When construction of the new LEGO™ factory began in November last year in southern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province about 50 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, Preben Elnef had only been in the country for a little over a year.
As Vice President of The LEGO Group and newly appointed General Manager of LEGO Manufacturing Vietnam, Elnef arrived in the country in September 2021, tasked with the mammoth job of not only building The LEGO Group’s second-biggest manufacturing site in Asia, but also making it 100 percent carbon-neutral to run.
“I can promise you, Vietnam is not the easiest country in the world to build a factory,” Elnef tells The CEO Magazine.
He admits it was a brave decision by The LEGO Group to pick Vietnam as its first carbon-neutral-run factory.
Elnef says setting up the company’s entity to do business in the South-East Asian country, along with meeting regulatory and compliance requirements in time for construction to begin within 12 months, has been an achievement in itself.
“2022 was absolutely a crazy year. Many are saying we have broken all records in Vietnam to make it happen,” he explains.
We as leaders need to show the way to do it and we need to be brave to take the decision and do it.
Serious on sustainability
One of the reasons for building its factory in South-East Asia is The LEGO Group’s belief in the power of learning through play and the company’s mission to reach as many kids around the world as possible, according to Elnef.
In doing this, it wishes to drive for a high-tech and sustainable facility that also gives back to the people who work at the factory and their families. The factory’s high sustainability goals will be achieved through the planting of 50,000 trees in and around the factory’s site and neighboring land, and offsetting 100 percent of the site’s annual energy requirements through solar power.
The issue of sustainability is one more companies need to get real about, both ethically and financially, Elnef insists.
“If there’s one thing I would say to my co-leaders, it would be to get serious with sustainability and invest in it,” he advises. “It’s worth doing it. We need to do it for the next generations because we need to give children a better world to live in.
“We as leaders need to show the way to do it and we need to be brave to take the decision and do it.”
If there’s one thing I would say to my co-leaders, it would be to get serious with sustainability and invest in it.
Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace as well as jobs for locals is also a big part of The LEGO Group’s strategy in Vietnam, he adds.
The next 12 months will see up to 3,000 construction workers on-site for the factory’s mechanical and electrical fit-out to house the permanent factory workforce of around 1,000 employees, made up of mostly local workers from Vietnam, by the time operations begin in the second half of 2024.
Experienced LEGO Group leaders from overseas will train the Vietnamese leadership, with the view to hand over operations completely to a local Vietnamese workforce in three years.
Purpose and play
Having worked as an engineer on large-scale infrastructure projects across India, Australia, Thailand and China, Elnef has spent the past decade with The LEGO Group, and is part of the company’s senior leadership team.
For a product that’s universally loved by kids and adults alike, he describes working at The LEGO Group as “super fantastic”.
“It’s a product no-one can have anything against because we all love it,” he enthuses.
We like to grow because our aspiration is to reach as many kids around the world to give them the super cool experience of learning through play.
Founded in Billund, Denmark in 1932 by carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen, the toy brick-building company’s name ‘LEGO’ is derived from the Danish words leg godt, which mean ‘play well’ – with the products designed to bring joy to children now sold in more than 130 countries around the world.
This focus on a quality product as well as looking after its people has returned dividends for The LEGO Group. Last year, the company celebrated 90 years in business and made a record net profit of about US$1.98 billion. Impressive results in the face of rising inflation, energy costs and global supply chain pressures.
However, Elnef explains that giving back is a big part of The LEGO Group’s culture and an important reason why he enjoys working for the company. Good values and aspirations come first, earnings and income come second.
“Of course, yes, we like to grow and be successful,” he says. “But we like to grow because our aspiration is to reach as many kids around the world to give them the super cool experience of learning through play, and to be able to give back and do what’s right for society. We strongly believe that.”