Philip Cracco is still part of the management at his temporary employment company Boemm on the website, but Fluppen / Pabeir has not been since January. His children and close friend Lieven Bonamie decided to continue his work with great ambitions. ‘His death first. Then the lockdown of the company. That cuts in. What would Dad have done? We have often asked that question. ‘
“They always smile with my necklace.” Lieven Bonamie – with a mask on her chest, dangling from a shiny metal chain – gives Marie and Pieter-Jan a playful look. ‘I think they think I’m old school. It’s true, isn’t it, guys? “
Craccos launch incubator for start-ups
Boemm – the holding company of the Craccos and Lieven Bonamie – is launching an incubator for entrepreneurs with ideas to digitize the world of human resources.
The Bellinzona Foundation, that’s how the child is baptized. The name refers to a small Swiss town close to the Italian border. ‘We started browsing through the Cracco’s family trees and discovered that the first Cracco blood flowed there. We all thought Cracco was Italian. Dad should know. He would be very disappointed, ‘laughs Bonamie.
“We are going to make money and management time available to launch start-ups,” says Bonamie. The intention is that he will spend more of his time there as Boemm’s operational tasks are relinquished to Pieter-Jan and Marie Cracco. “It’s going to be my playground.”
The ambition is to invest ‘several million’ in the coming years, although that will largely depend on the files that come in. ‘Count on ten investments to have two success stories. That would be great. ‘
Boemm is the holding company of the Cracco and Lieven Bonamie family. This is good for 80 jobs, 45 million euros in turnover and 2.1 million euros in gross operating profit (EBITDA, 2019).
With Jobfixers, it focuses on broadcast selection for workers and construction workers. With White & More, it aims at employee profiles, and with Digital Payroll Services at personnel administration for companies.
A fourth leg has been set up with the investment company Greenpark to make acquisitions in the outsourcing segment.
“Hmm,” comes the answer, followed by silence and a knowing smile. Bonamie (42 years old), as a bosom friend and business partner, formed a tandem with the late Philip Cracco for 14 years. Marie (22) and Pieter-Jan (25) are daughter and son of the West Flemish entrepreneur, who died at the beginning of this year at the age of 57 after a fierce battle against prostate cancer.
He – ‘dad’ – not only left behind two children, but also the fast-growing holding company Boemm with the employment agency Jobfixers as its showcase. Two weeks before his death, he summoned me. Are you going to close my guests? He asked, ‘Bonamie looks back.
Now the three of them run the company, with great ambitions to grow to 150 million euros in turnover by 2025. ‘Our family business’, as Bonamie puts it, even though there is no family connection between Bonamie and the Craccos, only friendship.
January 15th, I remember well, a few days after the funeral. We then went to eat a steak. A wagyu steak, for the first time in my life. I sat there at the table with only one question in my mind. Guys, are we gonna hang out together? Don’t see, don’t pull, just go, the three of us. At that point, we hadn’t yet consumed the shock of Dad’s death, and you might as well have said, Lieven, give us another six months to process everything. You had every right to do that. ‘
Pieter-Jan Cracco: ‘We grieved and cried, but we also quickly decided to continue his work. Whether we are ready for that? Dad always said: Baudouin was 20 when he sat on the throne. What should you say to that? ‘
Bonamie: ‘That was the start of Boemm 2.0, that wagyusteak. I started with one Cracco and now I’m stuck with two. (laughs) It’s different now. Philip and I have always been Peppi and Kokki. Put us together for three minutes and we have a solution to all problems. Did we make each other better? Certainly. Did we resist enough? Maybe not. You notice that there is now a generation difference, but that makes for a nice sauce. Without friction no shine. I will educate you. Just think of me as Uncle Lieven. And then it is up to you to do the same with my children, who are still too young now. That would be fantastic.’
You notice that there is now a generation difference, but that makes for a nice sauce. Without friction no shine.
Bonamie and Philip Cracco have been inseparable since 2006. They got to know each other at the interim company Accent, which Cracco started and expanded with Conny Vandendriessche.
Cracco – who was never in need of a stunt – at the same time became a popular figure in the books, after his participation in the TV show ‘The sky is the limit’. He played pole dancers at a job fair and dressed in superman suits at staff parties. Photos of his rally cars also reached the Flemish public. Number plates: WORKHARD and PLAYHARD. His motto. Even his funeral had to be a party afterwards, with fat cigars and the best whiskey.
In 2013, Cracco said he was ‘out of bony’ at Accent. Bonamie followed his partner. Cracco then bought the watch brand Rodania, and together they started a marketing agency. All this was only in anticipation of their real plan, to storm the sector again after four years – after the expiry of the non-competition clause.
‘Two buddies with enthusiasm who say let’s do it again’, says Bonami. ‘With the typical Cracco vision. Great. The first year, an immediate turnover of 30 million euros. That urge to make our mark was incredible. We were so occupied with it that we had not ordered tables and chairs for our head office. Shit, forget. ‘
Pieter-Jan and Marie Cracco were taken into the bath from the start. Pieter-Jan was assigned a temporary employment agency in Roeselare. Marie started on the HR service. “Prove that you can. Here are your targets, he would say. And he was tough, hey. Every Tuesday the weekly figures of all offices came in. Either Tuesday was great, or it was completely destroyed, ‘says Pieter-Jan.
It went from 30 million euros to 45 million euros in turnover in 2019. It was impossible, but then the cancer struck a second time mercilessly. ‘That hit me hard. We were more than business partners. We have taken action together, we have failed together, we have won together, we have done bad luck. He’s in my skin, ‘says Bonamie.
‘In the first half of last year, Philip was still super good. We went skiing. Pieter-Jan and I with our skis on top of the mountain, and Cracco on his snowbike. To get down first. Guy anyway. In May we rode the Mille Miglia in Italy. And he will join me in August. ‘It’s not going well, Lieven. It’s time to take over. ‘ I couldn’t make peace with the disease, but it is now. ‘
Because the children had been participating for several years, they were able to get off to a flying start. But it came to an abrupt end on March 17 due to Covid-19. ‘All plans were allowed to be thrown away. We were still in the mindset of tomorrow, we open an office, another one the day after tomorrow, and then suddenly: all offices closed, ‘says Marie.
‘That turnover, lads. In a week, minus 40 percent. After two weeks, minus 75 percent. The financial crisis was a joke compared to this. And all of that two months after Dad died. That will cut it, ‘says Bonamie.
They continued to follow up the remaining business contracts with seven managers. What would Dad have done? How many times have we asked that question? ‘
Pieter-Jan: ‘Every crisis has losers and winners. You always need food, so we started calling in the agricultural sector. We ended up with asparagus growers. The seasonal workers did not make it to Belgium, and we have started drawing up contracts and even placed construction workers there. And then the strawberries started to ripen. We ultimately made little money from that, maybe even lost money, but we kept busy. Asparagus and strawberries. That was good for morale. ‘
At the same time, the three made use of the time to professionalize and structure the company, together with the investment company Greenpark Investments, which had acquired a minority stake.
I have the impression that the labor market is in less bad shape than what you read everywhere. I see many vacancies with our SME customers.
That structure also turned out to be necessary. ‘We were concerned with turnover, turnover, turnover. Open the taps, invest and open offices. Targets of ten new offices per month, it is actually hallucinatory when you think back to it. We had growing pains. We had to recruit people who didn’t meet the requirements to keep up with the growth. It all cost a fortune. And no, none of that had anything to do with Philip and wanted to make plans, it’s just the normal evolution of a company. It was not the intention to make a lot of profit in the first years, but now it is time for structure.
Some 40 offices are now open again. ‘I have the impression that the labor market is not as bad as what you read everywhere. There are of course tragedies in certain sectors, but I see many vacancies among our clients in the SME segment. Construction is well underway. The bottleneck professions are still there. The demand for employee contracts, on the other hand, is starting more cautiously.
Are we ready to run the business at our age? Dad always said: Baudouin was 20 when he sat on the throne.
By November Bonamie expects to have 50 offices in operation. ‘But with that we will achieve the same turnover as with the 80 offices for corona. That is very good for our profitability. It illustrates the evolution from unbridled growth from a start-up to structured growth as a scale-up. ‘
Bonamie expects to reach a turnover of 38 million euros this year, 7 million euros less than last year. “That’s painful, but I’m at peace with it.” Next year he expects to reach 50 million euros, and within five years that should be 150 million euros, thanks to acquisitions and organic growth.
Or do the three not feel the pressure to follow in the footsteps of the Cracco and make him forget his name? “It’s not meant to forget him. On the website he is still part of the management, ‘says Pieter-Jan Cracco. ‘Pabeir, Fluppen, visionaut, inspirator’, it says below his photo. ‘That photo will stay there too. In the long run I’ll look older than he does on the website, ‘Bonamie laughs.
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