Jan Hillen is 44 when he leaves Arthur Andersen as an accountant. It is 1967 and time for his own auditing and accountancy office, with a focus on providing financial services to subsidiaries of international companies and to local family businesses. He sets up shop in Woluwe and gathers a select group of specialists around him. A few years later, his office - thanks in part to the intense cooperation with the Fiscale Hogeschool, also known as Brussels Tax College - is “top of mind” within the sector.
Jan Hillen’s office grows and starts targeting international customers. New expertise and international cooperation become imperative. Jan Hillen starts working with Camps, Obers & Co, Chartered Accountants and Tax Advisors in the Netherlands. Frans Samyn enters the scene during this period, bringing a background in the business world with him. The “Hillen & Co” office becomes “Hillen, Samyn, Cornelis & Co” and opens a second office in Antwerp. The office gets its true Benelux dimension by becoming a member of professional organisations such as the IBR/IRE and IDAC (Belgium), NIVRA (the Netherlands) and the IRE (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg).
The reputation continues to grow and the office piques the interest of BDO Binder, a European-American Canadian network. Hillen, Samyn & Co join the network and include the BDO logo in its name. The road to the world is laid open to “BDO Hillen” (later BDO Belgium).
In the meantime, the head office in Woluwe is bursting at the seams. There is really no other choice but to move the HQ to Woluwedal. At the same time, the partners set their sights on Wallonia. It doesn’t take long for that challenge to become a reality as well. The Walloon office of André Kilesse and Michel Grignard in the region of Liège merges with BDO Hillen, with offices in Brussels and Antwerp. As of 1992, the branch may rightly and proudly call itself a national group. A year later, national capacity is reinforced with a fourth office in Drongen (Ghent).
With the turn of the century, the organisation enters a new era. In 2002 Arthur Andersen quit the market. No one could have seen that coming. That shock sets the tone for a time in which many players disappear and the regulation increases. BDO forges ahead and builds its first website. Our credibility is increasing worldwide and increasing numbers of companies are calling on BDO’s expertise.
Thanks to the integration with Fiduciaire J. Van Breda (1999), our Antwerp branch doubles its capacity. The vision is clear: BDO wants to be as close as possible to customers and opens ever more offices across the country, including in Namur (2001), Hasselt (2003) and Wavre (2006). The Brussels HQ is also given a new head office. Zaventem has been our base of operations for eleven years now.
The strategy of regional expansion is not yet complete. West Flanders gets an office in Roeselare (2007), followed by new branches in Lasne (2008) and in the centre of Brussels (2013). What started out as an ambitious one-man business now has nine offices with 600 experts active throughout Belgium.
At the same time, we expand our fields of expertise: pragmatically. New people bring new, multidisciplinary knowledge to the company: interim management, financial reporting, human capital, etc. In-house, the new way of working within an Activity Based Office is the guiding principle. The employees choose their workstation according to their activities. Paper is avoided, digital gets priority, open plan and the paperless workplace become the norm. And it works.
The change and speed of evolution increase exponentially. A new generation of partners introduces innovative ideas. At the same time, our customers enter the new, digital era as well. Evolution is an expected characteristic of people and society, but today it really does seem like we are going through a revolution. Dealing with change - and providing customers with guidance in this respect - is part of BDO’s DNA that proactively brings its own organisational structure and service offer in line with the needs and requirements of the new world.
The confidence is there... and the ambition is still just as big as it was 50 years ago. The only difference is that organisations and people in 2017 work and live in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (the so-called VUCA world). Everything is tied together: big data and the internet of things steer processes, decisions, strategy and opportunities for success. Such a climate requires a different way of working, one that is flexible and visionary and provides clarity.
As a result, we put that mindset to practice. At the end of 2017, we take over the consultancy company Crossroad in Mechelen, founded in 2007, that supports organisations in their digital transformation, and is officially launched in November 2019 as BDO Digital.
We continue the same trend in 2018. First off, we invest in a start-up from Leuven, Eurides, and collaborate with them on the creation of our smart mobility platform Vaigo. In April, we acquire the Brussels organisation Ideas@Work, founded in 2000, which assists organisations in reorganisations and optimisation projects. Consequently, BDO Belgium currently consists of 11 establishments.
Thanks to fusions and the importance of among others human capital, internationalisation, and digitisation, our role as auditor, financial expert or tax, legal and corporate adviser is extended. We are becoming specialists in advice across all activities. The islands of yesterday are forming an archipelago that above all offers integrated solutions for the new challenges and growth ambitions of our customers. BDO’s objective is still the same as it was in 1967. We want to be the preferred partner of entrepreneurs. A confidential adviser. Only the world in which we find ourselves and the way in which we operate are fundamentally changing.
On 1 October, Peter Van Laer takes over from CEO Hans Wilmots after a career of 9 years. As the previous Managing Director of the BDO acquired organisation Crossroad, Peter is a seasoned technology expert and will help us to continue our journey in digital transformation and new technologies. Yet Peter’s years of experience does not put the focus solely on niche markets such as cybersecurity. On the contrary, the new CEO aims to further extend our multidisciplinary offering, starting from our traditional activities to dive deeper into a number of niche markets, so we can look into all kinds of business questions, whether they’re digital or analogue.
In the fall of 2019, we have some more great news. As the first Belgian consultancy agency, we are awarded with the ‘CO2 neutral’ certificate. To become fully climate neutral, we draw up an ambitious climate plan, in collaboration with CO2 Logic, that includes buying 100% renewable energy and turning at least half of our 11 offices into passive ones by 2030. Until we have completely pushed back our internal emissions, we are compensating our residual emissions with a climate project in Ghana.
Not only the environment lies close to our heart, so does equality between individuals. As the proud sponsor of Plan International Belgium, we put our best foot forward to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), that turned 5 years old on 25 September 2020. To do so, we incorporated the SDG’s in our CSR strategy and appointed a CSR ambassador in each of our offices.
In 2021, we once again played the acquisitions card with the Antwerp firm of Accountants and Tax Advisers Beirens & Wellens (B&W). The acquisition of B&W is an excellent fit with our growth strategy in terms of accounting, tax and legal advice to mainly family businesses. It also strengthens our position in the port of Antwerp in order to attract new customers and employees.
Our employer branding also forms the central focus in the partnership into which we are entering together with the largest independent accountant in Wallonia, Dekegeleer. But it’s more than a partnership. BDO is also buying premises in which Dekegeleer is housed in Mouscron, thereby further expanding its network of regional offices in Belgium. This approach dovetails perfectly with BDO’s ambition to be located close to companies and organisations everywhere in Belgium. The Mouscron office building is also the ideal base for conquering the Eurometropolis Lille-Tournai.
In October, BDO Belgium is connecting with the Living Tomorrow innovation campus as an exclusive partner for the coming five years. With this partnership, we are highlighting our growing and future-oriented advisory services and want to attract coveted talent so that we can build a more innovative, sustainable and inclusive future together.