Wim Sarens leads the way
03 January 2018
”For us now, the objective is to become the reference in our industry and to offer our complete portfolio to every client.” -Wim Sarens, Chief Executive Officer, Sarens
“Nothing too heavy, nothing too high.” This is Sarens’ slogan and it’s very fitting. Headquartered in Wolvertem, Belgium, and with more than 100 entities around the world, the company is a growing global force in the heavy lifting and rigging sector. Sarens never backs down from tackling some of the world’s most difficult projects. If a tool or even a crane needs to be developed to solve a problem, the company doesn’t hesitate to design and produce it.
With a mission to be the leader and “reference” in heavy lifting and specialized transportation for its clients, Sarens is actively pursuing its other business line – crane rental. The vision for Sarens to become a global force in the crane rental realm is being led by its Chief Executive Officer Wim Sarens.
With a fleet of more than 5,000 pieces of equipment, the concept makes sense on several fronts. Sarens said the company’s crane rental business is stronger in some areas of the world than others. Going forward, he expects the crane rental operations to grow.
Unlike many leaders of family businesses, Sarens did not join the company right after earning an engineering and economics degree from University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) in 2002. He did not join the company after getting his MBA from Insead in 2006. Instead, he started his professional career as a business analyst at McKinsey & Company, rising to the post of associate management consultant.
But in 2009, the family business developed a strategy to expand its worldwide heavy lift profile and clientele. The person tapped to lead that effort was Sarens, who joined the company in 2009 as business development manager. Later that year he was named CEO, a post he still holds today.
“When I started, we were mainly developing from a primarily European-oriented company to a globalized company,” he said. “We have acquired a lot of business units worldwide since that time.”
The company upped its profile in North America in 2009 when it acquired Rigging International. This acquisition gave Sarens a client base and the impetus to build cranes. The company’s SGC crane development stemmed from plans on Rigging International’s drawing board.
With an annual turnover exceeding $530,000 million, operations in some 63 countries and over 4,000 employees, Sarens’ story is pretty remarkable.
I had the opportunity talk to the CEO back in December to discuss the importance of crane rental to the company, the launch of its new SGC 140 crane and many other topics. Sarens answered my questions with ease, confidence and expert knowledge. I think you will be interested in what he had to say.
HOW DO YOU CHARACTERIZE SARENS’ BUSINESS IN 2017?
The last year has seen a tremendous change with the oil and gas sector [still] down. The intensity of project work has shifted. There’s a lot more work in the traditional sectors like civil work, offshore wind work and maintenance contracts and, of course, less new builds in oil and gas. The number of large Greenfield projects is much less than before. As a company we have shifted our focus as the work has shifted.
HOW DO YOU CHARACTERIZE SARENS’ BUSINESS IN NORTH AMERICA?
In North America, we offer a set of services ranging from daily crane rental, project work and technical solutions. Those three markets are the main solutions that we deliver to our clients.
We started in North America in 2009 when we acquired Rigging International. We have diversified those activities and actually moved our head office to Houston. We are now less focused on providing rigging services only and more focused on crane rental and providing engineered solutions to the market.
We have also recently started a joint venture with Omega Morgan, and we are in the phase of finalizing the joint venture. Then, we will start to focus on offering a crane rental fleet in the Pacific Northwest. For now, we are seeing a lot of demand for telescopic cranes primarily dismantling tower cranes.
In the United States, together with Omega Morgan and the strong contractor base we have located in Houston, we are focused on engineering, procurement and construction activity. Nuclear rigging is still going strong across the United States. Since we are relatively new in this market, we haven’t yet copy based all of our services lines but it is something we are working on.
Canada we entered in 2011 through the acquisition of Canada Crane Services. We’ve grown that business by factor five. Our business has been very effective in Alberta and western Canada. We are shifting our focus of work slowly toward the eastern provinces starting with Saskatchewan and Ontario.
SARENS RECENTLY INTRODUCED THE SGC 140 CRANE. WHAT’S BEEN THE RECEPTION?
This crane has been very well received, we’ve had a very positive response.
We originally designed and built the SGC 120. It was based on designs by Rigging International. When we bought that company, they had this giant crane on their drawing board. By acquiring them, we took the design in-house and modified it to assure it was compliant to international standards and higher quality. The SGC 120 has been in operation for seven years. By operating it worldwide we have learned how to increase the capacity. And, now, we’ve created the SGC 140 that is an optimized version of the SGC 120.
We are working to complete the portfolio of our giant cranes, both in the higher capacity with the SGC 250 in development and in the lower capacity with the SGC 90.
I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE A VISION FOR SARENS TO BECOME A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE GLOBAL CRANE AND EQUIPMENT RENTAL BUSINESS? WHAT HAS LED TO THIS DEVELOPMENT?
Over the last year, we have been slowly expanding our crane rental service. For us now, the objective is to be the leader and reference in our industry and to offer our complete portfolio to every client. We are very strong in Europe and we are known for providing complicated technical solutions. We have a crane rental business in many areas of Europe, but we do not offer crane rental in every part of the world.
For example in the Middle East, we have a project division and a crane rental division. Wherever we operate, we are trying to have a complete portfolio of services. We are looking at some geographical expansion in Eastern Europe where we haven’t had a large presence.
We have the TCO project (see box on page 21) that we will be involved in for the next three, four or five years. This will take a significant part of our organization’s resources. Secondly, we are also delivering the main scope of lifting on the new UK nuclear power plant, Hinkley Point, which will require a larger giant crane and that is in the status of development now, the SGC 250.
Throughout the world, we have more than 10 joint ventures and partnerships and they are key to our success. It allows us to get closer to the more local rental customers. This is who we are typically looking for in crane rental. The point is we don’t always go in alone on the job. We look for good partners or we grow the local business ourselves. This typically has been very fruitful for our organization.
WHAT RENTAL EQUIPMENT DO YOU SEE AS IN THE HIGHEST DEMAND?
This depends on where you are in the world. The 100-ton telescopic mobile crane has strong demand in Europe, and in Paris we see demand for the more medium sized crawler crane in the 150 ton class. In the Middle East, we see the largest demand for medium-sized rough terrain cranes.
In the wind market, we actually see a healthy mix of cranes required. In terms of crane rental, the demand is for the 100 to 200-ton telescopic all terrains, rough terrain cranes, and there is some demand for the smaller sized crawler.
WHAT KEEPS YOU ENGAGED IN THIS INDUSTRY?
It’s real. It’s real world with real assets. What I like about this industry is we can change real things in real life. As an engineer, I am motivated by the more technical environment in which we operate.
For me personally, I actually like the sales and crane rental side more than the project management. Given that we have a well-balanced team and are surrounded by a quality team of engineers and technical people, I can work in many areas.