vienna Mr. Haselsteiner, energy prices, inflation and material shortages are affecting the construction industry. How is Strabag going through the crisis?
The Strabag stands yourself in a comfortable position. We are very broadly positioned and critically sized. The order books are full. From our perspective, the current construction situation is also a normalization of the boom years of the industry.

Where do you see opportunities in the crisis?
As a construction company, we are prepared for crises: our great diversification works in our favor. In addition, there was already an investment portfolio before the crisis and still is. The need for new homes in the renovation of bridges and buildings is still immense. And it is known that investments in the construction sector are a good way to boost 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 if there are interesting opportunities. In the real estate market, for example, we notice that we are currently being offered land that was previously overpriced.

What segments are you looking for acquisitions?
We will pay special attention to the issue of the circular economy. Especially the landfill and recycling capabilities. In this area, the need and demand will increase in the coming years. Those who then have the necessary capabilities 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 startups 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 we generate? When it comes to these issues, the construction industry has to take a quantum technological leap. It helps when start-ups, which may act differently from large corporations, challenge the industry with fresh ideas.

What strategy are you following?
We want to add value to start-ups, that is, not just be financial investors. We want to continue developing the product to bring it to the market. In this context, we are still looking for interesting investments or cooperation 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 agreeable across the board.

How do you make an industry like construction adapt to the digitization?
The problem with the digitization are above all the lack of technical standards. The industry is fundamentally decentralized, and we also see regionality as our success principle at Strabag. The local manager in Northern Germany knows best which tools and processes he uses to serve which customers. There are a wide variety of tools that we use. But without a standard, we can never get the data under control 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 friends with the fact that if you have very high standards, it’s okay if you don’t meet them. The motto is: challenge, but also encourage.

>> Read here: The robot manufacturer Kuka wants to revolutionize the construction industry

You also need new talents. Can a construction company offer “New Construction”?
The pandemic has also caused a rapid development in home office and video conferencing for us. We will not return to a pre-pandemic state. At the same time, we are currently in the middle of the war for talent, and we must also consider what the younger generations want from their workplace: these are more flexible working hours and a more flexible workplace. We have just opened a new innovation campus for our digitization unit in Stuttgart. There are 120 workstations there in a shared open space concept that has been very well received.

What else are you doing to recruit young talent?
First of all, we have strong cooperation with colleges and universities, both in Germany as well as in Austria. And we invest in our own training, especially in apprenticeships, most recently ten million euros in Austria. It will not work without investing in the youth.

Apprentices in Strabag

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

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

What 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 technological leadership in the industry. Issues of recycling management and building on existing stock will also be in the spotlight. One of our greatest strengths is also international regionality. We are active worldwide with our main projects, but we always have a local value chain with local staff. We want to expand this regional business.

>> Read here: You must know these seven real estate trends in 2023

What country footprint should Strabag have in the future?
We are a European construction group with a lot of potential at home. Our strong point is technical knowledge 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 US are also interesting; we are also active in Chile and Colombia. I also believe that we urgently need a strategy for Africa 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 the big Chinese construction companies are subsidized by the state, but we are not. One must not exhaust oneself in this unfair fight.

For ten years, Strabag was run by an outside manager. What are the reasons why she now assumes the position of family manager again?
First of all, my predecessor, Thomas Birtel, did a really good job. And I can continue to lead a company well positioned for the future. For us as a family, the stake in Strabag is an important position that we want to continue to develop in the long term with clear prospects. Of course, a family board makes sense if they have the right qualifications and are willing to take responsibility.

What advantages does this bring to the group?
Although we are an international group, we have remained a family business in many ways. 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 motivates them to achieve peak performance: the feeling that you are part of a team, a family, and are not perceived as interchangeable.

How many family businesses are there in Strabag right now?
The size of the company should not be underestimated. In a company with such a large management structure, this can sometimes get 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 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’s the reason he’s not investing in Strabag, then he doesn’t seem to be interested in a truly sustainable investment. We are under construction. The substance is what counts.

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

More: These five companies are the acquisition champions of the construction industry.

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