Index number 50 /Article

Sixty years of entrepreneurship and building the future

First office of SENER in Bilbao

First office of SENER in Bilbao

Maintaining a company’s position as a benchmark for innovation in various business sectors is no easy task, and doing so for 60 years is a laudable achievement. In 2016 SENER is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary with the determination to continue making history in a globalized world that is full of new challenges. Neither enthusiasm nor talent is lacking. Let’s look back on the major milestones of a journey that began in 1956 with Enrique de Sendagorta, who was soon joined by his brother José Manuel (known to his colleges as “Manu”) and the nearly 6,000 professionals who continue to carry out incredible projects. They have all contributed towards the innovations that will shape the future in the medium- and long-term.

These past 60 years are the outcome of the work of almost 6,000 professionals who continue carrying out incredible projects and have all contributed towards the innovations that will shape the future.

A multidisciplinary engineering company

In the 1950’s, when the Doctor in Marine Engineering Enrique de Sendagorta stopped to think about the future, he saw a country with no shortage of things to build. At just 30 years old he was head of the Technical Ship Building Office of the company La Naval, a position that gave him solid technical training and a growing reputation. He traveled across Europe and observed the most advanced industries of Germany, England and France. In this position of Technical Office Head, ship owners turned to him, many in search of advice. So Enrique dreamed of an independent engineering company in Spain that could apply the developments he had seen in other countries and even anticipate solutions to the problems of shipyards across the continent and the industries of other infant sectors in general.

This dream took shape in 1956 under the name of SENER, the first Spanish engineering company founded as such. SENER was born on the basis of three important premises: to create high-quality projects, to anticipate the industry’s problems with innovative solutions, and to be independent and flexible in order to adapt to the market’s demands. Despite the major financial crisis in Spain, SENER quickly became a technical marine office recognized for its excellent work. It procured contracts and expanded its workforce, which mostly consisted of recent engineering graduates from Bilbao’s technical colleges. In 1961, José Manuel de Sendagorta joined as Head of the company.

A Doctor of Aeronautical Engineering, Manu Sendagorta already had a solid professional track record when he became the Managing Director of SENER. He quickly pushed for the company’s diversification, opening SENER up to new areas such as industry, to undertake integrated designs for processing plants including refineries and petrochemical plants, nuclear plants, paper mills, etc., as well as transportation infrastructure, with contributions like the Bilbao-Behovia highway, Bilbao airport and its superport, conceived by the brilliant and restless mind of Manu. Meanwhile, the company continued advancing in the marine sector and developing the FORAN System, a software for the design and construction of marine vessels and devices which, after 50 years of continuous reinvention, is currently the technological world leader in this sector. Manu also promoted the incursion into the aerospace sector, with the rocket launch tower project in Kiruna (Sweden) for the ESRO, predecessor of the current European Space Agency (ESA), which was awarded to SENER through an international tender in 1967 and which was the start of its high-profile activities. Today there are more than 270 SENER devices and systems in the satellites and space vehicles of NASA, ESA, JAXA and Roscosmos, and the company acts as prime contractor of complete missions.

In 1986 the current President, Jorge Sendagorta, was incorporated onto the management team. He personally took on the project conceived by his uncle Manu that lead to the creation of ITP. It was one of the most important and successful challenges in SENER’s history and set the basis of its current structure as a corporate group. With 53.125% of the stocks, SENER is today the majority shareholder of ITP, the only aircraft engine company in Spain and ninth in the world for sales within the aeronautical engine and components sector. Shortly after undertaking this industrial initiative, SENER embarked on the promotion of other companies within the Renewable Energies sector, such as Zabalgarbi and Torresol Energy, where it applied its own technological approaches. This gave the SENER Group a structure based on three main areas: Engineering and Construction, Aeronautics and Energy and Environment.

The international project

SENER began its first commercial incursions outside of Spain in the 60s, with the FORAN System, the takeoff point for its internationalization, and a little later with engineering projects in Latin America. But the real international momentum came in the first decade of the century, when there was heightened determination to establish divisions in countries where the prospects for infrastructure development, both civil and industrial, promised good sustainability over time. Relying on local divisions not only permitted a closer relationship with clients, it also enriched SENER by incorporating engineers from the country where the work was to be implemented onto its engineering team. It was a risky decision but one that was well thought-out and planned, and it led to the opening of divisions in Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico. Next came Japan, Poland, Algeria, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, India and the United Kingdom.

It was a successful strategy because SENER was able to foresee market changes so, when the financial crisis erupted in 2008, the company had paved the way to continued growth outside of Spain, where the domestic market was dried up. In fact, during the crisis years, SENER continued to expand into new areas, with the aforementioned divisions and numerous projects. For example, Mexico is currently the second most important country for the SENER Group in terms of number of people, with more than 1,000 professionals working in the Engineering and Construction division and in one of the most important ITP factories in the world.

At the beginning of the current century, SENER also took a qualitative leap forwards, progressively incorporating construction and industrial production activities. Thus it began to undertake turnkey projects, especially for industrial facilities in the field of Energy. The Zabalgarbi municipal solid waste treatment plant and the Gemasolar thermosolar plant in Spain, the Gate terminal storage and regasification facilities in The Netherlands, and the NOORo solar complex in Morocco have established SENER as a first-rate construction company, always under the premise of technological diversification. At the same time, SENER was also advancing in terms of capabilities and resources in the area of industrial production, especially in Aerospace, achieving the trust of its clients to design and produce very complex and high-quality integrated systems. Thanks to the fact that it is a multidisciplinary company like very few in the world, today SENER can undertake extraordinarily diverse engineering projects with flexibility and guaranteed performance.

Consolidation for the future

Today, SENER can compete in the global market thanks to its exceptional team of professionals that give it the ability to innovate in many fields of activity – its most recognizable characteristic. As in its early years of marine projects, clients continue to come to SENER when faced with engineering problems that require innovative solutions. And SENER prides itself on providing added value to its clients, improving their original ideas with superior solutions that have inherited the genius that thought up FORAN, for example, or the Punta Lucero breakwater. In this sense, there is a continuity in working methods, which are transmitted inside the company and are founded on professional respect, freedom, collaboration and teamwork, the exchange of ideas between experts of various disciplines, and, above all, trust. Only by facing challenges and believing in their own abilities can an engineer grow professionally, develop their skills to the full, enjoy their work, and, as a result of all this, conceive exceptional projects made to improve society. It is a virtuous circle that has given SENER progressive and well-planned growth, in which SENER offers its persons exciting goals, inviting them to join technical challenges in new areas of activity. This is a model that the company and its community of professionals have built to last.

With this shared drive, SENER technology has traveled to Mars on pioneering missions, it is found on high-speed train lines in the US, the UK, France, and Spain, it leads the market in thermosolar energy, and it is a benchmark in marine design and construction.

This continued evolution based on superior technology foreshadows a future of opportunities, but it also requires the company to consolidate its own strengths while adapting its processes to emerge victorious in the big leagues. And to continue encouraging people’s passion to follow their dreams. With this kind of balance, SENER can use its engineering knowledge and experience, as it has been doing these past 60 years, to forge a solid future. This is SENER’s legacy, and it will also be its future.


Gemasolar plant - owned by Torresol Energy and developed by SENER. José Manuel de Sendagorta co-founder of SENER. Manu Sendagorta (in the center) and the rest of the SENER team at the Kiruna launch tower. Eurofighter engine, a project promoted by Manu Sendagorta that lead to the creation of ITP. Vacuum chamber in SENER’s Integration and Test Center in Madrid (Spain). Proba-3 Space mission led by SENER. Gate terminal regasification and storage plant in The Netherlands. HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier designed with FORAN. Artistic view of the Ryadh metro in Saudi Arabia.

Copyright SENER 2018