INTERVIEW: "People: the foundation of sustainability" with Mr  Robert Dennewald , Contern S.A

One hour max talk on sustainability strategy

Did you miss our "One hour max talk on sustainability strategy with Robert Dennewald, Contern S.A "? Watch the session here or read the session summary below!

Regarding the three Ps – “people, planet and profit” – that while seeking to respect all three, Robert Dennewald explained to the 24th July One Hour Max Talk on Sustainability that his main focus is putting the interests of staff and the local community first. He also likes to add a fourth P: practicality.

Robert has been one of Luxembourg’s leading business personalities in recent decades. He is most well known as having been the chair of the FEDIL employer’s group for ten years. He began his career with steel maker Arbed (now part of Arcelor Mittal), but changed direction in 1996 when he became president and CEO of the leading local construction materials firm Contern SA (ex-Chaux de Contern). He took a controlling interest in the company in 2010. Throughout he has supported innovation within the firm, as well as backing local entrepreneurs. He also has experience working on the boards of various financial services, manufacturing and not-for-profit firms. 

Innovation and service

“For me people are the most important aspect of sustainability in business, even if I don’t forget the other dimensions,” he said. He is convinced that for a firm to satisfy clients service and innovation needs requires a loyal, motivated workforce. Contern SA works on this in terms of salaries, team-building and job security, and this results in low staff turnover and a firm that delivers consistent earnings and satisfied customers.

For example, Contern SA is located in the commuter-belt around Luxembourg City (in the commune of the same name), and the shareholders were made a lucrative offer to convert the site into building land. The minority shareholders favoured this deal, but Robert refused to cash in and close a century-old business with the loss of 160 jobs. He preferred to buy-out the other shareholders. He is aware of the potential pitfalls of him being the chairman, CEO and main shareholder, so created a board of directors of himself and two independent directors – a man and women who are themselves entrepreneurs. “Their job is the challenge every aspect of my plans and decisions, and the diversity of their experience is a real benefit,” he noted. 

Seeking innovation

As Luxembourg’s leading building materials firm, Contern SA has kept up-to-date with growing demand for products which enable the creation of eco-friendly constructions. To this end, for many years the firm has had an on-going programme of seeking to integrate new materials and designs into products and production processes. “We seek to minimise our environmental impact where we can,” Robert said, with all staff being given the responsibility to identify where improvements could be made. These changes often have the effect of reducing costs too.

Robert is also a serial entrepreneurial investor, supporting in a range of start up firms and other bright ideas. The most successful has been APATEQ with its high-technology water purification system. “Preserving our water supply is one of major challenges of our civilisation, and I am pleased that this firm is making a contribution,” he said. This technology takes heavily polluted water, purifies it so that it can be reintroduced to the ground or the sea. This technology is of particular interest to the oil and shipping industries. APATEQ offers a cost-effect solution.

He is convinced that health, the environment and food will be of growing importance in coming years, and thus will be profitable areas for business to explore. Yet he believes it is important that these investment decisions be rooted in solid business sense, and that public authorities make policy in line with these realities. “Now part of my role is to instil these values around practical sustainability into the next generation which will take this company forward,” he said.