Question 1. With relentless urbanisation threatening the diversity of the natural world and contributing to increasing climate change, what can Coteccons do to demonstrate leadership in sustainable development?
Answer. Yes, we are very well aware of the threats you are talking about, and we feel our responsibility to future generations to protect the natural environment and prevent a climate catastrophe.
We are working in several directions. First, we understand that many environmental problems are related to the materials used in construction (concrete, cement, steel, etc.) and the high carbon emissions associated with the operation of certain construction equipment. Accordingly, we use technologies that reduce the operation of such equipment and the use of environmentally harmful materials.
Secondly, the protection of the natural environment depends not only on us, but also on our business partners: developers, architects, and so on. And we are trying to become the agents of ideas related to ecology and sustainable development in this community.
We care about green energy, in particular, we are currently working on a project (we have already signed an MoU) for the construction of wind farms. And we also care about restoring the nature. Another project that I would like to mention is the cultivation of 10 hectares of forest.
Question 2. How can Coteccons’ building developments consistently enhance the varying local environments, cultures and histories of regional locations? How can you capture the character of a site and avoid homogenising the solution?
Answer. This is more influenced by architects and developers, but there are things depending on us as well. We have a Design & Build division that acts as an advisor to developers when designing new construction objects. At the same time, we always look at how the building planned for construction will fit into the environment, correspond to the cultural traditions of the region, how comfortable it will be for people to live, work, shop, and recreate. The famous aircraft designer Tupolev once said "Ugly planes do not fly". To paraphrase it, I can say that ugly buildings will not be successful in operation.
Question 3. What do you think are the core competencies of Coteccons and what makes Coteccons different from other construction companies in the first place?
Answer. We always deliver all the objects on time. We always provide an impeccable quality of construction. We never exceed the budget agreed with the client. And we also take on the most complex and unique projects, such as Landmark 81, one of the tallest buildings in the world with the most complex infrastructure.
Another important difference is our increased focus on safety. Moreover, this applies not only to technology, but also to psychology. Very often, some time after the start of work on the construction object, workers (who are usually hired for 24-36 months, i.e. for the duration of the construction) relax and forget about the need for strict compliance with safety rules. We constantly use unique psychological techniques designed to remind workers that their families are waiting for them, that they must not forget about careful and constant compliance with safety rules.
Question 4. Are you only building "big" infrastructures or could new ideas in housing, e.g. tiny houses, also be of interest for you (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiny-house_movement)?
Answer. So far, this direction is not profitable for us. Taking into account the high costs of the most advanced technologies and the safety of construction work, it is profitable for us to build large and complex objects. Revenue per engineer (we have no construction workers in our company, only engineers) is one of the main indicators of our efficiency. But this does not mean that the situation will not change. We expect that 3D printing technologies will become more widespread, which will lead to cheaper materials. And then the construction of Tiny-houses can become profitable for us.
Question 5. How is the urban environment changing during the construction of Coteccons buildings? What notable transformations are taking place in the areas where you are erecting your buildings? Is the life of the people around them getting better?
Answer. Yes, this is a very important question for us. We believe that beautiful and comfortable buildings can influence the quality of people's lives and public culture. It's like the other side of the broken windows theory. If, say, a beautiful complex of buildings appears next to a slum, then the slum will gradually cease to be the slum. The population of Vietnam is young and adapts quickly to new habits and new lifestyles. And what and how we build can significantly affect this.
Question 6. What limitations did you face during the covid-19 pandemic? Which restrictions do you think have changed the world and will stay with us forever? Bill Gates believes that the world will face more dangerous epidemics in the future. Are you preparing for them and how?
Answer. Vietnam was hit by the pandemic much less than many other countries. For example, we did not stop the construction of our objects for a single day. But it cannot be said that there were no consequences at all. Companies from the tourism and aviation industries were hit the hardest by the pandemic, and we have clients from these industries.
Speaking about how the pandemic as a whole changed the world, I would say that a new world is emerging, in which familiar dogmas are disappearing. For example, in health care, it was believed that it was necessary to strive to reduce hospital beds, which indicated an improvement in the quality of medical care, which should lead to fewer people needing to be hospitalized. But the covid pandemic has broken out and hospital beds became in great demand. By the way, Coteccons was able to build a modern medical center very quickly, just in a few weeks.
There are more and more signs that the vuca world (an abbreviation for Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is really emerging, and we need to learn to live in this world. We will certainly have new "surprises". It could be a new pandemic or something else. It is impossible to predict everything in advance. But you can look inside yourself and see what needs to be done so that any unexpected changes do not break us, but make us stronger. Therefore, one of the main tasks that we have formulated for ourselves we see in improving our "antifragility".
We should also pay attention to another serious trend - the time of narrow specialists is running out, and the time of people with broad competencies in various fields is coming.
Question 7. What kind of sport do you enjoy the most? Is there a corporate sport in the company?
Answer. Our company is very fond of football. The old management team liked golf and often invited clients to play. This tradition has disappeared, and we need to look for some new formats for maintaining relationships with clients. In addition, once a year we host an Olympics for Coteccons employees.
Question 8. If you could order the construction of an object yourself, what kind of object would it be? What kind of house (or structure) of your dreams would you like to build?
Answer. I would then build not a separate object, but a new city, where life would be as close as possible to life in the city of the future.
Question 9. What are your three favorite cities in the world? What do you like about them?
Answer. There are many interesting cities in the world, but I will name one. This is Taipei. It is very neat and harmonious, it would be great to live in (or in a similar city).
Question 10. Which companies (not necessarily from the construction industry) could you consider as an example for yourselves and why?
Answer. I will name three companies. The first is General Electric in the days of Jack Welch, as an example of the rapid transition from a single-product company to a diversified one. This is what we need to strive for. The second is McKinsey, as an example of a company built on the basis of meritocracy. And the third one is Netflix, where I like the corporate culture.
Question 11. How are relations between construction companies, developers and architects developing and how will they change in the future? What would you, as one of the sides of this relationship, like to change?
Answer. In many emerging countries, there is a problem of corruption in relations between builders and developers. This leads to huge losses on all sides. Therefore, in the common interest, we would like these relations to become more transparent.
There are two categories of developers. Some of them order houses for themselves, to perpetuate their name, but often do not take into account the requirements of the market. Others focus on the current market requirements, but do not think about the future. Therefore, ideally, a combination of different approaches should be sought. Developers, consultants, banks, construction companies, architects, and state bodies of technical supervision are involved in the construction of the same object. They often resemble chefs who try to cook the same dish together in the same kitchen according to different recipes. It is unlikely that such a dish will be delicious and even edible. Therefore, they should all remember the common goal and the common plan.
Question 12. What are your expectations from the crowdsourcing project? What should be the results for you to be pleased with?
Answer. I would really like to be able to feel the quick and significant effect of the proposals for the development of our company that will come from the crowd. Our company is in the process of transformation, so we are not afraid of the most daring and unexpected proposals, on the contrary, we are waiting for them. And I hope that we will receive such proposals, the effectiveness of the implementation of which we can first predict, and then see in practice. In this case, we will be ready to allocate an appropriate budget for their implementation, but it should not be wasted. Otherwise, we may lose the passion and great interest in the crowdsourcing project, but I really hope that this will not happen.
Question 13. Does the company develop its own IT solutions? If so, in what directions?
Answer. It is not being conducted yet, but we will think about this.
Question 14. What helps and what hinders the presence of Unicons and Coteccons in the same group of companies?
Answer. Coteccons and Unicons are like Lexus and Toyota. Unicons realizes many industrial projects, Coteccons builds unique objects that should be comfortable to live, work and recreate in. Thanks to the two companies, we have a broader product offer. In addition, conditions are created for the constant pulling up of one company to the level of another and vice versa. And the main problem is that it is necessary to spend efforts to promote two brands.
Question 15. In which of the two situations does the Coteccons Group have more opportunities to show its advantages: building a "clean field" and creating infrastructure "from scratch" or "fitting" new objects into the existing, well-established infrastructure? And why?
Answer. I will choose "fitting" as it is a more complex task. Building from scratch is easier, requires less intellectual effort, and we are a company that likes to take on challenging tasks.
Question 16. Do you see your company among those making history?
Answer. Yes, we want to make a meaningful contribution to the modern history of the construction industry through continuous innovation.
Question 17. How do you think the preferences of people in the world regarding real estate ownership will change over the next 20 years? Will people continue to seek to buy real estate, or will real estate cease to be a valuable asset and also become part of the sharing economy like a car or a scooter? And how might this affect Coteccons' business?
Answer. This is a very interesting, but very difficult question. In Southeast Asia, real estate ownership has always been of great value. But on the other hand, the younger generation in our region is becoming more and more cosmopolitan. Its passions and priorities are no longer formed under the influence of traditional values, but, for example, Hollywood movies, Japanese anime, Korean K-Pop. But not only this is changing, much is changing in the habits and lifestyle of people, for example, the institution of marriage is losing its former value. And we see, for example, that a new concept of houses is becoming widespread in Europe, when small apartments are combined with large public spaces. We can also see that the market places a very high value on companies like Airbnb, including in comparison with companies that own large real assets in the form of real estate. And, by the way, we are now discussing a project for the construction of a coliving in Vietnam with one of the developers. So we are closely monitoring this trend, but it is difficult to say yet whether it will become mainstream. But as a construction company, we're not going to lose out anyway. No matter what format residential properties are built, someone still has to build them.
Question 18. Are you engaged in charity work? If so, what are the goals and who are you helping?
Answer. We have three areas of charity. The first is our employees. This is 1,800 employees and 1,800 of their families. Our employees are everything for us. We will do our best to help them and support them in any situation. The second area is assistance in the development of the regions where our employees come from. For example, we primarily helped these regions recover from the recent typhoon in Vietnam. It may seem a little selfish to some, but we believe that no one will have any doubts about the sincerity and motivation of our help. And the third area is ecology. This, for example, includes the project for growing a forest, which I have already talked about.
Question 19. How do you feel about providing clean water and clean air inside built-up settlements? How do you apply energy efficiency technologies in your buildings?
Answer. We always give priority to the development of environmentally relevant technologies and help others to do so. For example, we recently granted a loan to a company that installs solar panels in industrial facilities and residential buildings, as we see a great synergy between us related to caring for the environment.
Question 20. Could you tell us about the requirements for the people you are recruiting to your team? Do you hire women in leadership positions? Do you develop leaders from young talents? How do you select them?
Answer. Yes, we do a lot to attract talented people and to develop them. At the same time, we believe that the opportunity to join the company's team at the stage of such a large-scale and significant transformation is an extremely attractive factor. And it is also very important to realize that the well-being of our entire team, as well as the 25 thousand people who, thanks to us, get jobs from our contractors, depends on the work of each of our employees. And the results of our team's work affect the appearance of cities, transport links, and the lives of millions of people. Such a significant level of impact of the results of our employees' work, in our opinion, is a very strong motivating factor.
We have a lot of women in the team compared to other companies in the construction industry. There are also many women in top management. These are, in particular, CFO, HR Director, Head of Investment. In general, women have always played a significant role in Vietnamese society, so there have never been any problems related to discrimination against women.
This idea was suggested to me by a line in the interview about the cultivation of 10 hectares of forest.
And I would like to suggest that Coteccons cultivate vertical forests, that is, trees planted along the walls of buildings.
There are several well-know such projects, that have been implemented. For example, vertical forests in Milan: https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/project/vertical-forest/
This will be a good compliment to what Coteccons is already building and will be an additional competitive advantage.
And will improve the environmental situation in the cities.
I feel that ideas like these that are out-of-the-box are brilliant and need to be explored!
In the region that I work in, former Soviet Central Asia, we already have a big problem with climate change and desertification. Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, already has a lack of trees, and in all cities, they seem to cut trees down to make more land for construction. Meanwhile, the existing buildings, whether from Soviet or post-Soviet times are very energy inefficient. And frankly, they have no cover from the sun due to the lack of trees. So, the apartments are super hot and must use air conditioning and the like.
Even in New York where I live, the city is now posting notices on buildings giving their ratings of energy efficiency. My building, from the early 1960s only gets a C. The windows are old and need replacing, but it will be too expensive. So, we lose heat in the winter, for example and have to use non-natural sources to heat our apartments.
Perhaps in addition to or instead of replacing the windows, we could start doing vertical forests for our apartment building in NY. Same for Central Asia and for many other places in the world that face similar problems. Already, urban rooftop farms and beehives are coming in to existence.
I agree that Coteccons should be looking at such new solutions as they will be competitive advantages in the future. Coteccons can get a first-mover advantage. And consumers in the future both for cost, beauty and ethical reasons may start to choose them, then. Just like consumers now look for fairly-traded products.
I should add that I wonder if Coteccons needs to set up another department/division in the company that exactly looks at these issues. Something like strategic foresight, and to look to be see where they can be first-movers in such new ideas, such as vertical forests. I am sure that they have people looking at this individually, but they do have an actual department that looks at this, not just from the technologies, but from finding possible clients and financing?
Perhaps our expert community is just capable of playing the role of such a department
I can draw a number of important conclusions from Daniel's very valuable comment.
1. We should rethink the vertical forest initiative again
2. We should also consider an initiative to arrange urban farms in residential, industrial and commercial buildings in cities
3. Coteccons' catalog could be a tool for promoting both initiatives. This is something we need to think and discuss again in the question 12.
4. Finally, another important initiative could be for Coteccons to undertake the assessment of energy efficiency of erected buildings (and, perhaps, other buildings as well).
This thought came to me based on the answer to question 8.
For the construction of the city of the future, a serious cutomer is needed and it will not be easy to find it.
But we can do the following - organize a public crowdsourcing project to create a concept of the city of the future, where Coteccons can act as a partner or sponsor
And the concept, developed in this way will help to attract the customer.
And, in any case, it will help marketing promotion of Coteccons.