Houthoff’s lawyer Gerrit Oosterhuis interviews Marjolein Beynsberger, General Counsel and member of Unibra’s Executive Committee




Like many other family-owned holding companies, Unibra has made a deliberate effort to diversify its portfolio.

Before joining the Unibra group Marjolein worked as a lawyer at the Brussels Bar for Liedekerke, a leading Belgian law firm, where she mainly practised corporate and tax law, with a focus on M&A, and developed an extensive practice in large infrastructure projects, PPP and complex industrial projects.

She gained a law degree from the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) and also holds a Master’s in corporate and tax law (KUB/KUL). She recently also completed a postgraduate corporate finance programme at KUL. In addition to General Counsel, Marjolein is also a member of Unibra’s Executive Committee.

“One factor that will always be important is mutual understanding.
To live together successfully, you need to understand each other’s needs”.


A year and a half into the pandemic, how is the local market doing?

Basically, we have two “local” markets: we brew and distribute beer in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we develop and own real estate mainly in Belgium and Luxembourg. Like many other family-owned holding companies, Unibra has made a deliberate effort to diversify its portfolio.

In Africa, we modified our business model in response to the lockdown. Before the pandemic, we mostly did business with wholesale distributors that sold our beer to food and drink establishments, but with those establishments in lockdown, consumption shifted, so that we shifted our points of sale and managed to maintain our revenue levels. Another factor that helped is that in the countries we operate not many major economic operators are active, so governments tend to somewhat shield what few operators their countries have.

In our real estate development division, we are mainly developing residential properties and offices intended for sale. We were fortunate that many of our new projects were waiting for

planning permission, and the negotiation of contracts, etc., could move forward without interruption. This saved us from needing to halt construction work and from searching new opportunities in uncertain times.  Many lessors in the retail sector suffered losses, but within our asset management division our client portfolio mainly consists of office tenants. We managed to accomodate the arrangements with and granted some flexibility to our retail lessees, whilst the lessees of our office premises were less impacted. The main tenant of our Luxembourg office building operates co-working spaces that seem not to have suffered too much revenue loss, even by the lockdown.

Actually, all the major changes are happening now. International “just in time” delivery isn’t viable anymore, so you need to maintain larger inventories, which affects the cost of your working capital. Hopefully this is a temporary effect only, but either way, our procurement will be shifting structurally to more local suppliers: for one thing it’s more sustainable, and for another it’s an excellent way to minimise our inventory risks.

In real estate, we’ve noticed some new trends as well, for instance in the expectations of users. Co-living is the new way of living, while there is also a greater demand for more

flexible modular apartments, with a view to evolving household compositions. For offices, we have not noticed any decrease in leased floor spaces. Instead, we’re seeing that the space is being used differently. For example, less square meters are devoted to actual desk space and instead that floor space is used to create a more collaborative working environment with meeting areas, breakrooms, corporate lounges, sports facilities, etc.

Is it difficult to deal with so many different issues, across all those different countries?

No – in fact, when I switched from the bar to the private sector, I was worried that my work might become more monotonous, but instead the opposite proved to be true. I have learned an incredible amount during my time here. To be able to work in a multicultural and international environment in a variety of sectors is what makes my job so challenging.

What do you think the future holds for Brussels, our city with all its language complications and the pressures from Belgium’s French and Flemish Communities?

I don’t think that neither the French nor the Flemish Community should decide what happens in Brussels.

Neither of them appreciates Brussels unique reality, which is so diverse that it forces us to work together. In general, though, Brussels simply has a few more options for autonomy. Of course the fact that Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia all have different laws complicates matters, but sometimes that’s unavoidable because good governance implies a certain degree of autonomy allowing you to adapt to the local needs of different communities. One factor that will always be important is mutual understanding. To live together successfully, you need to understand each other’s needs.

Lastly, the inevitable question: what are your thoughts on doing business with the Dutch?

I love doing business with the Dutch! Unfortunately, Unibra currently does not conduct any business in the Netherlands, but while I was with Liedekerke I oversaw plenty of transactions with Dutch business relations, and the cooperation was always very agreeable. The Dutch are very straightforward and to the point, just as I like to believe I am.


Gerrit advises on Dutch and EU competition law, and foreign direct investment (FDI) regimes. Gerrit’s competition law practice encompasses merger notifications, cartel investigations and stand-alone competition litigation. He is also involved in cases concerning compliance of complex distribution practices and joint ventures, and abuse of dominance. He has considerable experience with notifications of complex transactions to the European Commission and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, as well as to the authorities in charge of FDI regimes, and the coordination of such notifications to authorities worldwide. Gerrit represents clients from a wide range of sectors, specifically food, consumer products, energy and automotive.


If you are genuinely interested in your counterparts, you will be ready to deviate from your habits.