Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist
President and Chief Executive Officer

SSAB AB

Martin Lindqvist is the President and CEO of SSAB AB. He is a Member of Group Executive Committee since 2001. He is with SSAB since 1998, positions include Head of SSAB EMEA, Head of SSAB Strip Products, CFO SSAB AB and SSAB Tunnplåt. Positions prior to SSAB include Chief Controller at NCC.

He holds a B. Sc. in Economics, Uppsala University.

 

Quotes

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

In Asia, we do have significantly higher levels of utilised capacity then elsewhere. But capacity levels in Europe have not recovered. I do think it will take some time for things in Europe to improve. Having said that, I also believe that there remains in most markets a fundamental need for our products. This need is driven by the desire to promote productivity, reduce emissions, and increase load capacities.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

It goes without saying that if we want some form of production to remain in Europe, then European companies must not be unduly constrained.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

Investment in infrastructure - particularly railways - is important to us.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

The forces driving the demand for our types of steel are increasing. So I believe the timing of our investments is quite apt. We are very happy that we have had the ability to press on despite all the turbulence.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

For reasons of flexibility, we have recently contracted out more work than what we have historically done.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

When we made cutbacks in 2008 and 2009, we made sure to seize the opportunity to get our age pyramid in order.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

Longer-term, the bigger problem we face will be to encourage more young people to follow a technological course of study and education.

Martin Lindqvist

Martin Lindqvist

President and Chief Executive Officer, SSAB AB

We do not have any difficulties now. But if you look at the demographics and do the math, you will see that recruiting will eventually become difficult.

 

Read interview transcript

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How do you expect the global economy to perform during 2012?

From SSAB’s perspective, I see continued high levels of demand in Asia and China. And I am not particularly worried about North America or Latin America. In fact, Latin America should demonstrate the same levels of demand as Asia. There are also markets in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is considerable demand for our products. But Europe is more of a question mark. If you look at our industry through the lens of utilised capacity, we are nowhere near the demand levels the industry enjoyed during 2007-2008. In Asia, we do have significantly higher levels of utilised capacity then elsewhere. But capacity levels in Europe have not recovered. I do think it will take some time for things in Europe to improve. Having said that, I also believe that there remains in most markets a fundamental need for our products. This need is driven by the desire to promote productivity, reduce emissions, and increase load capacities.

On what factors do you base your optimism regarding the North American market?

I can only speak from the perspective of SSAB. My optimism is based partly on the fact that we operate in the right sectors. Energy, mining, and heavy transport are important to us. And in North America, I see that the energy sector will continue to be very important. I also see that the mining industry will continue to be important. And I’m aware that North America is lagging Europe with regard to transport design. So, I see good potential demand for both our niche products and our standard products - all of which are of very high quality. Additionally, we have established long-term customer relationships in North America.

What might governments do to help the global economy recover?

If we look at that issue in a general way, I think it’s important to support Europe’s competitiveness regardless of which particular political decisions are made. It goes without saying that if we want some form of production to remain in Europe, then European companies must not be unduly constrained. Take for example the decision by the International Maritime Organization to introduce new sulphur limits for shipping in the Baltic Sea. That decision will subject industry in the Baltic Sea region to requirements that are one hundred times stricter than in other parts of the world. European policies with regard to emissions trading may also have negative consequences on the competitiveness of European industry. Without judging the final merits of any of these political decisions, I simply stress the need to bear in mind how they could affect European competiveness. I think it’s important that we ask that question.

How might some of the decisions you’ve cited affect SSAB?

Most immediately, they will increase our costs. Consider the decision regarding sulphur limits for shipping in the Baltic Sea. That will cost the Swedish export industry an extra 30 billion Krona a year in increased expenditures. Given that, SSAB might decide to abandon shipping by sea and use trucks or railways. But of course, trucks are not in the slightest better for the environment. Rather the opposite, I think. Railways might be better for the environment, but we haven’t developed the necessary infrastructure in Sweden to make shipping by rail feasible. So, whichever way you look at it, the IMO decision means rising costs for companies that have operations around the Baltic Sea - and that hurts our competitiveness. With regard to the emissions issue, we of course understand the importance of reducing emissions and we are investing a great deal both as a company and as an industry in emission-reduction technologies. We have, for example, a large plant in Luleå with the most carbon-dioxide-efficient blast furnace in Europe. Political pressure that might force us to limit the operation of that furnace - or close that plant entirely and acquire a less efficient plant elsewhere in the world - isn’t especially smart for the environment. If there were a global system in place with regard to emissions that would be a different matter. Then one wouldn’t be creating these selective distortions in terms of competiveness. That’s why we get involved in these issues on a governmental level. We meet Members of Parliament and government representatives and attempt to articulate all the possible implications of a particular political proposal. But all I can do is to describe our daily reality and explain how things affect us. And then the politicians have to decide if they think it is relevant or not.

If you could make one request of the Swedish Government, what would it be?

There are a number of issues, but investment in infrastructure - particularly railways - is important to us. Taking a longer-term perspective, the question of energy costs is also very important to us.

Has your strategy during the past year been affected by all the turbulence in the world?

I would say that our strategy has only been affected slightly. We have continued with our big investment programs and they have recently been completed or are being driven toward completion. If I had a pessimistic outlook on the future, I might doubt the timing of these investments. But I am not pessimistic. The forces driving the demand for our types of steel are increasing. So I believe the timing of our investments is quite apt. We are very happy that we have had the ability to press on despite all the turbulence.

With regard to personnel, have you reduced staff?

We reduced staff between 2008 and 2009, but have since maintained a steady workforce level. For reasons of flexibility, we have recently contracted out more work than what we have historically done. But at present, we have no plans for any workforce reductions. Personnel costs are a large, important item. But at the same time - because of the way we operate - we are extremely dependant on qualified people. So in terms of personnel costs, we have to think long term and not just try to adjust to cyclical fluctuations. Nevertheless, there is always pressure on us to become more efficient - but it has always been that way. We make investments for this and typically achieve a productivity increase of a few percent every year.

What other cost parameters concern you?

Our biggest cost parameter is raw material. But in what direction the cost of raw material is headed over the long-term, I haven’t a clue. We like to think that our competitiveness is created at the other end of the value chain in working with customers and producing and selling the products they need. Over time, if we match the indices or market prices with regards to commodities, that is enough for us. We have no intention of investing in mines or anything like that.

The Western world is entering a time when older workers are retiring and must be replaced by young talent. How are you handling this?

When we made cutbacks in 2008 and 2009, we made sure to seize the opportunity to get our age pyramid in order. We got a lot of people to take early retirement and managed to reduce the mean age of our workforce. Longer-term, the bigger problem we face will be to encourage more young people to follow a technological course of study and education. We try to be very active in this area. For example, along with a number of other companies, we take part in an initiative that offers internships in cooperation with Industrivärden och Nordstjärnan. We also work closely with Jernkontoret [The Swedish Steel Producers´ Association] to encourage young people to follow a technological education and offer scholarships to the most deserving among them. But admittedly, we have not done a good enough job in describing the professional opportunities that our industry offers. Our industry is not just about production - there are also many exciting marketing, sales, and R&D opportunities, many of which afford the chance to work internationally.

Have you already started noticing that it is difficult to recruit?

Today we do not have difficulties recruiting. On the contrary - SSAB has become more known internationally as a result of our acquisition in the US. So we do not have any difficulties now. But if you look at the demographics and do the math, you will see that recruiting will eventually become difficult. It is a long-term issue for us and the industry as a whole.