Meet the Director - BUKO
Back to Platform Back to Platform+

Full speed ahead: from underdog to market leader...

BUKO by name, booming by nature. It keeps things moving in the Netherlands – from road construction to safety and efficiency at the Dutch Grand Prix. PLATFORM’s Tessa Parry-Wingfield talks to CEO Robert Emmerich about his plans for speedy expansion.

BUKO CEO, Robert Emmerich

TPW: BUKO provides outsourced traffic and safety management solutions in the Netherlands – what does that entail?

RE: BUKO Traffic and Safety has two working divisions – BUKO Infrasupport, the market leader in the Netherlands, specialising in temporary traffic management; and BUKO Waakt, specialising in temporary camera surveillance. Our clients are predominantly contractors who work for municipalities or the government. All sorts of contractors – from those working in utilities and petrochemical industry to urban or rural roads. Another type of customer group is event organisers. Anything that plays havoc with the roads, essentially.

TPW: What exciting projects has BUKO been involved in?

RE: We have been the official event supplier of the Dutch Grand Prix for the last three years. This is a huge challenge when it comes to traffic management. The Grand Prix is held at Circuit Zandvoort in North Holland which is next to the sea and hard to approach by car. You can imagine tonnes of people attempting to drive close by. We are also contract partners for the three biggest cities in the Netherlands – Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and The Hague.

TPW: In a nutshell, what’s BUKO’s story?

RE: BUKO Infrasupport started in 1991 providing tools for street contractors and then signage rental before becoming a full-service provider of temporary traffic management solutions. BUKO Waakt was founded in 2017 and operates in a huge growth market.

TPW: How’s business looking?

RE: Right now, we have 14 branches in the Netherlands, a little under 400 employees and revenue over €80 million (year-end projections). In 2010, we had just three branches and about 60 employees and a revenue of €10 million.

TPW: What gives you an edge?

RE:The traditional way in this sector is to think like a construction contractor – when it comes to things like pricing and services. We have a more value-based approach; a commercial focus always ensuring customer satisfaction. We have a ‘can do’ mentality; no project is too tricky or too small. This creates personal relationships, and therefore greater retention.

TPW: That hints to BUKO’s culture – is it similar internally?

RE: When I became CEO in 2020, I had to create a new management team. I feared our way of thinking was in danger of becoming too conservative and traditional. So, I had to make some tough decisions to ensure we are always progressive and forward-thinking. Our colleagues are our greatest asset – collaborative and full of character. Safety is not just something we sell; it’s in the DNA, the lifestyle of our business. To ensure those beliefs are captured in the future company policy, I asked our HR and Safety Managers to be part of the new management team. We also included the four regional managers in the overall decision-making and we ask for feedback from employees every quarter. Finally, we have great frequent social get-togethers in each region with all the teams.

The Equistone team was positive about how we could achieve our big ambitions – namely international expansion, through a buy-and-build strategy.

TPW: The Equistone partnership is still fresh – but what were your first impressions?

RE: Prior to the transaction, I spoke to a lot of different private equity parties, but my first meeting with Equistone stood out. It was with Hubert van Wolfswinkel and Josh Aalbers, then subsequently I met Tanja Berg. It felt like we clicked well from the get-go; we had similar mindsets, values and cultures. The Equistone team made it clear they respected me and my role as CEO in running the business. They were positive about how we could achieve our big ambitions – namely international expansion, through a buy-and-build strategy. It was immediately clear the Equistone Funds had the right expertise to support us on this given Equistone’s relevant portfolio company experience.

TPW: What if you don’t align on BUKO’s future goals?

RE: Actually, that already happened during a very early discussion, and I appreciated Equistone’s candid advice. I believed initially we should focus on two countries when it comes to international expansion: Belgium and Germany; with Equistone being sceptical about BUKO’s business crossing into Belgium. This was based on knowledge Equistone had from a portfolio company in the utilities sector – indicating that the growth opportunity may not be as advantageous there.

TPW: Growth through M&A, buy-and-build – what are the next steps?

RE: We are well positioned to grow along with the market and we are planning to double revenues in the next few years. With regards to M&A, we have a domestic wish list! Not so long ago we were the underdog in the Netherlands when it comes to temporary traffic management and our strategy has led us to become the market leader, by far. We are also looking to succeed in Germany, not least because of the optical fibre and energy transition. Approximately 10 million households in Germany will need fibre connections in the next four years.

TPW: Do you have any concerns about integrating businesses?

RE: I believe in our business model and our culture. We have high customer and employee satisfaction – with a very low churn rate. As long as we stand by our principles, allowing a little flexibility during transition periods, I absolutely know we can continue the ethos of our healthy, happy company, as it grows into something bigger.” 

A full version of this article appeared in PLATFORM 09, Summer 2023