Noud Veeger was a picture of cool composure, as he walked over to greet us, at his company’s new and sprawling office space. One could not find any sign that he had just arrived from the airport a short while ago, along with throngs of foreign visitors who happened to be attending the World Economic Forum being held in Manila that same week.
You also couldn’t tell that he just went through a very hot airport, this being the day when the airport air-conditioners couldn’t handle the crowd and the extreme heat wave.
Veeger is the executive vice president for Asia-Pacific and Middle East of KONE Corporation. A firm handshake for us, as he said he’s happy to be back in Manila.
Since he covers several regions, Veeger is able to come to Manila only once or twice a year. But he said that this was a special occasion since they got a bigger office, bolstering their expectations of better business in the country.
KONE Corporation is one of the global leaders in the elevator and escalator industry. Headquartered in Finland, KONE provides industry-leading elevators, escalators, automatic building doors, and integrated solutions to enhance what they call “people flow” in and between buildings.
The company’s services cover the entire lifetime of a building, from the design phase to maintenance, repairs and modernization solutions. According to their corporate documents, in 2013, KONE had annual net sales of EUR 6.9 billion, and it has over 43,000 employees. The company is also listed on the NASDAQ OMX Helsinki Ltd in Finland.
According to Veeger, their local subsidiary KONE Philippines Inc. has been operating since 1975. Since then, he said, they have “developed by leaps and bounds.”
But he noted that it was only in the last few years when they undertook improvements and offered new solutions to the market.
“We have customer surveys and we listen to our customers all the time, and once a year we do a very wide survey with tens of thousands of people that we interview to help make our products and their experience better.”
Veeger also took note of a new trend in urban development worldwide called “eco-cities” which he said has reached the Philippines as well.
He said that there seems to be an incredible surge in the local property market, particularly in the construction of residential condominiums and commercial towers, where the demand for state-of-the-art elevators has never been so defined.
He cited a few examples of their significantly expanded clientele, such as the Eton Tower Makati, Alphaland Makati Place, Icon Residences, Equitable Bank Tower, Philam Tower and their newest client, the Manila Bay Resort project.
As a result, Veeger said they have had to dramatically increase their investments in their Philippine operations, hiring additional manpower and procuring more facilities to enhance their bid in the local market, and to be part of the development of the country’s first sustainable city.
“I think eco-efficiency is very important. We also look at the amount of carbon footprint of our own operations, not just the products that we put in the market.”
Apart from “people flow,” Veeger also explained one of their innovations called the “UltraRope” technology specifically intended for the high-rise elevator that according to their official documents is set to break industry limits and enable future elevator travel heights of 1 kilometer—which is twice the distance currently feasible. Its unique feature is that it is extremely light, which means elevator energy consumption in high-rise buildings can be cut significantly.
Veeger said that he is very much impressed with the Philippine growth rate, which is at faster rate than some of its Asian neighbors. More significantly, he noted, Philippine developers are now demanding the best and the latest type of elevators to be put into their structures.
He cited the Lopez Tower in Rockwell, Makati, which is currently in construction. The company ordered KONE’s latest in “people flow”, and Veeger pointed out that this will be the first building in Southeast Asia to use such ultra high-end technological features.
In some ways, Veeger said, they are looking at the Philippines as a new market.
This is because a large number of the buildings that were built in the 1970s to 1980s now require more modern elevators, and this is a big business opportunity for KONE. Keeger mentioned that the Asian Development Bank complex is one of their clients that are now modernizing their lifts.
Veeger said much of the global economic activity seems to be centered on Asia these days and he has his work cut out for him. His base is in Singapore, where he currently lives with his wife. This affords him a good vantage point, he said, so he can easily check on the operations in the countries where he is in charge. But he added he is very pleased with the current pace of growth in these areas.
When asked how he sees himself ten years from now, Veeger said at this point he is still very much open to anything. However, there are a few things he is certain he wants to do.
One of them is going back to one of his favorite passions in his youth, which is painting. He also doesn’t mind playing more golf whenever he can. He added that maybe someday, he could slow down and settle back in Europe. But Veeger doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. He loves his work, he said, and for now, that’s what matters the most.