Martifer: Exploiting the benefit of transferable skills

In 20 years, Martifer has evolved from a domestic Portuguese metallic constructions company to a global construction and energy business, with operations around the world

In the decade that Paulo Lino Martins has been with Martifer, the Portuguese company has expanded from a small regional construction company to a global group, listed on NYSE Euronext Lisbon, and has diversified into the energy business.

En solo 20 años, Martifer ha pasado de ser una empresa nacional de construcción en Portugal a una empresa de energía de ámbito global, con operaciones en Europa, América Latina y del Norte, África y Asia. Durante la década en la que Paulo Lino Martins ha estado en Martifer, el Grupo ha aumentado de tres compañías a más de cien. Ahora cotiza en la Bolsa de Portugal y ha reorientado su estrategia hacia la energía y hacia mercados extranjeros.

The change has been tremendous, he says. “Martifer is now much less focused on Portugal and Spain, and is instead expanding across Europe, the US and Brazil. This has inevitably presented commercial and legal challenges but we have found that our skills in the construction business have proved transferable to the needs of the wind and solar energy sectors.”

Established in 1990, Martifer’s focus is now concentrated in two areas: metallic construction, where it is a leader in Europe, and renewable energy. The latter organised into three main business areas: equipment supply to the wind energy sector, through Martifer Energy Systems; the development of wind farms through Martifer Renewables; and the development of solar farms and modules, through Martifer Solar. Last year the Group recorded revenues in excess of €600m.

As Legal Director at Martifer Solar, Paulo Martins’ own career has reflected the change at Group level. He joined Martifer in 2001, then still Martifer Construções Metalomecânicas, having previously been in private practice and worked at IAPMEI, a public Institute supporting SMEs. From 2001 to 2009, he worked in the Metallic Constructions area, then the Energy Systems area, and finally in Martifer Inovação and in Martifer SGPS as Head of Legal, and as Company Secretary from 2007 to August this year.

Recent months have therefore seen him take a more focused role in the solar energy business, and a position as Managing Director for Business Development at Martifer Solar.
Since he joined Martifer, the in-house legal team has grown from just one lawyer based in the company’s Oliveira de Frades headquarters to around 15 worldwide, he says. Martifer Solar has five lawyers, in Portugal, Italy and the US and is looking to add further in-house capacity – the Group has a policy of adding an in-house lawyer once it reaches certain revenue and personnel levels in any new market.

“Our aim is to manage internally as much of the legal work within our core business as we can, particularly on the commercial side, but we inevitably rely on external lawyers in new jurisdictions or when specific advice is required.”

The legal issues around the engineering, construction, operation and transfer of solar projects are largely managed from Oliveira de Frades, as are negotiations with suppliers, customers and investors, he explains, but there is a regular need for local regulatory expertise in the markets in which the company now operates. “It is crucial that we are able to rely on external lawyers familiar with the very latest developments and trends.”

Another challenge for the business as a whole as it has expanded beyond construction, says Martifer, has been in the finance arena and specifically dealing with external investors. The solar business additionally is now much more than module manufacturing and EPC contracting, but the transition from operating at a Group level to a business division has proved relatively painless, he says.

“For much of what we do there are relatively few differences between distinct business divisions. Even in respect of project development, management and the creation of turnkey schemes, the issues are largely well known, no matter where they arise. What is important is that as lawyers we bring value and efficiency to the projects that we undertake.”

There can be challenges dealing with cross-cultural issues but he acknowledges that such issues are only likely to increase as Martifer Solar continues to grow. Future projects are already focused on Canada, Slovakia, France and the US, while the Group is looking increasingly at Brazil.

“To date we have found the need to adapt our business model in each market in which we operate, and this inevitably means that the legal issues have also changed. It is mandatory to take a very hands-on approach to matters and take a broad perspective in order to understand the full context of what we want to achieve.”


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