With myriad ideas to bring to the table upon taking the Normet CEO role in April 2016, Robin Lindahl knew from the outset the amount of time required to have the company (and its people) on board with his vision for the Finnish machine tunnelling giant.
This may sound standard for any CEO worth their salt, but consider how Normet has developed over the past decade. Robin’s predecessor Tom Melbye had left an indelible legacy. In just eight years, 2006–14, the company established a presence in 28 countries.
When a company grows from local to global in record time, naturally there must be a little more structure to the organisation. Robin found some of the tools and processes necessary for an expanding multinational weren’t properly in place.
That is why he spent most of his first year as CEO travelling around, listening to the people in the organisation before he began implementing any of the ideas he put forward.
“You first have to observe and listen to get a true assessment of where you’re at,” he says.
“Get an idea of how things are working, then see how you can apply some of your experience and implement the changes you want to see, that you believe would be beneficial for the company. In the end, it’s a lot about the people in the company.”
Global trends to support growth
Two global trends continue to support Normet’s growth potential, according to Robin.
First, rising urbanisation globally is driving both a continuous mining for metals and new opportunities in innovation like the Internet of Things, scanning and electric drive technologies.
Second, there is the rising demand for tunnels. “Whether it be metro tunnels, road tunnels, railway tunnels or underground space, the need for such infrastructure is going to rapidly increase in the future,” says Robin.
“More mining is going underground. There will be less open-pit mining, and we’ll have to dig deeper to reach the ore.”
Driving the company to success
Robin started his career in investment banking, working in the industry for five years. For the next 18 years he worked for Nokia, in a range of different roles from finance to operations, to sales.
“That gave me broad experience working in various areas in a fast-growing international industry, and in how to scale up a global business,” he reflects.
Following his time at Nokia, Robin spent five years heading the Metals, Energy and Water division for Finnish outfit Outotec.
That experience would be Robin’s first exposure to the mining equipment industry. He learned quickly about the finer details of mining and tunnelling.
“Of course, having a knowledge of civil construction and tunnelling is important to being able to drive and develop the company in the right direction,” he says.
“But there are also so many commonalities in how to lead a company and what the challenges are.”
“A lot of the role has to do with how you organise things, or how you orchestrate the winning team to drive opportunities. These are common features regardless of industry.”
Thankfully for Robin, the transition has been fairly smooth. While he expected some challenges upon taking up his post at Normet, he thinks the staff have embraced what he has brought to the table because there was already an expectation of change.
“When you enter the company as a newcomer, there will always be people who think that if you haven’t been in the industry for 20 years, you don’t know anything about it,” says Robin.
CEO doesn’t need to be an expert at everything
“However, the CEO doesn’t need to be an expert at everything.”
“They need to be able to form a team strong enough to drive initiatives, and then lead and coach them in the right direction while making sure they have the right resources to move the business forward.”
“The CEO doesn’t need to be an expert at everything. They need to be able to form a team strong enough to drive initiatives, and then lead and coach them in the right direction.”
Robin has weathered what could have easily been a volatile transition phase, to transform Normet into an organisation with a unique competitive edge.
Unlike many of its (mainly larger) industry peers, who are usually either in the chemicals business or in equipment but never both, Normet has the full-service offering for clients from beginning to end.
“We are in equipment. We are in ground control. We have construction chemicals."
"We have rock support, and then the whole service scope on top of that – so that gives us a unique position to be a process expert,” Robin says.
“Rather than just selling a piece of equipment, we can sell process improvement to our customers.”
“Rather than just selling a piece of equipment, we can sell the entire process.”
Improving tunnelling methods
On the innovation front, Normet consults with many of the leading mining companies on how to improve tunnelling methods.
The main issue concerns preventing wastage on sprayed concrete, a very expensive process if managed inefficiently.
“One of the cost elements is what is called ‘rebound’ – how much of the sprayed concrete actually sticks on the wall and how much falls to the ground.”
“That waste can be minimised with not just the right equipment, but also the right composite of chemicals,” he explains.
The management structure is set to take Normet to the next level. Looking ahead, Robin hopes it hasn’t come at the expense of the freedom and creativity the company had in abundance when it was still locally based.
“The structure is still quite lean. When you grow to a certain size, bureaucracy can easily creep in, or people can feel it’s there, because of the need to put certain processes and rules in place,” says Robin.
“But if companies can keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in such an environment, that’s something that can really motivate people.”
“For many companies, if they can keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive … that’s something that can really motivate people.”