With FC Bruges, Verhaeghe bought a Golf for the price of a Lada
With Bart Verhaeghe, it’s “my way or the highway”. The Club Brugge IPO is the idea of an entrepreneur who does not make nuances.
The bargain of the century. By listing Club Brugge on the stock market, which he bought in 2012 for the ridiculous sum of 15 million euros, Bart Verhaeghe will multiply his stake by a factor worthy of a forfeit score. A tightly packed 5-0. The result of 10 years of hard work, mixing major cleaning and modernization accelerated, in particular with a new complex for young people of 16 million euros. But, on and off the field, the Club is also at the forefront in terms of data, medical and scientific supervision and digitization. The goal is to add to it in a year or two a stadium worth 100 million euros. Club Brugge is playing big on the green carpet.
The story of the conquest of the “blue and black” club is the perfect digest of the Verhaeghe method, a bulldozer from the real estate world (see opposite). In 2010, the leaders of the Club at the time invited him to scan the sporting non-profit organization in complete collapse (a bit like Anderlecht today). He does not take half measures: he asks the sports unit for a package of reports, delves into the accounts of previous years and, for a month, receives all of the Club’s employees. His conclusion: a revolution is necessary.
His action is ruthless. Spitting Verhaeghe. He pushes aside all who don’t share his vision, including President Pol Jonckheere who had called on him and replaced him with his men. “Bart spares no one. But he always surrounds himself with strong and brilliant personalities. He listens and tolerates contradiction”, underlines an insider. Big names like David De Peuter (now at GIMV), Lorin Parys (N-VA) and Jan Van Lancker (CEO of Uplace) have worked or are working for him.
“At Bart, his well-built vision is so firmly anchored in his mind that it can seem as if he is pushing everything in his path to realize his point of view.”
Operationally, Verhaeghe is in charge with CEO Vincent Mannaert. Both are made of the same reinforced concrete. Under their orders, the much appreciated sales manager Bob Madou and the sporting head Roel Vaeyens. “At Bart, his strong vision is so firmly anchored in his mind that he can give the impression of pushing everything in his path to realize his point of view,” said Racing Genk president Peter Croonen. The two had a dialogue within the association of professional clubs, the Pro League, before the Club leaves its management to express its disapproval of the policy pursued.
From a hard-pressed non-profit organization to the stock market
Go from a beleaguered non-profit organization to a listed company in barely ten years. What is Verhaeghe’s magic potion? “His career is impressive, but he has also benefited from the bankruptcy of the competition,” it is said. “Verhaeghe transformed the Club, having studied the matter with big foreign clubs like Ajax Amsterdam – while Anderlecht, Standard and Ghent were knee-soft.”
It’s to his credit. Verhaeghe acts as an interpreter of space, to like the German footballer Thomas Müller – known as “der Raumdeuter” – past master in the art of estimating the space left by his opponents to rush into it. Thus, Verhaeghe has no equal when it comes to properly assessing trends in the industry in which it operates.
He quickly understood how quickly football would develop into an economic sector in its own right and how clubs would become an essential link in a booming ecosystem: the content war in the age of planetary entertainment. Football is, on a global level, a spectacle as valuable as a Hollywood film, a BBC series or a Disney animated film. Hence the creation of the Club Media House: a physical and online production house intended to supply sponsors, the media as well as its own platforms.
Club fans now elevate him to the rank of demigod, having booed him in his early days.
So, in 2021, he continues to bet on the big bang of the football world that he saw coming several years ago, even if it means not being one of the lucky ones, hear the clubs called to play in a possible future world league.
The IPO should be seen in this context: the club is at its best in every way and the stock market climate is ideal. “Each step that Bart takes is part of a bigger plan. He must always move forward,” says his former business partner, Luc Verelst.
Club fans now elevate him to demigod, after booing him in his early days. “Bart, we love him or we hate him,” said an insider. If he does not breathe the friendliness of the presidents of “daddy’s club”, his results speak for him. “He always thinks in terms of growth, leverage and return.”
Its “my way or the highway” style naturally earned it some enmities. Especially after buying the Club for a ridiculous amount. “It was well played, he took advantage of a period of wandering the Club in the hands of weak management. He received a Golf for the price of a Lada. It will increase its stake even more when it goes public. “
By buying the Club to clean it up and transform it, Verhaeghe actually found his first professional love: the takeover of companies in difficulty to resell them at a profit after a major clean-up. Its specialty: industrial bakeries. No one thinks this indomitable warrior has eaten all of his bread. At 56, Bart Verhaeghe is not about to ease off. “I am convinced that Bart will remain the boss of the box”, we hear. “With him, it’s all or nothing.”
Bart Verhaeghe built most of his fortune by selling, with Luc Verelst, the real estate company Eurinpro for 400 million euros. The Club’s IPO will compensate for the loss suffered on the Uplace shopping complex project. No less than 85 million euros have already gone up in smoke in this procession-shaped file of Echternach, while the first stone was never laid. However, the project is called upon to to be reborn in another form.