18 Mar Renovating a sector with disruptive concepts
João Mário Pimentel de Andrade, CEO, Grupo FUTURE, believes that it is time to bring fundamental changes in the civil engineering industry
How would you sum up the key ingredients that Portugal boasts to make is such a competitive destination for real estate and engineering groups, such as Grupo FUTURE?
The real estate market in Portugal has huge potential. Although in the past and recent years we have been registering a lot of investments, foreign and national, on the sector, I think that our potential is much bigger. Portugal has a lot of advantages to come here. Our local market is small, just like our population. We have a very strategic position in Europe and our conditions are perfect for many people around the world. Our health system is robust and our climate is one of the best in Europe. To live in Portugal is cheap, compared to some of the other European countries. We are a safe country, the second or the third safest country in the world. We are friendly and foreigners do not feel alienated in any way when they visit our country. We have a lot of key advantages that have not yet been completely exploited. We are not offering the best that Portugal can offer. Over the past 4 years, a lot of international funds and real estate companies are coming to Portugal making huge investments. However, we still need to improve what we offer. We still need to have a national strategy that looks to our advantages and promotes them properly, allowing us to prepare real estate products that will fulfil the requirements of the people we are trying to attract in our country, instead of just building that we are just building aimed to be used by ourselves. The requirements from people around the world vary. We still have to prepare specific products for all those sources of people that want to live here. I think that Portugal is the perfect chance for multinational companies to set their R&D departments. In terms of IT, we are perceived as one of the best countries in the world. We have the perfect environment for people to work and live.
Grupo FUTURE brings a lot of international experience and you are a reference in the industry. Can you share how you tackle these issues you described? Are you implementing a specific strategy to cater for different markets? Could you introduce the company and describe some of its main areas of competence?
Grupo FUTURE always tries to teach the market. We are a normal engineering consultant company, waiting for our clients to ask us about their projects. First, we try to bring in international investors to Portugal. Second, we try to provide them with a vision, explaining to them why they should come and invest in Portugal. We try to bring investors and then persuade them to build products dedicated to certain types of people. We are proactive in terms of our business approach, with some quite disruptive concepts. Recently we got a big contract that represented a huge investment in real estate, which is going to be one of the most luxurious resorts in the world, here in Portugal. We integrate digital solutions and we care a lot about sustainability. These are two of the three main strategic pillars of our project. We are integrating sustainability and digital solutions, like IT, into classical engineering.
On a broader spectrum, we think that all infrastructure should have artificial intelligence incorporated in order to be sustainable. With all the technology that we have available, it does not make sense for a building to not be completely managed by IT platforms. We do not want to reduce the amount of people working, but we wish to make it more effective. We can be more effective in terms of electricity, saving our energy through our buildings, we can manage water resources more efficiently and we can have less of an impact on nature, by providing better solutions for our buildings and infrastructure projects. This is possible nowadays, using IT solutions, which are purposed to serve solutions. Because of this pillar, the integration of IT solutions on our classical engineering, we can make smart infrastructure. Everything can have AI incorporated and operate in a much more efficient way that they are doing now.
How do you think people are adapting to this radical shift of paradigms?
The market is receiving this very well, as we show to our clients that they can save significant amounts of money. They believe in our concept, either as private clients or even governments from some countries. We do not need to spend money in concrete or asphalt, we have the technology to provide digital solutions of higher caliber and efficiency. We have incorporated IT engineers in every meeting for our projects. To deserve the credibility of the market, we acquired one of the biggest technology companies here in Portugal, counting 49 years of existence. The market looks at this game-changing concept with more trust, as we have the biggest engineering consulting group with one of the biggest IT companies in Portugal. Essentially, we look like a start-up, but, with more than 50 years of existence. This company is part of our group now and we are transforming the engineering sector. This sector, the construction sector, compared to other sectors, is extremely underdeveloped. All the companies are still doing engineering the same way they were doing it 30 years ago. It is a very conservative sector. There is a huge risk for us, the players of the sector, as, if one global company discovers how underdeveloped this sector is, this would be a goldmine for them.
In my opinion, by the end of this decade we will not have engineering companies like we have now. So, we either control our evolution ourselves, as pioneers, or we let this untapped potential to be claimed by other companies. I am always afraid when companies from other sectors come and overtake a transformation of another sector. You always lose value when this happens. You evolve, but there are also things that you lose. If an engineering consultant group like ours steps forward towards this transformation, we will evolve and keep all the good things. We are creating now a platform that will change the supervision of construction. Nowadays this area is ridiculously old-fashioned, as, now, investors get reports by the supervisors on what progress was made over the past month. We are creating a platform, starting in February as two pilot projects in Portugal and Brazil, where our clients will know what is happening.
That platform will have AI incorporated. We can have a lot of information for the clients, as all players in one construction will be connected in one platform, communicating through it automatically. This will allow us to provide a much better service to our clients. They will be able to see what is happening at any given moment, from their phone. We have supervised construction all over the world and in various types of projects, including hospitals, that require more than two years to be built. This means that we will be sending our experts away for two years controlling only one project. With this platform, our experts could be controlling multiple sites at the same time. This way we will be more competitive, the client will be much better served, as experts on site are costly and are not even that needed.
This pandemic has made us realize that we are able to work properly through without physical presence being necessary. COVID-19 has brought us a few good things as well, allowing us to evolve much faster, in that regard. Professionally speaking, 2020 was a great year for Grupo FUTURE, not only in terms of business, but also in terms of our organization as a whole. In March, we sent home almost 700 people and we started working remotely. We had to add some mechanisms to follow and support people that were working from home to accompany them so that we do not lose productivity. We control our contracts much better. We have increased our productivity and our staff is happy. They do not want to revert to the old system. Our new reality, as a group, with or without a pandemic around, will be completely different. Our staff will have to be physically present in our offices once or twice per week, as we still need to keep some bonds. We are changing our offices to be places where people can meet and discuss. This is what we consider as our ‘new normalcy’. We are changing our facilities in Portugal, Brazil and all of our offices.
You are currently present in five continents and you have closed 2020 with growth. What are your company’s expectations for growth this year? Could you share with us any insights regarding your company’s internationalization strategy?
In 2020 we increased a lot in two out of the three main markets we are involved in, Brazil and Portugal. In both cases we increased our turnover by 20 percent compared to 2019. Our goal is to keep growing. In 2021, some of our special offers are going to hit the market. We believe that 2021 will be even better than 2020. The targets for all of our operation companies are very high, as some of them are going to grow by 30 percent. We know that once we introduce in the market some services that none can provide to our clients, we will be pioneers and we will increase our business.
However, we do not know what this second phase of the pandemic entails for our sector. We do not know what the impact of this will be for the global economy. If we can have the same conditions, we had last year, we will continue growing. When it comes to internationalization, we expect to open this year a branch in Mexico and also in Sweden. Mexico is a country that we think that our ‘beyond engineering’ concept will resonate with the investing public. There is need for critical infrastructure still and we can bring investors to Mexico, after the invitation we received by the Embassy of Mexico to open a branch there. In Sweden, we want to have a connection with a country that deals well with sustainability. We want to learn with them, while we also believe that our engineering services could be very competitive in Sweden. We want to use the line of credit for Africa and Latin America. They finance a lot of infrastructure projects in both continents, but the Swedish companies do not go in those countries.
We want FUTURE to be used as a vehicle to follow those financial streams towards the local governments. We want to gain access to those markets. The African market is a big advantage for us, as we have great experience in the region and we have a good understanding of the culture. We can make the bridge between countries and companies that face issues with dealing with contracts, as they do not understand the local rules and the culture. As Portuguese, we try to understand everyone so we are good in managing different interests.