Index number 50 /Interview

“Our greatest achievement in the last sixty years is SENER itself”

Interview with SENER President Jorge Sendagorta (in the picture on the left) and SENER’s founder and Honorary President Enrique de Sendagorta (on the right of the image).

Interview with SENER President Jorge Sendagorta (in the picture on the left) and SENER’s founder and Honorary President Enrique de Sendagorta (on the right of the image).

What were the early years of SENER like?

Enrique de Sendagorta: SENER started out as an office of people working on ship projects, with a desire to advance within the field of engineering. We began working with a view to doing things properly and we started to build a loyal client base thanks to our growing reputation with regards the technical knowledge of our workforce, as well as the quality of our solutions and work. We were flexible enough to adapt to the market, which was small and changing, and we had to face a variety of different issues. From the outset, we placed maximum confidence in our team members. It could not have worked any other way, we had to be able to delegate so we could travel and acquire clients. I then started to work on new business ventures when Manu came along to help me with SENER.

Today, the foundations on which the company was built are still intact. The crux of our business strategy has always been to trust in our people and to “build SENER to stand the test of time”, continuously pushing back new boundaries to grow and diversify. Furthermore, from the outset, SENER offered its clients a wealth of ideas to develop their own approaches. We often began by providing guidance and advice to ship owners who had very preliminary business plans, and then continued to support them until the very end. Sometimes, shipyards also needed support to manage purchases or hire the right suppliers to complete a project. This is how we gained loyal clients.

Could you give a summary of the past sixty years?

E.S.: We are extremely proud of the last sixty years. SENER has been the most important thing in the lives of the three presidents. My son Jorge has spent thirty years at the helm of the company, my brother Manu spent twenty-five years, and I have dedicated my entire life to SENER. I remained closely involved with the company even when I was not officially working for it.

Jorge Sendagorta: We are proud for a myriad of reasons: for having built a business that has continued to be successful for sixty years, during which our company has seen significant growth. For having created respectable employment and, as a result, supporting a host of families and contributing to the professional development of many engineers. For service to the community due to our engineering and construction projects that improve the lives of people across the globe. For the company’s family ownership. And for our diversification based on innovative initiatives and centered around finding the most effective solutions for tackling problems.

Did you ever anticipate that SENER would be transformed into the technology giant that it is today?

J.S.: We never thought on such a long-term basis. You always think of the short-term results, the next four or five years at most. So no, we didn’t foresee it. However, the most important aspect of creating a successful company is not setting out an ambitious business plan, but continuously searching for ways to improve its current activity, from day to day. Growth is a result of this search for continuous improvement, in the same way that profit is not a direct objective, rather the result of doing a job well done.

What are we doing now that’s better than before?

J.S.: We have advanced remarkably. Both of us were determined to institutionalize SENER, because Manu’s illness at an early age highlighted a weakness in the business. We decided to strengthen the corporation with the development of a professional board, management control systems and a family protocol. We professionalized the management team based on an objective meritocracy... we also built up our engineering knowledge, becoming builders and industrialists over time. We have ventured out into new fields because we have continuously been innovating, along with science itself... the company must continuously strengthen itself. We have to improve consistently in almost all areas.

E.S.: Whatever the case may be, continuous growth is achieved by preserving core elements, such as fair treatment, trust, durability, and the flexibility to tackle new challenges, in accordance with the opportunities that arise. Clear principles must be set out to achieve a balance between the various opinions and ideas that converge within a company: the shareholders, professionals, clients, etc.

The crux of our business strategy has always been to trust in our people and to build SENER to stand the test of time.

What are SENER’s core values?

J.S.: Values begin with the desire to work together to offer the best solutions to the technical and economic problems within a certain field. This is the vocation of the engineer, and it forms the basis of SENER’s activity. But we do not want to do this any old way: we want to work within a living organization where we work as a team, with trust. We strive for a company in which people can feel at home, where our doors are always open and from where we can tackle problems with transparency and trust. We search for only the best engineers to form part of our teams, in which initiative and innovation are key aspects. We do not settle for developing routine solutions to achieve the dreams of others; we dream our own dreams and, at times, those of others, on behalf of our clients. Sometimes we even propose ideas for other, unaffiliated businesses, to which we can provide solutions, as was the case with the shipping company Marítima del Norte, which SENER helped to create and for which it designed 35 ships.

How does one successfully maintain a team of talented and qualified professionals, as SENER has done?

J.S.: It is a virtuous circle: one must aim to provide solutions, to carry out difficult tasks. Limiting oneself to developing the engineering work demanded by clients might lead to an effective business, but it may be lacking in ideas. Dreams and ideas are what encourage people to do things differently, such as thermosolar plants, high-speed lines, the creation of ITP... Our ability to attract good engineers depends on the internal environment of trust, transparency and open doors, as well as the ability to offer new challenges to our professionals so that they can devise and execute more ambitious engineering dreams. Our people are proud to be involved in such innovative projects.

E.S.: Talented people go where they are wanted. Manu used to say “Brains are like hearts, they go where they are appreciated.” Developing this mutual respect between the company and its engineers is fundamental.

J.S.: And SENER has endeavored to be desirable for these top engineers, by offering them important technical challenges and an appropriate team environment, where they can feel personally comfortable and professionally vibrant.

What is the greatest achievement in the history of SENER for each of you?

E.S.: SENER’s greatest achievement is SENER itself, its team of people, its projects.

J.S.: SENER and its footprint, that is, its engineering accomplishments as a whole and the engineering careers developed in-house. It is impossible to choose a particular project as a representative achievement, as there are so many and they are not comparable.

We do not settle for developing routine solutions to achieve the dreams of others; we dream our own dreams.

SENER is a family business; what is the link between the family and the company, and what are its values?

E.S.: The family has been a key factor for SENER, firstly because, as a shareholder, it has never applied any pressure due to the affection it feels for the company Furthermore, SENER is based on meritocracy and the family adheres to this. We decided, for example, that the family wouldn’t hold a majority on the board: it is composed of four families, two independent members and two executives.

J.S.: SENER and the family have some mechanisms in place so that some members of the Sendagorta family of sufficient merit can become involved in the work of the company. And the following generation is already being trained to work at SENER. In general, the family is very proud of SENER, of its history and its achievements, and their sense of belonging to the project is very strong. Although SENER is the family’s main asset, tensions have never arisen between members.

In 2002, SENER and the Sendagorta family created the SENER Foundation. What is its mission?

E.S.: The Foundation was established to promote the development of talented people, with a clear focus on engineering, to enable and enhance their contributions as engineers. It is alive, it is flexible and has objectives that reach beyond the main project of scholarships, on which it was based and which continue to be its most important activity. Forty-five people have already received scholarship grants from the Foundation. These individuals have benefited from dual training: firstly, academic, in a center of their choice that is appropriate for developing their abilities, and secondly, career training, through work experience at SENER.

J.S.: The Foundation’s first program aims to provide talented individuals from disadvantaged countries with access to international training and the chance to begin their engineering careers within a leading firm. It is a philanthropic idea, but we also expect these individuals to bring us some fresh perspectives during the course of their scholarship and integration in SENER. We hope they can offer us cultural enrichment, as well as engineering expertise. The idea is to gain different points of view, which are always beneficial in fostering innovation. Some will stay with us to work at SENER, whilst others will develop their profession in their country of origin or in other countries, and, may, at some point, collaborate with us in the future.

Growth, as well as profit, is the result of doing a job well done.

What does SENER continue to ask of its workforce?

J.S.: The people working at SENER are encouraged to aim high when creating solutions, to help us develop our task as engineers. We ask them for their dreams of a better world through engineering, as well as the ability to work with us in an integrated team. Engineering as a vocation is not limited to the engineers: every person working with us should feel proud of SENER’s projects and contributions to progress and advancement. The company as a whole is responsible for innovation.

Sixty years is nothing... what does the future hold for the company?

J.S.: Improving ourselves will secure a future for SENER. In the medium-term, we must constantly improve to ensure a more prosperous future. Our legacy should also be seen in the satisfaction of the people that make up SENER, in the development of our vocation as an engineering company, in our relationships with colleagues, and, of course, in our projects, which, thanks to their improved solutions, contribute to the advancement of society.


Jorge Sendagorta (left) and Enrique de Sendagorta (right). Enrique de Sendagorta. Jorge Sendagorta. Enrique de Sendagorta.

Copyright SENER 2018