Saturday 2 May 2009

What is Belgium's Most Successful Product ?

If you thought Belgian beer and chocolates were Belgium's top products, think again. But if it's not beer or chocolates, then what is it?

The good old plain, boring barbed wire fence is your answer. It was not invented by a Belgian (that honour goes to Joseph Glidden, 1873) but Leo Leander Bekaert, a young shopkeeper from Zwevelgem in Flanders, was very quick off the mark and founded Bekaert N.V. a few years later in 1880. He recognised the potential immediately and knew that virtually every farmer would buy it to keep their animals secure in their fields.

Incidentally, you can read about the history of the barbed wire fence here :

He started making and selling barbed wire and quickly expanded. When cars became popular, he started making steel cord for radial tyre reinforcement and Bekaert's production exploded. The company also makes steel fibers for concrete reinforcement, offshore drilling anchor cables, steel rope, communication cables, window film and engine coatings.

If you have ever been skiing in Europe, chances are that you were transported up the mountain in a ski lift suspended from one of Bekaert's steel rope wires. Their products are also used in the heat shield of the Space Shuttle.

Bekaert now has over 80 production centres world-wide and operates in 120 countries. It now generated sales in excess of EUR 2.7 billion and employs nearly 20,000 people. It is the undisputed world leader in its field today.

Leo Leander Bekaert's son (Leon Bekaert) really made the company what it is today and he deserves most of the credit. When he died, his son Anton (now a Baron) inherited the family fortune and is now one of the richest men in Europe, with an estimated wealth of 761 million Euro.

So next time you are out walking in a field along a barbed wire fence, or going up a skilift in Austria, spare a thought for Leo Leander Bekaert who had more than something to do with it ...

For more Famous Belgians, go to my website