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Published: 3 July 2013      

Ludwig Callens

Ludwig Callens, the founder of Catracom NV in Belgium, has died

Ludwig Callens lost a long fight with cancer and died in Merksem on 23 June at the age of 57. He was the founder of and main driving force behind Catracom, the Antwerp company that, along with close colleagues Frank Wouters and Peter Sanczuk, he built into one of the foremost container handling equipment supply and services companies in the market, not just in Belgium and the Netherlands, but further afield in Europe and in parts of Africa and South America.

It started in 1984, when Catracom became the sole Belgian agency for the then Kalmar-LMV's forklifts. The first technician and one employee were hired in 1985 - the same year that Kalmar introduced its reach stacker, although Catracom's main activity in the early days was servicing and renting handling equipment for ro-ro ships.

At its peak before it was sold to Kalmar in 2006, Catracom accounted for no less than 90% of the Belgian reach stacker market and 85% of the Belgian terminal/ro-ro tractor market. The company supplied its 400th reach stacker into the Belgian market in 2006, just before it was bought by Kalmar, which by then had embarked on an ambitious expansion programme. 

The Catracom team had an outstanding relationship with Terberg Benschop bv and was able to supply two competing brands of reach stacker, Kalmar and Terex PPM, with equanimity.

These two OEMs may not have liked it, but Catracom was the classic independent dealer and enjoyed full support from the customers because of its outstanding service record. Callens always put service first and his approach was that if you could not solve the customer's problem you should not charge for it. The sales came later. His mantra was that service was the route to sales.

Catracom was a thriving business, but the profits were ploughed back in, to ensure the technical and service staff were well resourced in terms of manpower and equipment. Catracom's "flying toolboxes" were a faimilar sight in the seaports and there were containerised modules, too, for shipping overseas.

Callens was ever the improvising engineer and came up with his own cargo handling machines, although they never made it out of the workshop. There was, however, one big success, the Terberg "Safeneck" gooseneck, developed by Terberg and Catracom to improve safety on steep ro-ro ramps.

Away from work, he could often be found tinkering in his own garage and he was known as "Vinci" to his family because, like Leonardo da Vinci, he was always trying to invent something. He was the proud owner, at one time or another, of a number of vintage cars and motorcycles, including a a 1929 Bentley and a rare open top Citroën DS styled by Flaminio Bertoni and André Lefèbvre.

He was also a talented musician and a great lover of baroque and early classical music, as any recipient of his meticulously compiled special Christmas compact disc gifts can testify.

Many friends and former colleagues have paid tribute to Ludwig Callens. We send our condolences to his wife Gudrun and to Katrien, the daughter of his first marriage.

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