Ramboll in the 1980s
In the 1980s, Børge Rambøll formulated his thoughts on culture and leadership in the “Ramboll Philosophy” which forms the basis for the values and beliefs that guide the company to this very day.
Employees are our main asset
During the fifties and sixties, Rambøll & Hannemann’s business had flourished along with the boom in constructions. But what seemed as an unstoppable growth curve for the company was suddenly slowed down by the international oil crisis in the 1970s.
In a time when the construction industry was all-dominating, changes in construction could affect companies very strongly and the oil crisis even lead to the closure of some. Rambøll & Hannemann also felt the effects of the situation. Driven by their fundamental belief in the employees as the company’s main asset they initially managed to avoid large-scale redundancies.
Even though Rambøll & Hannemann experiences a period of stagnation they still steered through the crisis well under the circumstances. This was to a large degree due to the fact that the company had started working with incineration plants during the 1960s and later with waste disposal and management. This gave them a head start into an emerging environment and energy market which from the 1970s resulted in many new large projects.
Back to school
In order to cope with the declining demand in constructions and to keep their employees onboard, Rambøll & Hannemann came up with what was at that time a quite unusual solution: They sent some of their employees back to school to study energy and environmental technology. Afterwards, the employees would come back to the office and enlighten their colleagues with their newfound insights and knowledge.
The world had suddenly changed, and new areas of expertise had come into focus. Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann were very aware of this development, and so they decided to follow along by investing big in energy expertise. After five years of stagnation, the company finally began to grow thanks in great part to new large-scale energy projects.
While the oil crisis had forced a shift back to coal fired plants, tougher environmental requirements brought about new challenges as well as new business opportunities, and Rambøll & Hannemann was armed with up to date knowledge due to re-education of the employees.
In the western parts of Denmark, incineration plants were built to dispose of the enormous quantities of waste that had accumulated and exceeded capacity at landfill sites. In the early seventies, it was debated whether the plants should be designed for combined heat and power production. But at that time, energy was still so cheap, and it was not considered profitable to make the necessary investments. However, in the aftermath of the energy crisis, the discussions went in favour of waste to heat and Rambøll & Hannemann was hired by utility company, Vestforbrænding, to investigate new opportunities.
As Børge Rambøll asserted, “you get more energy out of less fuel if you combine an electricity generating plant with a district heating plant, and, what is more, if waste is utilised for heat production, you can obtain a happy trinity.”
In 1984 and 1985, the commissioning of blocks 3 and 4 at Studstrup power station near Aarhus in Western Denmark marked the finalisation of the long-term plant development plan by utility company, Midtkraft. At Studstrup, a desulphurisation facility was established in blocks 3 and 4, while the less efficient blocks 1 and 2, which also emitted more pollution, were gradually phased out. And the giant 190m chimney was a very visible landmark and the culmination of Rambøll & Hannemann’s involvement in power plants from the company’s inception. And this involvement led to us building a dominant position in district heating and waste-to-energy.
To this date Ramboll holds a strong position in the waste-to-energy market with landmark projects across 45 countries.
A company with a philosophy
Imagine a firm in which all the employees - at all levels – are united, fully committed to a common goal, rooted in a humanitarian spirit with unshakable mutual trust.
These are the first words in the Ramboll philosophy. From the very beginning, Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann agreed that company value creation should not focus solely on profit, growth or international recognition. They strongly believed that if employees were happy, the company would naturally thrive. This therefore became the guiding force for the development of the company and its culture.
Hence, the first chapter in the Ramboll philosophy is Satisfied employees:
A goal for the RAMBOLL family...
What you work at every day constitutes an essential part of your life, and there is no denying that satisfaction - or, if you prefer, a feeling of joy or the pursuit of happiness - is one of the goals of every human being. And in this perspective all RAMBOLL's other goals must, in fact, be regarded as means to an end - required by necessity or circumstances. Means towards achieving that single main goal - satisfied employees.
Børge Rambøll thought that a company’s culture – the glue that binds the employees together – is something that is created when employees and management alike are having casual discussions and influencing each other across the lunch table. Culture is not something that exists on paper as a list of predefined values – it is a lived experience.
But in 1986, the number of employees had exceeded 500 and this called for a change in management strategy as there was no lunch table big enough to seat this number of people.
Despite his belief that the company culture was best sustained through casual dialogue, Børge Rambøll realised the need to put the philosophy and visions into writing – after all, a written introduction was better than no introduction at all.
Børge Rambøll described the crux of the philosophy as follows: “The essence is that you have to behave properly and decently as a person and treat all others as you wish them to treat yourself. This relates to individual clients, colleagues and society as a whole. Being decent and proper does not only concern whether your tie is in place when doing business. It is about treating other people and society right in a long-time perspective.”
But Børge Rambøll was not only concerned with the behaviour of the individual employee. He also believed it was the company’s responsibility to create a framework that shielded the employees as stated in the philosophy’s second chapter, Corporate ethics:
RAMBOLL does what it can to ensure that its employees are not only highly qualified in their respective fields, but that they also have high ethical standards, a sense of responsibility and an awareness of their obligations to society. The firm must thus pursue policies which ensure that the employee's work will not lead to any situation where he or she might be faced with a conflict of conscience.
And Børge Rambøll expanded the ethical standards to those collaborating with the company:
RAMBOLL is not interested in clients, suppliers or business connections whose ethical standard, in the firm's opinion, is objectionable.
As a purpose driven company Ramboll is still to this day guided by a set of core values and a clear mission to create sustainable societies where people and nature flourish.
Explore the next decade
Find out how Ramboll developed in the 1990s