Witteveen+Bos: reasonable 2018 results and great outlook for 2019

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Engineering consultancy company Witteveen+Bos closes the dynamic year 2018 with reasonable results based on a 132.9 million euros revenue and a profit of 11.3 million (8.5 % profit margin). With the increased operating stock and a significant autonomous workforce expansion of 6.7 %, the company is fully confident about the 2019 outlook. In order to handle the increase in orders, including those related to the energy transition, a new product-market combination ‘Energy Transition’ has been set up. Compared with 2007, our total CO2 emission reduction amounted to 40 % per FTE, substantially outperforming the objective by 28 %. 

In 2018, the company executed some 4,000 water, infrastructure, environment and construction projects around the globe and has 21 offices worldwide. The total number of FTEs as at 31 December 2018 was 1,025. The total workforce grew from 1,054 to 1,125. Witteveen+Bos’ sales amounted to 132.9 million euros with an EBITDA of 18.1 million euros. These financial key figures were officially adopted on 8 April 2019 during the General Meeting of Shareholders. 

Some 2018 highlights

  • The Noord/Zuidlijn (North-South metro line) is one of the Netherlands’ most complex infrastructure projects. It was completed in 2018. Witteveen+Bos worked on this project with its partners for 25 years, so the opening was the highlight of 2018 for us. 
  • Our sustainably renovated office at Leeuwenbrug in Deventer was reopened in the spring of 2018. The energy label went from E to A+++. The renovation significantly contributed to reduction of the CO2 emissions.
  • In September, Witteveen+Bos opened a pop-up office at the campus of Wageningen University & Research (WUR).
  • In 2018, Witteveen+Bos collaborated with partners such as Royal HaskoningDHV to create the design of the circular Waterfabriek Wilp. This is designed to recover valuable raw materials from water: the water purification of tomorrow.
  • Preparations in 2018 resulted in being awarded the Afsluitdijk project, an iconic hydraulic engineering project.

Key short-term challenges

Witteveen+Bos has an excellent starting position for the future: in addition to the significant autonomous personnel growth, the order book also substantially increased. The two key short-term challenges are the high level of the work capital and the growth and dynamics of the workforce. During the past few years, the total sum of work in progress and trade receivables steadily increased. For this reason, we are now working on improvements at project level and at company level. Karin Sluis, managing director: ‘You manage on the front-end. So now we make better invoicing agreements upon the start of projects. We prepare more frequent cash flow analyses during the proposal phase and we will negotiate with customers if they request substantial pre-financing. Additionally, we train our project leaders to subsequently invoice in accordance with such agreements. We have plenty of room for improvement in that respect.’ She smiles: ‘Engineers and consultants prefer working on dykes, tunnels and water purification, rather than sending invoices.‘

In 2018, Witteveen+Bos welcomed 226 new employees and saw 155 employees leave the company. The workforce expanded by 6.7 %, exceeding the ambition of 3 to 5 %. Karin Sluis: ‘This is a great growth rate. However, with the increased construction activity in the Netherlands, governments and companies are trying to pull in our employees. The 14.7 % outflow exceeds the maximum of 10 % that we think is desirable.’ The growth and replacement of employees requires the necessary energy at the expense of immediate employability and results. Sluis: ‘One reason for the outflow is that our employees are ambitious and want to continue developing. This is why we will profile our company as a ‘talent academy’ even more. For example, in 2018 we started the internal PLUSschool for Professionals with specific training courses for designers, project control and stakeholder management, and a programme for professional in-depth fields, such as the +TALKs. Our full range of training courses and training will be reinforced and expanded in the next few years.’

Digital construction and long-term circularity

Witteveen+Bos is committed to digital construction and circularity worldwide. Director Stephan van der Biezen is responsible for the international activities: ‘We are committing our knowledge and skills to the World Expo2020 in Dubai and the Housing Development Board in Singapore. The +Circular Design tool developed by Witteveen+Bos will be a useful tool. This tool visualises the circular potential of a design and compares improvements. Additionally, we are active in 3D concrete printing worldwide and we are working on the development of a large-scale 3D concrete printing facility in Singapore. This is in line with our ambition to launch more digital products and services in the market in the next few years.’