or with AB InBev. If Lamarche and De Pret succeed, they will not only become a shareholder of a competitor of SGS, but also a competitor of Socotec. And who is the main shareholder there (66%)? The Belgian investment company Cobepa, which is more than half owned by the AB InBev family De Spoelberch. Socotec has grown strongly in recent years through acquisitions and has grown Apave in terms of size.
With the support of a new shareholder, Apave hopes to increase its gross operating profit (EBITDA) to more than 10 percent of sales. In this respect, it is lagging behind, among others, Bureau Veritas – which achieves a margin of 18 to 20 percent – and SGS. The Swiss can present an EBITDA margin of more than 23 percent.
Association alsacienne des propriétaires d’appareils à vapeur.
Number of laboratories and test centers: 34.
Number of employees: 12,400.