2020 was dominated by the Covid-19 crisis, which was obviously given continuous attention at Unica too. It was important to continue operations, but the safety and health of our employees was our primary concern. This required adaptability, but nevertheless the Covid-19 crisis only had a limited effect on Unica. All of our employees deserve a big thank you for their dedication and flexibility.
Their attitude was one of the reasons that Unica achieved a record revenue of €539 million in 2020 (2019: €483 million), passing the half a billion mark for the first time in the group’s history. The growth in revenue of more than 11.5% shows just how crisis-resilient Unica is. Because we do business in a decentralised way, the more than 30 Unica companies had short lines of communication with customers, and the diversity of Unica’s in-house specialisms ensured that the effects were spread. The stable client portfolio, with its focus on recurring business and less cyclical sectors, is a final aspect that contributed to the group’s crisis resilience.
Every one of the nine business clusters made a positive contribution to Unica’s economic performance in 2020. EBITDA increased in absolute terms, from €38.3 million (2019) to €41.2 million (2020), but the return percentage decreased slightly from 7.9% to 7.7%. Earnings growth was lower than projected, reflecting the Covid-19 crisis that put the brakes on this growth to some extent in 2020.
As in previous years, the ambitious Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) agenda helped Unica grow. The network of companies was expanded with three acquisitions in 2020. The acquisition of Numan & Kant (March) reinforced expertise and regional presence in the Unica Building Intelligence cluster. The expansion puts this cluster in a position to provide automation, data analysis and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions throughout the Netherlands.
Unica also strengthened the organisation in 2020 with the acquisitions of PCT Koudetechniek (March) and Van Kempen Koudetechniek (December). These leading refrigeration players in the Netherlands serve a wide range of customers in various sectors of the food industry. Refrigeration technology is a powerful addition to the expertise of the Unica Industry Solutions cluster. This cluster possesses expertise in industrial automation, process technology, mechanical engineering and hardware engineering, enabling it to provide turnkey solutions for the industrial sector.
Unica has spread its activities into nine business clusters, so it can easily incorporate multiple new companies into its network every year. Targeted acquisitions are therefore part of the growth strategy for each cluster, where further strengthening of digital competencies is given particular attention.
Unica already has these digital competencies in-house, as reflected in the launch of Building Insight in 2020. This data platform bundles various areas of expertise, where the digital shell forms the link between data and technical expertise. After step-by-step implementation at a number of clients, the rollout of the platform was accelerated in the autumn due to the Covid-19 crisis. The specific Building Insight | Air module offers a solution to increasing uncertainty about the air quality in indoor spaces, which is of particular interest to educational institutions, nursing homes and care homes. The platform was developed by the Unica Innovation Center, the strategic division which Unica uses to put its focus on innovation into practice.
The health of our employees was obviously another major concern in 2020. The hygiene measures at Unica locations minimised the risk of Covid-19 infection, and RIVM guidelines on the deployment of employees were respected to the letter. Back-office employees have been working from home as much as possible since March. The sustainable employability programme was adapted to reflect the new circumstances and the leadership programme, with its focus on personal attention from management, was put into practice. Partly as a result of this, absenteeism within Unica decreased to 5.2% in 2020 (2019: 5.3%).
The positive rating given by Unica employees in the annual survey showed a high level of engagement, an important indicator of job satisfaction and the quality of services provided. This engagement also limits numbers leaving the group, although the intended growth over the coming years means Unica will continue to have substantial needs in terms of recruiting from the scarce target pool of technical personnel. Unica usually succeeds in filling vacancies in time, partly thanks to its continued investments in strong employer branding.
Climate objectives received less attention from society in 2020 but remain a prominent focus of government policy. In the coming years, technical service providers will play an important role in implementing the Dutch Climate Agreement. Unica can utilise its in-depth knowledge of the market and state-of-the-art technology to help its customers realise their sustainability ambitions.
Unica is also looking for realistic initiatives to implement its business operations sustainably. Increasingly, Unica’s success is measured not only in terms of economic performance but also in social performance. That is why Unica includes its most important social results based on parts of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guideline in its annual report. Unica intends to meet the expectations of the market and society with regard to environmental, social and governance issues.
Unica also uses its expertise and resources for social causes, such as in the partnership with the Dutch Heart Foundation. Our technicians voluntarily install and commission AEDs, helping the Dutch Heart Foundation achieve its goal of a nationwide network of AEDs. With its technical expertise and nationwide branch network, Unica can provide support throughout the Netherlands. The first 25 Unica volunteers started in 2020.
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis remains a cause for concern, but Unica expects the long-term effects on the company to be limited. With its varied network of companies, Unica is in a position to respond to the vast amount of work needed for sustainability, the continual necessity for careful technical management and maintenance, and the focus on intelligent digital technology. Every one of the nine clusters has extensive growth potential, and thanks to the effectiveness of the decentralised model of independently-operating companies, Unica remains flexible. As a result, future prospects are positive and Unica is very well positioned to solve both current and future challenges facing customers over the coming years.