'Europe is losing the battle in the global competition'

Kemal Sağlam, CEO of Ballast Nedam, on sustainability and the business climate.

"Increasing regulations and bureaucracy are making the European business climate less and less attractive. European countries are falling behind, especially compared to the possibilities in the United States. It is time for European governments to think more about this", says Kemal Sağlam, CEO of construction company Ballast Nedam, in PwC's video and podcast series 'CEOs on course'.

In the third episode of 'CEOs on course', Kemal Sağlam drives with financial journalist Paul Laseur to the Cartesius project in Utrecht. There, Ballast Nedam, together with project developer MRP, is transforming the former NS shunting yard into a neighborhood 'where people can live healthily and happily for longer'. Along the way, topics such as sustainability, the search for talent and the business climate are discussed.

"Many patents are applied for every year in Europe, but due to bureaucracy and a complicated application for permits, ideas often cannot be put into practice. Many companies are therefore moving to the United States, where the business climate is better in this regard", says Sağlam, who immediately adds that Ballast Nedam has no plans to leave the Netherlands.

Kemal Sağlam, CEO of Ballast Nedam

"But we are expanding our international network to be better in balance with the different macroeconomic conditions in the world. I still think the Netherlands is the best country in Europe for us to be based in. But overall, some structural changes need to happen in Europe to stay in the global competition."

Sağlam became CEO of Ballast Nedam four years ago and that was not the best time to step into that position, he says. "It was the beginning of a turbulent period. First of course the corona pandemic, then the war in Ukraine. Rising energy and material prices made our lives very difficult. In 2019, the construction and infrastructure market was booming and then suddenly everything became unpredictable."

The result was that Ballast Nedam, like many other companies, started to make more of a distinction between short-term actions and long-term strategy. "For the time being, we continue to deal with political uncertainty and therefore changes in, for example, our supply chain. Our long-term strategy remains important, but if you want to survive as a company you simply have to tackle current challenges."

What Sağlam has in mind for the long term is clear: "Ballast Nedam does not have to become the largest construction company in the Netherlands. We want to be a specialized, profitable and healthy company with sustainable products. That is why our focus on all projects is now on climate change. We also want to become the “employer of choice” in the market. We need the best talent for our transformation."

Curious about the entire interview with Kemal Sağlam?
Then listen to the podcast ‘CEO's op koers' here.
Watch the video here.
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