“As a construction company, we are prepared for crises”

Vienna Mr. Haselsteiner, energy prices, inflation and material shortages are affecting the construction industry. How is Strabag getting through the crisis?
Strabag is in a comfortable situation. We are very broadly positioned and have a critical size. The order books are full. From our perspective, the current situation in construction is also a normalization of the years of boom in the industry.

Where do you see opportunities in the crisis?
As a construction company, we are prepared for crises – our great diversification plays into our hands. In addition, there was already an investment backlog before the crisis and it still is. The need for new homes and the renovation of bridges and buildings is still immense. And investments in the construction sector are known to be a good way to fuel the economy.

As one of the market leaders, your order books are full. Smaller companies get into trouble. Is Now the Time for Consolidations?
We are currently monitoring whether there are any interesting opportunities. On the real estate market, for example, we notice that we are currently being offered plots of land that were previously outbid each other in terms of price.

What segments are you looking at for acquisitions?
We will pay special attention to the topic of circular economy. Especially landfill and recycling capacities. In this area, need and demand will increase in the coming years. Those who then have the necessary capacities will have an advantage.

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You are already working with the start-up Schüttflix. Do you want to further expand your cooperation with start-ups in the future?
We have set ourselves the ambitious goal of being climate neutral by 2040. Another aspect is: How do we deal with the mountain of data that we generate? When it comes to these issues, the construction industry has to make a technological quantum leap. It helps when start-ups, which can act differently from large corporations, challenge the industry with fresh ideas.

What strategy are you pursuing?
We want to bring added value to the start-ups – in other words, not just be financial investors. We want to further develop the product in order to bring it to market. In this context, we are still looking for interesting investments or cooperations in the areas of sensors, logistics or planning tools. In other words, across the entire range of the value chain.

Has the choice become easier in the current economic environment?
The selection is the same, the price has become more pleasant across the board.

How do you make an industry like the construction industry fit for digitization?
The main problem with digitization is the lack of technical standards. The industry is fundamentally decentralized, and we also see regionality as our principle of success at Strabag. The local manager in northern Germany knows best which tools and processes he uses to serve which customers. There is a wide variety of tools that we use. But without a standard, we will never be able to get the data under control in order to have a continuous process chain. So our problem is not so much digitization as standardization.

How do you approach this challenge?
We need high standards. A good error culture is particularly important for this. I’m a friend of the fact that if you have very high standards, it’s okay if you don’t quite meet them. The motto is: challenge, but also encourage.

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You too need new talent. Can a construction company offer “New Work”?
The pandemic has also brought about a rapid development in home office and video conferences for us. We will not return to a state before the pandemic. At the same time, we are currently in the middle of the war for talent – and we also have to consider what younger generations want from their workplace: These are more flexible working hours and a more flexible place of work. We have just opened a new innovation campus for our digitization unit in Stuttgart. There are 120 jobs there in an open-space-shared concept that has been very well received.

What else are you doing to recruit young talent?
Firstly, we rely on strong cooperation with colleges and universities, both in Germany and in Austria. And we invest in our own training – especially apprenticeship training, most recently ten million euros in Austria. It won’t work without investing in young people.

Apprentices at Strabag

The construction company not only works with universities, it also recently invested 10 million euros in apprenticeship training.

During your time as a management consultant, you have already worked with agile methods and processes. What kind of resistance do you encounter in the construction industry?
Mainly on a cultural issue. Our industry is designed to minimize risk and avoid mistakes. They are just necessary to develop and grow at a good speed. It’s better to test a half-finished product than go through the whole process for years and invest a lot – until you reach a point of no return. It is important to me to convey: Dare and try. And even if it doesn’t work out, at least we’ve learned something from it.

Which milestones do you personally want to achieve with Strabag?
We are currently working on a strategy process for the coming years. It is important to defend and expand our technology leadership in the industry. The topics of recycling management and building in existing stock will also be in focus. One of our greatest strengths is also the international regionality. We are active worldwide with our major projects, but always have a local value chain with local staff. We want to expand this regional business.

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Which country footprint should Strabag have in the future?
We are a European construction group with a lot of potential at home. Our strength is technical know-how – and reliability in terms of price and quality. It is also important to us that we work in legally secure markets. The Anglo-Saxon region is very exciting, we are involved in real mega projects in Great Britain and Canada. Australia and the USA are also interesting – we are also active in Chile and Colombia. I also believe that we urgently need an Africa strategy in the long-term future.

Strabag in road construction

The construction company is working on its strategy process for the coming years and wants to grow internationally.

And China?
There is no fair competition in China because large Chinese construction companies are subsidized by the state – but we are not. One should not exhaust oneself in this unfair fight.

For ten years, Strabag was headed by an external manager. What are the reasons why you are now taking over again as a manager from the family?
First of all, my predecessor Thomas Birtel did a really good job. And I can continue to lead a well-positioned company into the future. For us as a family, the stake in Strabag is an important position that we want to develop further in the long term with clear prospects. A family-run board of course makes sense if they have the appropriate qualifications and are willing to take on the responsibility.

What advantages does this bring for the group?
Even if we are an international group, we have remained a family business in many aspects. We also show this in our dealings with our employees. I have no interest in relying on personnel measures for short-term profit jumps. I see my colleagues as my family that I have to take care of. This is a spirit that employees perceive and that motivates them to achieve top performance: the feeling that you are part of a team, a family – and are not perceived as interchangeable.

How much family business is there in Strabag at the moment?
The size of the company should not be underestimated. In a company with such a large administrative structure, this can sometimes become impersonal. But part of the company culture is that we take care of our people, even in difficult times. Experience shows that this culture pays us back many times over. I’m proud of that.

Is that a reason for investors to invest in Strabag?
There should be a reason. And if an investor says that this is the reason he is not investing in Strabag, then he does not seem to be interested in a truly sustainable investment. We are under construction. Substance is what counts.

Mr. Haselsteiner, thank you very much for the interview.

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