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Building to billions: Anton Karner

Anton Karner

Habau Group’s retiring COO Anton Karner is a hard act to follow. The executive has played a key role in increasing the company’s turnover six-fold, going from around €200 million when he first joined in 1999 to a staggering €1.2 billion today. “We have achieved six times the revenue in 18 years. This wasn’t only done by growing the Habau Group itself,” explains Anton.

“Most of this growth was achieved by connecting other companies to the Habau Group.” When Anton joined the family-owned business 31 years ago, he initially worked in bridge construction, site-managing the bridge projects for a new highway in upper Austria while also working on industrial projects in eastern and western Germany. “It was a very tough business working in both areas at that time,” he says.

Anton Karner has a clear vision for the future

While he has plans to retire in 2019, Anton’s eye does, however, remain firmly on developing the company’s success. He is clear about his vision for the company going forward: “To protect our market position in Austria, as well as other countries, and we also want to grow and expand in neighbouring countries, mainly Germany,” he explains. 

Habau Group is a conglomerate made up of a number of companies. In fact, more than 23 businesses are organised under the umbrella of the Group. “The specialty of the organisation is that these companies have their own board and they are working under their own name and their own brand. Everything is then organised under the Habau Group, under strict controls, but with people still working autonomously in their own companies,” says Anton.

We want to grow and expand in neighbouring countries, mainly Germany.

The Group works on a wide range of civil engineering projects but always with an eye forward considering potential expansion. In 2016, the Habau family welcomed MCE to its stable, its main business being in steelworking and steel bridges. “This is a business we didn’t have in the Habau Group until last year and which has become part of our strategy for the future. We will add companies and other businesses to build up the portfolio of the Group,” explains Anton.

Habau Group: a culture based on trustworthiness & collaboration

He says employees across the Group are being kept up to date on the various developments taking place to ensure an atmosphere of complete transparency and openness. “It is essential for the whole company that the employees know exactly what is going on. The staff at Habau don’t just deliver an average performance; they are always delivering a high performance. Everyone is very proud to be part of the Habau team and there is a great sense of loyalty among employees,” he enthuses.

Anton believes this loyalty extends to the companies and staff across the whole Group as they embrace the Habau culture. It forms a common bond regardless of individual company approaches to doing business in their specific fields. “The main thing is that they work with the culture, this family culture. What we are used to doing at the Habau Group is also transferred to these companies.

“Our clients know that Habau is a family company and they are used to working on that basis. It’s based on trustworthiness and partnerships. Our clients know that we are focused on collaboration and on working towards solutions,” states Anton.

Partnerships with like-minded companies

He says the business has always sought out like-minded companies with the promise that Habau delivers the best quality. If a partner company or client does not work that way, they are found not to be a good fit for the Group.

Habau Group was founded in 1913 making it more than 100 years old.

“We know we are on the right track because we often receive orders, despite not offering the cheapest price. We are given the order over other cheaper bids from competitors,” adds Anton. This operational excellence is key to the success of the Habau Group, and striving for this result is part of the team spirit, encompassing not just employees but also clients and suppliers.

Current Habau projects include the public–private partnership (PPP) for construction of a major German highway. There are also plans to extend further afield into Eastern Europe, starting in Romania, and then also to Bulgaria and into Scandinavia.

Plans for future expansion & growth

Founded in 1913, Habau has been building the business for more than 100 years and is still looking to new opportunities while preparing to face the challenges of a more technologically advanced era. One of these challenges is the increasing focus on digitisation. Anton says the company has already digitised many processes over the past two decades but wants to streamline these further.

“We must further digitise, but we already have a lot of individual digital features, and the main work to be done now is to ensure they work together and are interconnected,” explains Anton.

This is just one of the areas Anton will be passing on to his successor over the next two years. “The new technical director is not from the company. He was at another company and he is not familiar with our organisation, so it is my job to ensure he understands the Habau Group and the processes and the culture.”

“He has to learn about all of the different companies, the individual cultures that they have, and also the different boards. He has to connect with them and learn about the boards from our daughter companies. The new technical director was also previously at a listed company, which is very different to our family company,” adds Anton. 

This lengthy handover process should be a basic one for the successor and their ideas to develop Habau Group further. On the other hand, it’s just another way that the Group ensures consistency and standards as it moves toward a future filled with plans for expansion and growth.  

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