"The message should fit on one page"
Parking and the future of mobility: APCOA CEO Philippe Op de Beeck talks about the challenge of developing a vision for his company which equally motivates management and employees.
No.1 in Europe based on number of locations and parking spaces
Represented in 13 countries in more than 1000 cities
ca. 9000 locations with more than 1500 EV charging stations
ca. 1.5 Million parking spaces
APCOA is the leading operator of parking solutions in Europe. Together with undconsorten, the Group has sharpened its vision, mission and strategic roadmap for the mobility of tomorrow. In this interview, APCOA CEO Philippe Op de Beeck offers insights into this joint project as well as an answer to the question of why parking will play a decisive role in future mobility.
Philippe, a little over a year ago, APCOA's top management team developed a new vision, mission and strategy for the Group. What motivated you to start this process?
Philippe Op de Beeck: When we started the process, I had been CEO for almost a year. During the initial phase, the focus was on reducing costs and renewing the team. But soon the focus also expanded to include investing in growth in order to bring the company to a new level of velocity. In this context, however, the question what distinguishes APCOA from other providers quickly arose. We had no real answer to this, except maybe that we are the largest operator in Europe.
What were the greatest challenges you faced to achieve a clear vision and sound mission?
Philippe Op de Beeck: It was particularly challenging to formulate our ambitious strategy, vision and mission so clearly and concisely that all levels, from senior management to employees, were equally motivated. That, too, was a truly challenging task.
"To reach all target groups within the company, we condensed and consolidated the message to the point that it fits on one page."
After the process was finished, what did you do to communicate the information within the organization?
Philippe Op de Beeck: Each year we hold a Top 100 convention, which brings together APCOA's top executives. We had to be ready to present the results in time for this event. In addition, we use a platform called CEO Connection, which is aimed at the management levels in the different countries. In this context, I see many managers from all levels and different functions throughout the year.
Because sustainable anchoring only works through continual repetition, in-depth exchange and discussion are important. That is why the results of our work had to be something that brings a certain stability and does not have to be modified again over the next two years. This was also a challenge: to develop something that is specific in terms of content, but at the same time leaves the necessary room for interpretation and enables continuous further development.
How did you manage walking this tightrope?
Philippe Op de Beeck: Our strategy is always based on the same foundation, regardless of the country in question. However, implementation is geared to the specific circumstances of the regions and is in the hands of those responsible in each individual country. For example, we are the market leader in Germany, with a high supply density and almost 300,000 parking spaces; accordingly, the focus on the end customer is important to us in this market. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, we have a much smaller share of the market, and the relationship with our cooperation partners is particularly key for us.
In this context, what role do vision and mission play alongside strategy?
Philippe Op de Beeck: The vision defines how we as an organization would like to become. Developing it was quite demanding, especially in terms of wording. The description had to be simple and clear and yet describe an ambitious target state - otherwise the vision would already be reality. With “Connecting Parking and Mobility” we have achieved this very well.
Deriving the mission, on the other hand, was easier. It essentially outlines our operating model. Its core components have been around for a relatively long time, for example, we are not owners of parking garages, but rather operators. Although countries cannot depart from our overarching vision and mission for APCOA, they are free to set their own priorities that take their individual situation into account.
How has APCOA's external perception, for example that of customers, partners or investors, changed with the new vision, mission and strategy? What feedback have you been given so far?
Philippe Op de Beeck: The external feedback has been excellent so far. This is mainly due to the clarity of the findings, regardless of whether you are talking to landlords, car manufacturers, politicians, cities or local authorities.
"The strategy is primarily geared to our direct customers. However, the end customer also quickly understands who uses our parking offers and how they will benefit from them."
What are the voices of the organization and, above all, what is the feedback from the employees?
Philippe Op de Beeck: Employees also find themselves very well integrated into the vision, mission and strategy, especially because they quickly identify how they can help with implementation. To maintain this presence, we have also visually anchored the core components in all offices. Nevertheless, I also notice that, despite constant repetition, not all employees know the full content - however, this is also a process.
What role did the leadership team play in the process - also compared to your role? How did you integrate the team and coordinate APCOA's vision, mission and strategy?
Philippe Op de Beeck: The project was driven very strongly by the top team, which includes me as CEO, our CFO and our CCO (Chief Commercial Officer). However, we quickly involved the entire leadership team in joint workshops and, if there was a specific need, also those responsible for the operational business. It is essential that the countries and functions get to know each other, contribute their input and stand behind the common end product.
What added value can an external consultant offer here?
Philippe Op De Beeck: We are not an organization in which many concepts emerge on a blank piece paper. Above all, undconsorten helped us to structure our ideas and stay disciplined during the process, which meant we were able to stick to the very tight deadlines. In addition, you asked the really tough questions that we had to address - and this with a high level of competence in strategic issues.
"This was sometimes difficult, but also absolutely necessary."
Many projects with external partners go wrong for this very reason: If you have a consultant who only does exactly what you tell them but doesn't really lead the team and doesn't bring in their own perspectives, it’s not particularly constructive. You did this very well.
Would you approach the project again in the same way?
Philippe Op de Beeck: Yes, absolutely. I can't think of anything we would do differently. Perhaps we could integrate the operational level even more strongly at the beginning of communication, where we primarily used formats such as newsletters to spread the word. However, the change and anchoring process is never truly complete in such projects. This means that we have to keep at it, especially in our decentralized organization with 5,500 employees at almost 9,000 locations in 13 countries.
Do you have a favorite story about the project you would like to share with us?
Philippe Op de Beeck: We experienced the opposite of sound vision and mission statements at our offsite workshop in a small castle hotel on the Neckar River. The hotel's motto was “competence, charm and tradition”. However, during our two days there we had problems with just about everything. The only thing they got right was “tradition” because all the equipment on site was very old. The workshop itself was very important to us. We closely examined and explored the question of what we want to stand for. This was a painful process, but it led us to a very good result.
Final question: In 30 years, will we be parking more or less cars?
Philippe Op de Beeck: That really is the million dollarquestion! Although the exact development cannot be predicted, if autonomous driving does become a reality at the highest level and cars turn all-electric at the same time, I believe the number of cars will increase. With the help of technology, individual mobility will become significantly cheaper, even when compared to public transportation.
"I also believe that there will be very little free parking space in the future, including street parking. "
One reason for this is that more and more cities such as the Oslo city center areas are completely closed off to non-residents; therefore, the parking business is shifting to the suburbs. Things will also change in the multi-story parking garages, where the range of services will significantly increase. For example, we have already started a pilot project with Amazon for delivery walls where customers can pick up their packages. However, it will definitely still take some time before mobility is fully connected.