Evolution is a necessary ingredient for success, regardless of industry. Staying relevant and satisfying the needs of an ever-changing market are among the greatest and high-risk challenges faced by any company.
When that market is afflicted by the uncertainties of a global pandemic, the successful navigation of those challenges becomes an all new level critical to the survival of the business. Add to that an acquisition, a Nasdaq delisting and a change of CEO, and it’s fair to say leading European rental service provider Cramo has had quite a year.
“The past months have been marked by rapid change,” says CEO Martin Holmgren, who stepped into the role in April. “Change in ownership, change in organisational structure and leadership, and drastic change in the environment in which we operate on account of COVID-19.”
Despite this environmental disruption, Cramo has stayed the course – signing new contracts and bringing in new business, largely due to strong, established relationships with its customers. “We deliver on our promises,” Martin shares.
“I’m sure that our culture of working together, focusing on our priorities and putting our customers first will result in the realisation of our ambitions for this year. That will certainly continue to be my priority.”
A recipe for success
The Finnish company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1953, when it started renting construction machinery and equipment in a country shattered by war and desperate to rebuild.
Success carried Cramo beyond Finland’s borders and across Europe, where it became one of the leading rental equipment providers in the construction industry. By 2018, it was operating in 14 countries and performing particularly well in the Nordic states and Eastern Europe.
The company’s rapid expansion was fuelled by its supportive and encouraging culture, which Martin says is emphasised by its “people promise”. “We believe our employees are the main source of our future success and continuous growth. People can be clear about what they can expect from their journey as employees at Cramo.”
A longtime veteran of the business himself, Martin knows the process well – he served a 17-year stint as Senior Vice President of Group Fleet Management before he was elevated to CEO. “Collaboration, sharing knowledge, supporting and helping each other, as well as being open-minded and innovative, are traits we value and encourage,” he explains.
Cramo Development is the framework for employees to grow and evolve throughout their time with the company. It serves to define the behaviour and professional know-how expected of them at various levels.
“These expectations are based on Cramo’s common values and overall strategy,” Martin says. “The framework ensures our employees can grow on personal and professional levels in a clear, inspiring manner. It’s our way of nurturing success.”
A new market leader
It’s a winning formula: the resultant success has attracted the right kind of attention. In late 2019, Dutch rental giant Boels announced its intention to acquire 100% of Cramo shares in a €615 million deal.
This was predicated on two strong years for Cramo in 2017 and 2018, when the retail rental market shifted from basic equipment rental to complete site solutions.
Then-CEO Leif Gustafsson told KHL in 2019, “We believe that in the future we will need to offer more services to create more value. And creating value, of course, means creating full service solutions around our products.”
The purchase made the new Boels-Cramo Group the second largest equipment rental company in Europe, with more than 750 depots across 17 countries. Boels’ Western and Central European-centric network combined with Cramo’s Nordic business stronghold to form a pan-European equipment rental business without precedent.
The boels-cramo combination is a strong one … we learn from one another in all areas of our business.
“Our companies are a good fit, both strategically and culturally,” Boels CEO Pierre Boels said at the time. “We both hold our employees in high regard, and we share the same strategy focusing on building scale locally to secure leading positions in the countries in which we operate.”
Once the Boels deal went through in early 2020, the process of delisting Cramo from Nasdaq Helsinki began and the disruption that surrounds an acquisition started to subside. With the buyout as his catalyst, Leif resigned as President and CEO.
“Now that Cramo is starting its next chapter as a part of the Boels organisation, the announced change of ownership feels like a natural moment for me to leave the company.” The departure cleared the way for Martin to take the reins of a company far bigger than the one he joined in 2003.
“The Boels-Cramo combination is a strong one,” he says. “A bigger geographical footprint, an optimised portfolio of products and services, and improved rental expertise – it truly is the best of both worlds.”
As a single entity, Boels-Cramo is well positioned for greater growth, increased profitability and the financial strength to better manage market challenges and weather economic volatility. “The inherent advantage of any merger is that you can utilise the strength of each respective company,” Martin reveals. “In our case, we learn from one another in all areas of our business.”
Navigating a pandemic
Powered by this sense of partnership, buoyed by normalcy and with a new leader at the helm, the Boels-Cramo Group attempted to get back to business. In March 2020, those plans – along with just about everyone else’s around the world – changed. “The effects of the pandemic can be felt in just about every industry, and ours is no exception,” Martin says.
As the COVID-19 pandemic’s stranglehold on the business world took hold, companies everywhere radically reshaped their outlook. “We took immediate action to gain an understanding of – and control over – the individual situations and regulations in every country in which Cramo has a presence,” he explains.
“We revised our routines and enacted local contingency plans focused on risk assessment and management to adapt to the new situation. Thanks to this, our productivity and engagement remain high in the Northern European region.”
The swift undertaking may have mitigated the brunt of COVID-19’s economic devastation for the company, but around the world, the financial toll of lockdowns was devastating; cutbacks and closures threw the global workforce into a troubled future.
Slashed budgets meant a rethink of investment decisions and a reduction in purchases of big-ticket items. Suddenly, renting equipment made more financial sense than ever before – and Boels-Cramo was waiting in the wings.
We have the ambition to take our company and our industry to the next level.
“When our customers are in need, we deliver,” Martin says. “For instance, three years ago we divested our Latvian operations to an investment firm, but now we’ve gradually eased back into that market.”
In September 2020, Cramo reopened its Riga depot with a plan to have a full-scale depot in place in the city by the end of the year – a response to Latvia’s blooming rental market.
To restart operations amid a global pandemic may seem like an impossible task, but Martin says the decision was simple: “Our customers asked for it!” Another way Cramo tackled the unprecedented coronavirus challenge was to invest in its most prized possession: its people.
“One clear consequence of the pandemic has been that our focus on every individual in the company has increased,” Martin adds.
“We have consistently enforced policies protecting workers and encouraged a culture that promotes the right behaviour, such as working remotely whenever and wherever possible. We provide frequent communication to ensure everyone knows what’s happening within the company, and why.”
This policy paid off in October 2020, when its subsidiary Cramo UAB received the Organisation of the Future 2020 Award for having the most engaged employees in Lithuania.
Of the 40 Lithuanian companies surveyed for the award, Cramo came out on top in areas such as employee trust, selfimprovement opportunities and cooperation for a common goal.
Transparency is another strong currency within Boels-Cramo, particularly when it comes to its partners and suppliers. “Being a large purchaser of machines comes with a responsibility not only towards our customers, but also our suppliers,” Martin says.
“We’re constantly working with our preferred suppliers to improve product functionality and safety, and to do this, we have a transparent dialogue with them regarding our needs.”
To achieve this, the Cramo Group put in place a Code of Conduct that encourages high ethical standards among its partners across areas such as compliance with laws and policies, labour standards and working conditions, environmental protection and product safety.
Safety is a major consideration when working with the kind of heavy equipment Cramo specialises in. To that end, it has prioritised systematic and precautionary safety measures throughout the company.
“Safety is paramount for us at Cramo,” Martin insists. “When you’ve had this many years in the equipment rental industry, you build up a certain competence, and we have a responsibility to share that with our customers and colleagues. Of this, I’m particularly proud.”
Meanwhile, Cramo has worked with the European Rental Association’s Sustainability Committee to develop an industry-standard supplier assessment for rental companies. “We wanted to provide an effective approach to supplier assessments that will benefit rental companies and their suppliers,” Martin says. “I’m happy to say this idea has now become a reality.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic showcased the company’s affinity for fast and effective adaptation, the environmental challenges facing the world are testing the ability of corporations to play a longer game. Martin says environmental considerations are always front of mind for Cramo.
“Sustainability is embedded in our strategy, and we’ve assured our industry position as a frontrunner when it comes to this,” he points out. “We actively work with our customers and suppliers to further decrease the environmental and social footprints of rental equipment, and will continue to do so into the future. Our business ethics demand we mitigate our environmental impact and take an active role in the communities in which we operate, and so we do.”
Cramo’s tireless flexibility also extends to its digital business. Even before the advent of coronavirus, it was working to boost digitalisation not just within the company, but the entire industry too. Intensive customer journey studies provided engineers with the necessary data to develop the right solutions.
“We’ve worked hard to ensure our digital interfaces serve our customers with clear value-adds in productivity, sustainability and safety,” Martin says.
“We already have full business capabilities through our ecommerce platform and the Cramo app, and other digital solutions are in development.” The company’s flagship digital tool, the Cramo app, allows customers to rent, manage and return all their equipment rentals from their device, as well as providing total transparency when it comes to rental data and invoices.
“We want our customers to have easy management of their rental fleet and associated costs, and this is how we achieve that,” Martin says. “We’re constantly adding more services to our digital platforms to simplify the whole rental process and make it easier for our customers to plan, rent and manage their equipment. At a time like this, it’s never been more necessary.”
For many other first-time CEOs, stewarding a newly merged company through a worldwide economic downturn and into an uncertain future would be a daunting task. For Martin, 2020 has been a proving ground. “We are on a journey of growth,” he suggests, undaunted.
“We have the ambition to take our company and our industry to the next level, and through our strategy we have focused on new ways to exceed our customers’ expectations.” It’s far from a one-man effort too – Martin stresses Boels-Cramo’s evolving success is a testament to teamwork.
“Throughout the process, we’ve had people from both Boels and Cramo working together. It is a product of collaboration. As I see it, we have a common responsibility for our success. It’s something everyone can influence.”
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