Interview: Pauwels Consulting’s Bold Leap into Space with ATG Europe

21 Jan 2024

Pauwels Consulting’s strategic acquisition of a majority stake into ATG Europe marks a significant development in the industry. Joining the conversation are Bert Pauwels, CEO of Pauwels Consulting, Roger Lemmens, COO of Pauwels Consulting, Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe, Massimiliano Mazza, COO of ATG Europe, and Alberto Donadoni, Chief Commercial Officer at ATG Europe. Their collective insights offer a deep dive into the synergies, vision, and shared values behind this transformative business move.

Who is ATG Europe?

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe:

“ATG Europe stands as a beacon of innovation and excellence in the aerospace and big science sectors. From our modest beginnings in 1969, we’ve grown into a formidable force in the industry. Our focus has always been on pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, a pursuit that has seen us leading the charge in value-added engineering consultancy, services and solutions in thermo elastics, composite structures, and other cutting-edge areas.”

Bert Pauwels, what was the driving factor behind adding an aerospace-focused company like ATG Europe to Pauwels Consulting?

Bert Pauwels, CEO Pauwels Consulting:

“This acquisition of a majority stake aligns with Pauwels Consulting’s long-term vision. We began 24 years ago focusing on IT consultancy and rapidly expanded into Life Sciences and Engineering. Venturing into the Space industry is a natural progression for us. We always consider what added value our specialists can bring to the market, and we’ve already established successful relationships in IT, Engineering, and Life Sciences. My discussions with ATG Europe’s management have sparked numerous strategic ideas for better supporting our customers.

Risk mitigation is crucial in our volatile economy, where external factors often impact business segments. By diversifying our solutions and services, we can maintain team cohesion during slower economic times without compromising overall performance. The business world is cyclical, but with smart organization, we can navigate these cycles effectively.”

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO at ATG Europe, Bert Pauwels, CEO Pauwels Consulting, Alberto Donadoni, CCO at ATG Europe and Roger Lemmens, COO Pauwels Consulting Is space becoming a commodity? We’ve reached a point where rockets are being launched somewhere every day.

Massimiliano Mazza, COO of ATG Europe:

“Firstly, there’s a significant distinction between non-profit organizations like ESA and NASA and their commercial counterparts. ESA’s primary goal is to establish a competitive aerospace ecosystem in Europe on a global scale. A unique aspect of ESA’s mission is ensuring every contributing member state benefits, with contributions leading to investments in local economies and access to extensive technical knowledge and facilities, a foundation laid since ESA’s inception in 1975.

This commitment impacts how we operate. Unlike commercial entities that may prioritize efficiency, our ecosystem focuses on creating hardware components suitable for a broad range of applications. Our specifications are more comprehensive and intricate compared to the more singular focus of commercial projects. For example, in the Ariane project, we collaborate with over 15 countries on component development, which are then transported to launch sites like Kourou. While this approach incurs additional costs, it aligns with ESA’s principle of inclusive space exploration.

This model has also inspired new collaborative methods. For the upcoming ExoMars mission, we have developed a crucial parachute component for the release of the parachute and allows a smooth Mars landing, prompting us to explore innovative collaboration models across Europe. To streamline this process, we’ve invested in the ‘Space Campus Noordwijk Avatar,’ a 3D lab offering VR and AR facilities for all involved parties. This not only facilitates the transition from concept to component but also serves training purposes. Working with ESA’s complex requirements presents unique opportunities for ATG Europe to distinguish itself in the sector.”

Massimiliano Mazza, Chief Operating Officer at ATG Europe

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe:

“I also want to emphasize Belgium’s significant role in ESA, despite being a smaller country, illustrates that space exploration isn’t just a commercial commodity. Belgium’s investment in ESA reflects a broader commitment to space science and industry, reinforcing the idea that space exploration transcends mere commercial pursuits. Our consistent contributions position us as a key player in the industry, driven by a belief in the importance and potential of space exploration.”

What is ATG Europe’s strategy for capitalizing on the emerging opportunities in the “cislunar” economy?

Alberto Donadoni, Chief Commercial Officer at ATG Europe:

“Researching “cislunar economy” reveals the potential of utilizing resources and strategic locations between Earth and the Moon for economic gain. The concept of space-based biomanufacturing and pharmaceutical research has transitioned from a mere vision to reality, as we’ve significantly reduced transportation costs. Increasingly, new market entrants seek our solutions and products, operating at a pace that surpasses the public sector and drives innovation rapidly. We envision serving a broad spectrum of clients, from the public sector to commercial space entities, all while maintaining our high standard of quality.

As rocket launches and space technology become more commonplace, a variety of companies are emerging that offer services leveraging this hardware. For example, insurance companies are using satellite data to provide farmers with models to protect their crops and harvests effectively. Similarly, governments are utilizing satellite data for organizing aid and response in the aftermath of major disasters like earthquakes.”

Roger Lemmens, COO Pauwels Consulting, the transition to a solutions-focused approach has been a key topic in this acquisition. How do you see this shift impacting Pauwels Consulting, especially in Life Sciences, Engineering, and IT?

Roger Lemmens, COO Pauwels Consulting:

“The evolution towards a solutions-centric approach marks a significant stride for Pauwels Consulting across all our domains. In Life Sciences, Engineering, and IT, moving beyond offering mere services to providing holistic solutions is transforming how we engage with our clients. For instance, in Life Sciences, our integration with ATG Europe enables us to leverage space-based platforms for advanced pharmaceutical research, providing innovative solutions that were previously unattainable. In Engineering and IT, this shift means we are not just executing projects but also strategically involved in the planning and development phases, ensuring a more integrated and efficient solution for our clients. This holistic approach allows us to address complex challenges in a more cohesive manner, ultimately enhancing the value we deliver to our clients.”

Massimiliano Mazza, can you share any significant upcoming milestones for ATG Europe?

Massimiliano Mazza, COO of ATG Europe:

“In mid-2024, we’re excited about a major milestone where a rocket equipped with our patented ATG technology will be launched. This technology outperforms current standards, as we’ve developed rocket parts that uniquely balance superior thermoelastic properties with minimal mass. The principle is straightforward yet impactful: the lighter the rocket’s structural components, the greater the payload it can carry into space with less fuel. While other companies might produce similar parts, our technology stands out in terms of quality and the extent of weight reduction. This innovation not only reduces costs but also significantly enhances payload capacity. With the ongoing competition for lightweight yet robust components, ATG Europe is proud to be at the forefront with this advanced technology.”

How was the initial personal interaction between Pauwels Consulting and ATG Europe? Was there an immediate connection from the beginning?

Bert Pauwels, CEO Pauwels Consulting:

From the very first meeting, there was an undeniable sense of magic in the air. For me, successful partnerships go beyond just numbers; they’re rooted in what I like to term as an ‘inter-human click.’ This is about aligning on deeper company values that extend far beyond mere words on a website’.

Alberto Donadoni, Chief Commercial Officer at ATG Europe:

“In our initial meeting, we engaged in open and constructive dialogue about our values and strategic direction, setting the stage for ATG Europe’s next evolutionary phase. We recognized the need for a paradigm shift as our organization grows. As we approach the milestone of 500 ATG Europe employees, the necessity to enhance our mental approach, support structures, back-office operations, and systems becomes imperative. Partnering with Pauwels Consulting offers a solution. Their experience in scaling and developing business strategies presented us with an opportunity to leverage new tools and insights for business development.

Aligning with Bert Pauwels on what he said earlier on risk mitigation strategies, we acknowledge our focus on public procurement, contrasting with Pauwels Consulting’s strength in B2B sectors. This partnership brings an essential element of diversification to ATG Europe, especially crucial as we navigate the commercialization of space exploration. Our commitment to maintaining quality in the public sector remains steadfast even as we expand into new markets.

Many organizations struggle to adapt quickly when merging, but with Pauwels Consulting, we found a partner that understands our unique business challenges and is adept at navigating new domains with significant synergistic potential but leaving the freedom to operate autonomously. Their ability to comprehend and integrate into areas unfamiliar to them, yet ripe with opportunity, has been a key factor in the successful blending of our two companies.”

Massimiliano Mazza, how do you view the less apparent synergies between ATG Europe and Pauwels Consulting, beyond the obvious ones?

Massimiliano Mazza, COO of ATG Europe:

“It’s essential to look beyond the obvious when considering synergies. Our approach, shared with Pauwels Consulting, focuses on harnessing existing potential while preserving each company’s unique culture. We need to adapt, certainly, but not by imposing forced changes.

ATG Europe’s growth is a testament to our robust business model, which I believe adds significant value to the Pauwels Consulting . The real synergy lies in understanding how our business models can complement each other. Many mergers fail because they don’t prioritize customer interest. Our goal is to communicate to our customers the benefits of this collaboration, ensuring that it positively impacts their business, rather than just telling a compelling story.”

What are ATG Europe’s thoughts on the concept of “business synergy” and “people synergy”?

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe:

“At its core, the union of our two companies allows Pauwels Consulting to immediately step into the realms of space and big science. However, the fundamental catalyst for this alliance was our strong initial rapport with Bert Pauwels. His vision and profound respect for people resonate closely with our values. Frankly speaking, our greatest asset is our people. Unlike selling cars or constructing buildings, our business thrives on the expertise of our team, which adds significant value to our customers.

This mutual respect for our teams was a key factor in deciding to join forces with Pauwels Consulting. The next step is to nurture this shared principle and develop a unified strategy that prioritizes the interests of our customers.”

Massimiliano Mazza, COO of ATG Europe:

“From our initial meeting with the Pauwels team, it became evident that Pauwels Consulting’s strengths in bio medics, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences align well with ATG Europe’s capabilities. A key area for collaboration is the innovative testing of medicines, where traditional Earth-based lab tests have limitations. ATG Europe’s access to the International Space Station (ISS) for zero-gravity experiments offers a unique opportunity to enhance pharmaceutical research. This partnership is more than theoretical; it’s a practical step towards revolutionizing medical treatment testing.

Additionally, Pauwels Consulting’s expertise in civil engineering and project management complements our emerging role in the fusion energy sector. With the development of fusion reaction plants, Pauwels Consulting’s long-standing civil engineering knowledge becomes invaluable. This synergy excites us as we explore and combine our skills and solutions to benefit our customers.”

And how does the Pauwels Consulting perceive the synergies between Pharma and Space, especially in the context of this acquisition?

Roger Lemmens, COO Pauwels Consulting:

 “The synergies between Pharma and Space are particularly exciting and innovative. With ATG Europe’s expertise in space technologies and our strong background in Pharma, we are positioned to explore ground breaking opportunities in pharmaceutical research and development. The microgravity environment of space offers a unique platform for drug development and testing, potentially leading to more effective treatments. These synergies allow us to push the boundaries of what’s possible in medical science, offering new solutions to age-old problems. The combination of ATG Europe’s space capabilities with our extensive experience in Pharma creates a powerful platform for innovation, setting the stage for ground breaking advancements in healthcare.”

Is it accurate to say that the space aviation industry is transitioning from providing services to offering comprehensive solutions?

Massimiliano Mazza, COO of ATG Europe:

“Absolutely, our shift towards providing complete project solutions has been a strategic focus in response to market demands. ATG Europe specializes in delivering cutting-edge space composites, encompassing everything from engineering to production. Our involvement often begins early in the project cycle, particularly in structural and thermal engineering, a testament to the trust we’ve earned over the years. Our comprehensive capabilities allow us to perform thorough assessments and audits, enhancing our clients’ return on investment.”

Bert Pauwels, CEO Pauwels Consulting:

“Pauwels Consulting is aligning with these market changes, transitioning from offering basic services to all-encompassing solutions. This shift is particularly significant in the Life Sciences sector, where we’re expanding our expertise. Integrating our knowledge in Life Sciences with our skills in Engineering and IT enables us to not only meet but surpass client expectations. Our cross-disciplinary approach allows us to deliver diverse, effective solutions, providing clients with comprehensive and efficient services. Partnering with ATG Europe strengthens our commitment to adding value throughout the project lifecycle, from conception to completion.”

What about ATG Europe’s approach in sectors beyond space, like Big Science, and your leadership in areas like Thermo Elastics and Composite Structures?

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe:

“Our unique market position is largely thanks to our in-house team, capable of handling entire projects from start to finish, not just offering consultancy. This dual capability in providing top-tier consultancy to ESA and F4E and advanced engineering skills sets us apart. Our long-term investment in this area is our best validation. One of our management team’s proudest achievements is successfully combining consultancy and project execution, breaking down barriers between these divisions for a more cohesive approach to serving our clients. This strategy offers real added value, moving beyond theoretical models to practical, impactful solutions.”

How do ATG Europe attract all that high quality people?

Alberto Donadoni, Chief Commercial Officer at ATG Europe:

“Space and Big Science are very appealing for young people, a lot of them are mechanical engineers who are more interested in building a rocket ship than a road. And I say this without scolding the wonderful Pauwels Consulting Engineering colleagues who are doing a remarkable job at so many landmark constructions site as bridges and tunnels all over Europe. It’s just that we reach that small percentage of engineers who dream to get their work to space and nuclear fusion.

Our Dutch office is near the TU Delft, the biggest pool of talent in space science and engineering. We have a strong collaboration with them feeding a continuous flow of talent that would like to develop its talents. If you’re interested in aerospace and structures than we’re number one on many students list of dream company to work for. We’re also in the sweet spot where our company is big enough to matter to our customers but offer each of our colleagues enough impact on the projects and consultancy we offer. None of them is a single element, they are all aware that it’s the combination of individual talents that brings us to the next level.”

The current management of ATG Europe stays in the driver seat and step into the new partnership, how important is this for you Roger?

Roger Lemmens, COO Pauwels Consulting:

“The decision to retain the current leadership team of ATG Europe in our partnership with Pauwels Consulting is a momentous one. It demonstrates our unwavering confidence in their capabilities and in the collective prowess of the ATG Europe team. This decision goes beyond being a strategic business move; it is a heartfelt acknowledgment of the human factor that is integral to our success.

Leaders such as Gian Carlo, Massimiliano, and Alberto possess an intimate understanding of the unique strengths, work culture, and challenges specific to ATG Europe. Their leadership has played a pivotal role in the company’s accomplishments and resilience.

By keeping this leadership team at the helm, we are reaffirming our dedication to preserving the values, practices, and culture that have been firmly established at ATG Europe. This is vital to ensure that the distinctive qualities of ATG Europe not only endure but also continue to guide the trajectory of our shared future.

This approach is a tribute to what sets ATG Europe apart, all the while exploring new avenues for growth and progress through the combined resources and strengths of Pauwels Consulting.”

Gian Carlo Coletta, how would you describe the company culture at ATG Europe?

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe:

“I can say without patting ourselves on the back that we have an excellent company culture: friendly, open driven by a flat organisation. We do work hard but the never forget to celebrate birthdays and successes. My door is literally always open, and I have the habit to jump into offices to feel the temperature and learn what they are working on.”

Which brings us to company values, it seems that the “Shoot for the moon” value of Pauwels Consulting already paved the path to this deal but does ATG Europe recognizes themselves in the Pauwels Consulting values?

Alberto Donadoni, Chief Commercial Officer at ATG Europe:

“Absolutely, there’s another Pauwels’ Value that aligns perfectly with our company’s culture, and that’s “challenge the status quo.” Every step we’ve taken to elevate ATG Europe has been rooted in thinking outside the box. It all starts with identifying the customer’s pain points, comparing them to their constraints, gaining a deep understanding, and then presenting solutions that check all the boxes. The pace of progress has evolved rapidly, and our ability to adapt swiftly is ingrained in our DNA.

Now, let’s talk about the “We are a strong family” value of Pauwels. We boast an exceptionally outspoken and brilliant group of employees who can’t be easily fooled, and transparency is the cornerstone of our interactions. We treat people with fairness, just like in any close-knit family, but we go the extra mile by encouraging them to face daily challenges head-on. It’s the strong bond among ATG colleagues that empowers them to excel in an increasingly complex environment day in and day out.”

Bert Pauwels, could you comment on the importance of having Andera Partners on your side as a new investment partner?

Bert Pauwels, CEO Pauwels Consulting:

“The involvement of Andera Partners is a significant milestone for Pauwels Consulting. Their investment and support are pivotal in our strategy to accelerate the growth and development of our group. Andera Partners brings not only financial backing but also strategic insights and a network that enhances our capabilities. Their belief in our vision and commitment to our growth is a testament to the potential they see in Pauwels Consulting. This partnership is instrumental as we integrate ATG Europe and expand our reach, allowing us to venture into new markets and domains with confidence and a strengthened foundation.”

To conclude, there is a Latin saying going back 2000 years: “per aspera ad astra” which translated means “through hardships to the stars,”

Bert Pauwels, CEO Pauwels Consulting:

“That’s very applicable to how you build a business. Just like the journey to the stars is not without its challenges, the path to building a successful company is paved with obstacles and learning experiences. Every difficulty we encounter and overcome fortifies our resolve and enhances our capabilities. At Pauwels Consulting and ATG Europe, we embrace these challenges, knowing that they shape us into a more resilient and innovative organization, better equipped to serve our clients and achieve our goals. This philosophy has been integral to our growth and success, guiding us as we expand our services and expertise, particularly in the dynamic fields of Life Sciences, Engineering, and IT.”

Gian Carlo Coletta, CEO of ATG Europe:

“And remember, in the universe of Space and Big Science, the sky’s not the limit – it’s just the beginning!”

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