When asked what he believes is the best decision he has made so far in his career, Niklas Ruud, Head of the North-East Asia Industrial Equipment division at Konecranes, says it was staying in the crane manufacturer’s core market in China and growing the company’s presence in the region – and in turn his career.
Niklas has 15 years of experience in the automotive, construction and material handling sectors. When the opportunity came for him to join Konecranes in Shanghai, he seized it with open arms. “I knew that even though Konecranes was a global company, it really puts the individual in focus,” he says. “Konecranes gives you a good chance to grow through different types of mentorships available and its job rotation system.”
One of the company’s core values, says Niklas, is trusting its people. And as a result of this corporate culture, he says its employees tend to stay for many years. Niklas, who has been with Konecranes for five years, says he is one of the very few who have been with the company for that short a period. “Most of the staff have been here for 10 years or more.”
Konecranes develops a wide range of lifting solutions for the automotive, power, aviation and port industries. Although it’s based in Finland, the crane company has 600 locations around the world, from America to Europe to Asia–Pacific.
Niklas has been living in China for almost 10 years, and highlights that being part of a global business has its benefits.
Prior to his position in the Industrial Equipment division at Konecranes, he served as General Manager of the company’s lift trucks. Before that, he was General Manager at a Fortune 500 construction company, CRH Inner Mongolia.
Reflecting on what it’s like being part of a global brand, Niklas says, “I like the fact that we get to create new technology within our global brands and markets. We have a total service commitment because we’re a very customer-oriented company.
Before, it was more product-oriented but in today’s world you have to understand that being customer-oriented is more important. You need to understand what the customer needs and wants 24/7. And I think we have everything here at Konecranes – the products, the service, the global support network – which is great.”
The past few years have been significant for the company in China, particularly following its acquisition of US-based crane maker, Terex . Under the deal – which was sealed at US$1.3 billion – Terex became a 25% shareholder in Konecranes. Niklas explains that Terex had a wide portfolio of cranes, which included two leading crane brands, Gottwald and Demag, and these have further strengthened Konecranes’ business.
Following the acquisition, Niklas says his greatest challenge was combining the two companies in the industrial equipment division. “We had to integrate the people, select the distribution channels, and develop the products and services into one strong unit because we had double of everything,” he explains.
“We had to decide which products to use, how our services adapted to them, and how to best support the different customers who selected different products.” This integration further extended to the firm’s manufacturing facilities, which had to streamline all the products it produced on account of the acquisition.
Despite the challenge, Niklas found it a good experience, as he was able to navigate both companies to success. “Being part of this major integration, I’ve learned so much about strategy creation, organisation, people, culture, products, distribution channels and different company segments,” he says.
“You can totally get a picture of why some segments succeed and others don’t. And I think this has been a really great learning experience for me.”
When it comes to selecting the right products for each region, Niklas says Konecranes takes different approaches for different customers. “Some customers want the premium products with a high level of automation, productivity and safety features, while others want more standardised products with some semi-automation features.”
China is Konecranes’ priority market due to its sheer size, followed by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “We want to see how this market will develop five or 10 years from now,” Niklas says.
Konecranes has three main product segments – premium, mid and low – based on what its customers require. Niklas highlights that, in China, the low segment is shrinking, while the mid and premium segments are growing rapidly.
Moreover, he has witnessed smaller suppliers close down over the past 10 years as they were unable to keep up with the rapid technology changes and requirements in the country.
“China has been focusing more on automation and efficient production, especially now with
Industry 4.0,” he says. “I think the investment in processing equipment can be quite challenging for many suppliers,” he says.
“Now, of course, there is a lot of competition to acquire international companies. Companies do this in order to reach those premium segments because they can’t do it by themselves – they don’t have the technology or time because everything in China moves so fast.”
But one thing Niklas applauds is the Chinese government’s Made in China 2025 strategy – a plan for the future of China’s manufacturing sector, which supports more domestic manufacturing. It aims to target 10 main industries including power equipment, automated machine tools and robotics, and artificial intelligence, which could mean a boost for Konecranes’ offering.
“It’s quite exciting to see this development, especially in China, and to be a part of that,” Niklas says.
Having worked for several years in the industrial sector, Niklas shares his tips for implementing a successful strategy. “For me, I really want to know where we stand,” he says. “So marketing intelligence is key. You need to know your products and services inside and out, and understand the industries that you choose to be active in. I think segmentation on a deep level helps a lot.
“Second, understand your customers and the purchase decisions in your target market; whether its premium, mid or low. Follow them closely, especially in countries like China where everything is moving so fast.
Understand their concerns and spend a lot of time with them in order to build a relationship. And finally, of course, take care of your organisation and your people.”
At the end of the day, Niklas says it is important for companies to always strive to do better. “My leadership approach is quite open and based on trust,” he says. “I think it’s important that your people enjoy their work environment and understand that they go to work for a reason, not just to collect their monthly pay check.
“It’s important that your people enjoy their work environment and understand that they go to work for a reason; not just to collect their monthly pay check.”
I think it’s our responsibility towards the whole organisation to always do better. We cannot do the same things over and over again and expect a different result. Because slowly, more and more people will be out of jobs which is not our purpose.
“We cannot do the same things over and over again and expect a different result.”
Trust in People: “We’re known for our great people.”
Total Service Commitment: “Always keeping our promises.”
Sustained Profitability: “A financially sound company.”
“I’d like to create a great vision about where we need to be and ensure we have the best people on board, in the right job, and we are developing them. We have to understand that we are in the people business, no matter what we sell.”