What stands out for you from last year?
Sigfússon: “The targeted efficiency drive undertaken in 2013 began to deliver results by the end of the year. This continued through 2014 and will go on into this year. We immediately focused on marketing issues and directed efforts into entering the Norwegian market, which was very successful last year. The project development efforts undertaken two years ago have also been delivering very good results.”
Rafnsson: “We have always been involved in considerable project development work, but it is a long-term process. We were in a good position project-wise at the time of the economic collapse and had enough projects in the pipeline until 2012. The lull in domestic investment has, however, lasted longer than expected and is actually still upon us. We therefore decided to invest ISK 500 million into project development in 2013 and face head-on the fact that the domestic market was not particularly strong.”
Sigfússon: “Part of this money was used to place Mannvit on the Norwegian and Hungarian markets. This strategy resulted in increased revenues of up to ISK 800 million last year. The decision at the time to undertake this work, with a slightly different mindset, has therefore proven to be spot on.”
How do you see operating conditions in Iceland today?
Rafnsson: “Iceland is such a small country that any real investment is done makes a difference. Fluctuations are therefore always to be expected. This is why we have focused on casting our net wider in foreign markets. The aim is to secure more projects and increase stability within the company. This has gone very well, and we will be spending the next three years working on energy and infrastructure projects in Norway.”
Sigfússon: “It is extremely important for us to try and maintain stability here in Iceland. Investment has been very limited since the crash and things have still not returned to normal. It is not easy for a company such as Mannvit to operate in these conditions, so we have begun to look more to other countries for new projects.”
Rafnsson: “Since 2009, investment in Iceland has been at around just 50–60% of the average levels for the last 65 years. The problem with this long-term decline is that it leads to a certain amount of ‘brain drain’. Talented people emigrate and valuable expertise is lost. This is, of course, dangerous for society as a whole. This is why is it so important for us to get back on our feet again here in Iceland and get investment back on track. We are making a real contribution in this regard.”
What do think of the prospects for the future?
Sigfússon: “The large amount of new projects which appear to be being launched at the same time in Iceland is a challenge, and the amount of talented craftsmen and industry workers we have lost is a source of concern. Considerable growth in the tourism industry is to be expected in the near future, and efforts will have to be diverted into road building and maintenance to deal with all these visitors. Last year, tourists drove 300 million kilometres around Iceland. This is a source of opportunity for a company like Mannvit.”
Rafnsson: “Yes, the tourism industry has seen very decent growth and has become a real pillar of the Icelandic economy. It is therefore very important to maintain tourism infrastructure, not least for safety considerations. In general, there are signs of increased investment and brighter days ahead. We have been involved in some of these projects from the start. Many are linked to the energy industry or industries that use our energy. This is where we foresee growth.”
Sigfússon: “There is also a certain change in attitudes afoot here in Iceland regarding project development. There is now greater demand for companies such as Mannvit to be involved in project development right from the initial idea stage through to launch. The hotel by Harpa is a good example of this. A group was put together which got banks on board in order to transform ideas into sellable goods.”
Rafnsson: “This development is new for us and has come about in the last few years. It is a very exciting and challenging time. It is no longer a question of being a technology company, designing and providing services – we also have to take initiatives and be involved in development. This makes everything more dynamic and our people catch more opportunities.”
Sigfússon: “These changes also explain why the contracting market has been shrinking. There is a greater demand for ready-made products. We are in a good position to assess projects early on in the process, and we are experienced in assessing profitability.”
Rafnsson: “We have also taken the decision to be at the forefront of these changes in our operating environment, to shape change rather than accepting it. It’s more fun at the front.”
How are things for Mannvit at your new headquarters in Kopavogur?
Rafnsson: “Very good. Ever since Mannvit was created, we have worked in various places around Reykjavik, four to five at any one time. It is very important for the unity of the company now to be under one roof. Everybody is now closer to each other, and the work culture within the company is more pleasant.”
Sigfússon: “Yes, all channels of communication are now shorter. We have a very strong staff union here, and the move has further contributed to that. We are particularly proud of the move itself, which was extremely successful. We began at 4pm on the Thursday, everything had arrived at the new offices by Saturday and all desks were ready with hooked-up computers by Monday.”
Rafnsson: “Beat that!”
How do you feel about how the company has developed?
Rafnsson: “It has been a very rewarding twelve years, and a lot has happened in that time. Three companies have merged into one and we have gone from operating just in Iceland to having subsidiaries in Iceland and five abroad, as well as operating in four other locations. Mannvit has become a steadily growing and dynamic company in diverse markets.”
Sigfússon: “Today, we operate sixteen offices in six countries, with Greenland set to become the seventh. This foreign approach continues to be the main driver for growth. We have broken into the Norwegian market and are further consolidating our position in the Arctic region. We are also looking to Europe with further thoughts of expansion. Growth abroad was very strong last year and will increase in 2015.”
Rafnsson: “And we are, of course, very grateful to our staff for their huge efforts to make last year’s turnaround so successful. It can only happen with good staff.”
“There is now greater demand for companies such as Mannvit to be involved in project development right from the initial idea stage through to launch.”