Adaptation, innovation and risk-taking are keys to success

By Chris Graeme [email protected]

The economic crisis can provide advantages for companies that are innovative, flexible and prepared to take risks by branching out into new areas.

This was the upbeat message from engineer Carlos Martins, President of the Board of Directors of metallic structures and renewable energy company Martifer on Monday.

Addressing businessmen in Porto at a lunch organised by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce (BPCC), the entrepreneur said that innovative companies with good ideas, mission, drive and strategy would survive the economic downturn.   

Carlos Martins, who started Martifer with his economist brother Jorge Martins in 1990 when he was 26, warned that the economic and financial crisis could end up being more prolonged than had been imagined and admitted that “this year was worse than last year for us in Portugal”.

The Martifer director also said that credit would continue to be scarce and more expensive and that supply would outstrip demand in everything, but said that it was an opportune time for companies to “abandon less interesting areas” and “slim down” to be fitter to face future opportunities. 

He warned that high unemployment was set to continue in Portugal and all developed countries, which was why investment in education and training was vital for Portugal.

Carlos Martins has put the company’s success with investors down to “having a successful story to tell” and credibility as well as adopting strategies in new markets and sectors such as renewable and bio fuel energy production.

Today, Martifer, based in Oliveira de Frades, is the national and Iberian leader in the metal-mechanics construction industry and the fifth most important company in the sector in Europe operating in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and Greece, with considerable experience in the construction of buildings, factories, stadiums, bridges, towers and airports.

However, he admitted that the first four years between 1990 and 1994 had been difficult with low results. But by 2008, the company employed 3,000 staff and was turning over 500 million euros and operating in 18 countries.

Initially, the business focused on large engineering projects and was particularly active during the construction of the Expo 98 site, producing 30 per cent of all metalwork used in constructions such as the Gare Oriente Station and the new Lisbon trade fair buildings FIL.

It was also heavily involved in the construction of metallic components for Portugal’s new football stadiums built for the 2004 UEFA Euro Championships.

“After 2004, we knew there were fewer large (construction) projects in Portugal and that we needed to prepare for the future with other projects other than metallic structures,” he said, which was why Martifer entered the renewable energy business taking the know-how it had developed from its metal construction operation to develop its energy equipment division through the creation of sub-holdings.  

The company’s renewable energy projects have been developed through Martifer Energy Systems and Martifer Renewables, both important players in the supply of equipment for energy production from alternative and renewable sources in several countries, as well as being an integrated supplier of turnkey projects for the wind and solar segments.

For example, Martifer Solar produces solar plants in Belgium providing power to 2,200 homes and reducing CO2 emissions by 2,500 tonnes.      

Biofuels is another area that the company has been engaged in since 2007 investing 20 million euros on a biodiesel plant in Aveiro producing 100,000 tonnes of biodiesel from rape seed, castor, Brazilian palm, soya and sunflower oil sources and generating a 70 million euro turnover

The company has extended this idea to Northern Romania where it also has a bio diesel plant. 

In its original core metalwork business area, the company is currently involved in a project to build a stadium in Gdansk, Poland, for the 2012 Euro Championships hosted by Poland and the Ukraine, where it is providing 6,440 tonnes of metallic structures in a 10.4 million euro project.