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Building for the future

Interview with Martin Kjaer, Business Unit Director of AFRY

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European Business: To kick off, can you give us a rundown of the new Group’s vital statistics and the Danish office’s place within the company as a whole.

Martin Kjaer: The AFRY Group was formed last year through the takeover of Pöyry by ÅF. Both companies boast long histories in engineering consultancy and strong positions in their respective markets. The new, combined entity has offices in 50 countries worldwide. The Danish operation was established through a series of acquisitions, the largest of which was Midtconsult in 2016 with offices in Herning and Aarhus. I am Business Unit Director of Buildings for the Danish operation and Director of the Construction Business Unit. We are responsible for one of company’s core markets with both organic growth and additional acquisitions forming part of our strategy for the future. Currently we employ 600 people in Denmark and rank just outside the top five in all of the areas in which we are active.

European Business: Can you outline your core area of activity?

Martin Kjaer: Our core business is consulting across a broad spectrum of building infrastructure engineering fields. We do not build ourselves, we provide services for general contractors, investors, municipalities and governments. Here in Denmark, we worked on the projects to build the two tallest buildings in Copenhagen. We also worked on the design of the largest combined residential and commercial building project to be undertaken in the Danish capital.

European Business: How has the corona epidemic affected your business?

Martin Kjaer: Corona took us, along with many others, completely by surprise. Now that we are slowly emerging from the lockdown, we have been able to take stock of its effects. Overall it has not been too bad. A couple of hotel projects have been stopped in their tracks but otherwise, we have been able to continue to serve our clients.

European Business: What do you think sets AFRY apart from its competitors?

Martin Kjaer: We want to be a company where people are allowed to grow as individuals and as a team. We believe in fostering talent and encouraging independence. Our USP, if you will, is our engineering expertise. Our partners trust us because they can see the results of years of successful collaboration. We go out of our way to understand our clients’ needs, but to do this, you have to know how to ask the right questions. That is our forte.

European Business: Today, the emphasis in construction and building projects is on sustainability. How is AFRY addressing this issue?

Martin Kjaer: Sustainability is a key part of AFRY’s business strategy and a core tenet in our philosophy. We have adopted the UN Global Compacts principles and we have signed the 1.5 Business Playbook. Furthermore, we work with three perspectives of sustainability - Society, Ecology and Economy - in everything we do. In our activities in the construction business unit we apply these in a concrete manner by designing sustainable solutions. Technology has made quantum leaps forward in this area. We see our responsibility in incorporating these new technologies to contribute to the design of energy-efficient buildings that will help meet society’s sustainability goals.

European Business: Another important trend is digitalisation. How relevant is this to AFRY’s work?

Martin Kjaer: Digitalisation is our daily bread and butter. We have experts located around the world. Thanks to the possibilities afforded by digitalisation, there are strong synergies to be exploited through this international cooperation. We enjoy the best of both worlds as a local business that is part of a global company. What Corona has taught us above all else is that digital solutions will be more important than ever as we look to the future.

European Business: The company has just undergone a major transformation. What will the future bring?

Martin Kjaer: The future is still uncertain but we have to be brave and take our chances. We have to use the crisis to come out stronger, use technologies to cut costs and be more effective. We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest but we do want to be the best. That means being a good employer and attracting the best talent.