Willy’s youth and early years
Willy Naessens was born in Elsegem on 14 February 1939, the son of miller Gerard Naessens and Marie De Preester. He worked diligently on the farm and attended the local school until he turned 14. Many years later, the head office of the Willy Naessens Group would be built on the site of his father’s mill.
Willy Naessens starts as a chicken breeder
The birth of Veerle
His daughter Veerle Naessens was born in 1966. She is now the main shareholder and a board member of the Willy Naessens Group responsible for the communication between the food industry and Group management.
The birth of Sem
His son Sem Naessens was born in 1969. Like Veerle, he joined his father’s company. Today, his primary responsibilities at the Willy Naessens Group are investments and real estate management.
Willy Naessens: from chicken breeding to cattle feed
In 1972 Willy Naessens had to deal with the impact of bird flu. He started trading in cattle feed. Willy soon bought a 6-ton Bedford truck and became the biggest distributor of ‘Hens voeders’. His wife Hilda took an active role in the cattle feed business. Willy regularly took out his car fitted with a loudspeaker on Sundays to advertise his feed.
Willy Naessens Hokkenbouw
Willy’s first swimming pool
One of Willy’s cousins wanted a swimming pool. “Easy,” Willy thought: you dig a hole, pour in the concrete, let it dry and fill it with water. But the swimming pool cracked three times. An expert explained what the problem was and Willy quickly made the necessary adjustments. Willy had built his first swimming pool. The first person to do so in Belgium. And, to this day, Willy Naessens Swimming Pools is the market leader in Belgium.
Acquisition of Megaton
The first milestone for Willy Naessens was the first acquisition in 1982: Megaton, specialised in prestressed concrete. This was the beginning of the concrete activities. Willy also faced financial difficulties around this time. He was actually virtually bankrupt. The savings of his children and the belief the banks showed in his company saved him from complete failure.
Confronted with cancer for the first time
Disaster struck Willy in 1994 when he was diagnosed with cancer. He would have to fight this serious disease on four separate occasions. During his hospital stay he made a solemn promise to attend weekly mass once he had beaten the disease. He also freed up more time for himself to indulge his great passion for equestrian sports and driving. Willy owns around 40 horses, including a number of draught horses and Arabo-Friesians. At Willy’s stud farm there is a horse swimming pool and an authentic carrousel. Willy has one of Europe’s finest carriage collections.
From concrete to food
In 2007 Willy
Naessens acquired Franky Fresh Food. It was the Group’s first move into food. A
very important step towards diversification
The foundation stone of the new head office
On 9 July 2010 Willy Naessens laid the foundation stone of the new head office and exactly one year later the employees moved to their new workplace. The new office is equipped with all modern comforts, including a pleasant, peaceful airconditioned working environment, relaxation space, restaurant and a sun-drenched patio. Willy’s last chicken coop made way for the future.
The Sky is the Limit
In 2014 Willy Naessens made a splash in the reality TV show ‘The Sky is the Limit’. Contrary to what you might think, this was no vanity project. “This valuable advertising on TV saves me 3 million euros,” Willy said. It proved to be a smart move, as sales of swimming pools increased by 18 per cent and industrial building turnover by 24 per cent during the show’s run. (Photo © Vier)
Marriage after 50 years
In 2017, on Marie-Jeanne’s birthday, Willy asked her to marry him. They tied the knot on 5 July 2018, pushing the boat out for the wedding reception. As well as family and close friends, the couple also invited clients and members of staff to drink a toast to their happiness. The guests were treated to a host of musical and other performances. By way of a wedding gift, Willy and Marie-Jeanne invited their guests to make a donation to charity. That raised 125,000 euros. Willy was so grateful that he rounded the amount up to 150,000 euros. The whole amount was given to various charities, spread over several years. It was a way to give back to society. Willy is well aware that not everyone is blessed with so much happiness in their lives.
Commander in the Order of Leopold
In 2019 Willy was honoured with the title of Commander in the Order of Leopold. Willy Naessens had by that time already been made an Honorary Citizen of Wortegem-Petegem, Honorary Commercial Court Judge, a Knight in the Order of Leopold and a Commander in the Order of the Crown.