Ramboll in the 1950s
In the 1950s, the company evolved from just a handful of people to 20-30 employees. The 50s also marked the beginning of a passionate relationship with steel.
In love with steel
In 1950, Denmark’s first giant mast was erected in the town of Kalundborg. The client was the then General Directorate of Post and Telegraphs and the mast was to be used by Denmark's Radio. The 142-meter-high transmitter weighed just 28 tonnes, which was 12 tonnes less than competing designs.
At the time, nobody talked about sustainability, but in today’s climate-oriented business environment, a 30 per cent reduction in steel usage undoubtedly qualifies as a sustainable solution.
Before the World War II Professor Chr. Nøkkentved was a consultant for the radio engineering service in Denmark, which in those very years was to build a large number of masts and transmitters.
The war put these projects into hibernation and when they were to be resumed after the war, Nøkkentved was dead. Chief Engineer of the Radio Engineering Service, F.C. Wamberg, approached Rambøll & Hannemann and asked if they would continue the projects, and thus Rambøll & Hannemann got access to some important assignments, which played an important role for the company in the 1950s and 60s.
It is said that Johan Hannemann was “in love with steel.” His steel masts were unusually light weight, cheap to produce and robust at the same time. His bright idea was to construct the masts from massive round steel bars instead of using the traditional angled steel bars. This enabled lower wind resistance, higher corrosion safety and elegant, slim constructions.
To the outsider, the structure may appear simple, but it requires great technical insight to deliver a safe solution. For example, the wind can cause this type of mast structure to vibrate, and if this happens to coincide with the mast’s own frequency, the structure can collapse. Børge Rambøll and Johann Hannemann described the problem in an article in Ingeniøren (a Danish engineering trade magazine) in 1951, and their enthusiasm for the task in hand and pride in their solution was evident.
At first, this innovation was met with scepticism from potential clients: they simply could not believe that these steel bars used two thirds of the amount of steel used by competing companies at the time. But eventually the lower cost of the design made the scepticism evaporate, and soon Johan Hannemann’s masts could not only be spotted all over Denmark but also in Norway.
In the 1960s, Rambøll & Hannemann again proved itself to be the country’s leading designer of steel structures. The A.P. Moller – Maersk owned Lindø Shipyard was heavily expanding in those years. Originally Lindø Shipyard used another local engineer. But some serious errors in a concrete structure in the fifties paved the way for the newly opened Rambøll & Hannemann branch in Odense. What started as an assignment for remedial work led to other contracts, and it is no exaggeration to say that Rambøll & Hannemann acquired a position as the shipyard’s in-house consultant.
In this period there was an increasing need for large oil tankers, and Lindø shipyard assigned Rambøll & Hannemann as responsible for the technical design of the steel frame building. The work on the enormous assembly hall was completed in 1969.
Later Lindø shipyard was to produce platforms for use in the North Sea with Rambøll & Hannemann as consultant. And the expertise gain during platform design led to Ramboll’s leading position within foundations for offshore wind farms. But that’s another story.
Steel structures has throughout the years been a core competence for Ramboll. And just last year a unanimous jury committee selected Ramboll’s work on K.B. Hallen in Copenhagen (Denmark) as the winner of the prestigious European Steel Award 2019 for steel professionals. The award was given for creative and exceptional use of steel in the rebuilding of this iconic building.
The early years and new partners
“We founded the company quite spontaneously. It wasn’t an idea that had been growing in our minds, which meant that there were no real plans for the future and no dreams of getting any bigger,” co-founder Børge Rambøll once wrote.
In the fifties, Rambøll & Hannemann slowly evolved from three to 30 employees. Johan Hannemann and Børge Rambøll continued as professors at the Technical University of Denmark while also working on projects.
"We were old-fashioned pencil people. It was kind of very primitive. Nowadays, you must also acquire clients. Back then, we did nothing. They came by themselves," Børge Rambøll explains in a 2006 article.
As the assignments and number of employees grew, the company evolved into a more stable framework, but still with the two founders as sole proprietors. In 1959 it was decided to involve three employees as partners, expanding the management to five persons.
The three new partners already held management positions in the company. One of them, Knud Lauridsen, was actually the first employee in the company. As early as April 1946, the two founders hired him straight out of college.
They were named partners and gained considerable influence, but Børge Rambøll reveals that he and Hannemann still had the final say when necessary.
In 1959, after serving 12 years as a professor at the Technical University of Denmark, Børge Rambøll quit his profession at the university and devoted his time completely to Rambøll & Hannemann where he was mainly in charge of managerial and organisational tasks.
Johan Hannemann continued as a Professor until 1975, and in the company he worked mainly with constructions. For both, employee satisfaction was from the very start a corner stone in the company:
“Our goal was satisfied employees, because when employees are satisfied, you can go far. We couldn’t force employees to be satisfied, so instead we strove towards a certain spirit.”
Explore the next decade
Find out how Ramboll developed in the 1960s