1945: The start of Rambøll & Hannemann
1945: The Ferris Wheel in Tivoli
1955: Broadcast towers – rebuilding Europe after the war
1967: The Great Belt Link – the world’s longest suspension bridge
1969: The Tunisian Adventure – and the first project abroad
1972: From Partnership to Foundation
1973: International oil crisis sends employees back to school
1981: Avoiding the one-eyed technician syndrome
1986: A company built on social responsibility
1991: Joint forces – the merger of Rambøll & Hannemann and B. Højlund Rasmussen
1995: Holistic Accounting
1995: Call us Ramboll
2003: Local partners – global knowledge
2009: The sound of Ramboll
2010: From Virum to HQ in Ørestad
2014: Entering the American market
2016: Our Legacy
2018: The formation of a new Americas business unit
2020: Joining forces with Henning Larsen

1945: The start of Rambøll & Hannemann

One October morning, two young engineers walked through a door leading out to the Danish Technical University’s flat roof in the center of the city. Standing side by side on top of the building, they looked out over the newly liberated Copenhagen. “I don’t know if you remember, Johan, that we stood there on the roof and talked about the company we wanted to establish”, said Børge Rambøll at the company’s 25th anniversary.

The two engineers, Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann, had, like so many others at that time, seen enough destruction throughout the war and they felt a strong urge to help start a new development and re-build society. And perhaps they could, by putting their skills together, they thought.

The original plan was, though, very far from the multidisciplinary and international company Ramboll is today: “You needn’t think we had such grand visions. We never imagined that we would be sitting in such a large circle as we are today. We almost didn’t call it a company, we just talked about how it might be fun to try to do a little design work on our own”, Børge Rambøll further explained at the 25th anniversary.

In time, it showed that the two engineers were a perfect match. Johan Hannemann was the highly talented engineer, who was able to dissect any structure within seconds. On the other hand, Børge Rambøll represented a strong humanistic and social visionary view, and was very aware of the company’s role in the development of society.

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1945: The Ferris Wheel in Tivoli

“Børge and I were on board one of the baskets during the test ride for the newly assembled structure. The wheel was going round at full speed when I suddenly realised with dread that the speed was practically twice of what it was supposed to be. The basket swayed dangerously but fortunately the brakes were designed to have maximum efficiency and we all returned safely to the ground after the wheel finally stopped”.

The quote is Johan Hannemann’s, taken from an article in an internal company magazine, where he explained a test ride in one of their first steel structures – the Balloon Ferris Wheel in the historic amusement park Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

It was a challenging construction. The Ferris wheel had to be rotatable but spacious and comfortable at same time; it had to withstand transverse forces from the wind without wobbling and remain steady when braking.

Furthermore, a unilateral movable load had to be taken into consideration. And at the same time, they had to design a slender frame for the wheel so that the construction would not seem ungainly.

Fortunately, it did not take long to identify the issues that caused the rocky test ride, and The Balloon Ferries Wheel is still spinning today – at a proper speed.

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1955: Broadcast towers – rebuilding Europe after the war

In the aftermath of the war, Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann had a vision: A vision to help create a united, safe Europe. With their backgrounds as civil engineers and Hannemann’s special interest in steel structures, a logical place to start was to help rebuild the communication infrastructure across Europe; in many countries teletowers had been destructed and the only available means of communication was the postal service. And so the two partners decided to start building high-voltage masts and broadcast towers – a decision which turned out to be of vital importance for the company’s future.

The broadcast towers became Ramboll & Hannemann’s first international success. Their belief that broadcast towers had come to stay turned out to be a rather good bet, and over the next decade, television became increasingly popular in the Scandinavian homes. This resulted in Ramboll & Hannemann’s first large mast projects in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

According to Børge Rambøll, Johan Hannemann was “in love with steel”. His steel masts were unusually light in weight, cheap to produce and robust at the same time. His bright idea was to construct the masts from massive round steel bars instead of using the typical angled steel bars. This ensured lower wind resistance, higher corrosion safety and elegant, slim constructions.

At first, this innovation was met with skepticism from potential clients: they simply could not believe that these steel bars only used 2/3 of the amount of steel used by the rival German companies at the time. But eventually the cheap price made the skepticism evaporate, and soon Johan Hannemann’s masts could be spotted all around Scandinavia and later in the rest of Europe. These masts played an integral role in the so-called Konti-Scan transmission line, a high-voltage network between Denmark and Sweden, that later came to be known as one of the really successful functional collaboration projects of post-war Europe. 

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1967: The Great Belt Link – the world’s longest suspension bridge

Although, the bridge did not become a reality until the late 1990s, the idea of linking Zealand and Funen had been discussed in technical circles in Denmark for more than a hundred years. It is almost a law of nature that large bridge projects take time to be realised. Firstly, the design must be feasible, and the project must be supported both politically and by the public.

When the bridge first came to be designed, Rambøll & Hannemann was part of the joint venture that drew up the first design for the whole link in the 1970s, and later when the project was resumed in the 1980s, Rambøll & Hannemann designed the high-level bridge including Johan Hannemann’s signature round steel bars.

There was no doubt that the motivation for being part of the prestigious bridge project was beyond money. Johan Hannemann was of the belief that large iconic projects of this type were profitable regardless of whether or when they were realized:

“The drawing up of the competition proposal for a bridge across the Great Belt was a great experience for everyone who was part of this team, “supplementary training” in the development of ingenuity and constructive imagination”, he said.

The link was finally designed in the early 1990s and finished in 1998 and became the world’s longest suspension bridge. Ramboll was this time in joint venture with B. Højlund Rasmussen responsible for the bridge substructure. The record breaking bridge is 1624 meters long and is suspended 60 meters above the water and in just a very few years it became a natural part of the Danish infrastructure.
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1969: The Tunisian Adventure – and the first project abroad

The international journal CIGRE issued an article about Johan Hannemann’s new design on round-steel bars and how they were successfully used in the design of masts. This came to the attention of Mr. Zidi Beji, the Director of a Tunisian state-owned steel millElfouladh.

One day, Johan Hannemann received a letter from Director Zidi, in which he wrote that he had read the article and liked Mr. Hannemann’s innovative design. Johan Hannemann held on to the letter, as Børge Rambøll, by coincidence, was planning to spend his vacation in Tunisia that same year. So, Børge Rambøll conducted the first direct negotiations with Director Zidi while on holiday in Tunisia, and a contract was signed in 1969.

Rambøll & Hannemann was to export its know-how on round bars and assist in finding new application areas as well as streamlining the production at Elfouladh.

The company decided to open an office in Carthage, Tunisia, based on the principle that it is good to be close to your clients. Another objective was to investigate whether the project could lead to more contracts in the region.

And it did. Just after a year, the office was able to report that they had 20 employees and that the client base had expanded and now included, among others, Tunisia’s national electricity company. Later this was followed by contracts for several more steel halls, a road bridge, and a large batch of lighting masts. The adventure abroad and close collaboration between Rambøll & Hannemann and Tunisia continued for more than 20 years.
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1972: From Partnership to Foundation

At one of the daily lunches, the partners began talking, as they always did; only this time the conversation was about the future of the company. They asked themselves, what would happen when Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann were no longer with the company?

In other words, they began to talk about long-term ownership and how they could ensure the survival the company moving onwards.  After discussing back and forth, it was decided based on a proposal of Børge Rambøll that Rambøll & Hannemann was to become a limited liability company – owned by a foundation.

Børge Johannes Rambøll shared his thoughts to his colleagues around the table:
“It could end in a fight between our children and the next generations, if we do not take action. Therefore, we have to make our company an independent foundation”.

Børge Johannes Rambøll’s and Johan Hannemann’s objective was to create an eternal company and a good workplace for as many as possible. Outside investors should not be able to profit from the company, and the revenue should be invested back into the companys development. Most importantly, they wanted the employees to feel ownership of the firm. With all this in mind, they sold the company to the Ramboll foundation.

Today, it is fairly common that Danish companies are owned by foundations. Nevertheless, Rambøll & Hannemann changed the scene, when they, as one of the first engineering consultancy companies were owned by a foundation.
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1973: International oil crisis sends employees back to school

What seemed as an unstoppable growth curve for the company was suddenly put to a stop by the international oil crisis in 1973. Investments and entrepreneurship stalled, but although the company felt the pinch, Rambøll & Hannemann was able to avoid layoffs and planned reduction in working hours.

One of the main reasons why Rambøll & Hannemann managed the crisis so well was because the company had started working with incineration plants during the 1960s and later with waste disposal and management. This gave them a head start into an emerging environment and energy market which from the 1970s resulted in many new large projects.

When the crisis hit, projects were getting fewer and smaller in scale, but Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann were determined to avoid layoffs as they knew this would have devastating consequences for their employees. In order to cope with the declining demand, they came up with what was at that time a quite unusual solution: They sent some of their employees back to school to study energy and environment technology. After school, the students would come back to the office and enlighten their colleagues with their newfound insights and knowledge.

The world had suddenly changed, and new areas of expertise had come into focus. Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann were very aware of this development, and so they decided to follow along by investing big in energy expertise. After five years of stagnation, the company finally began to grow thanks in great part to new large-scale energy projects.

Today, energy is one of Ramboll’s most successful business area, and the demand for energy specialists is still increasing. The bold decision to send employees back to school in the midst of a crisis turned out to be a far-sighted and quite clever move.
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1981: Avoiding the one-eyed technician syndrome

During the 1920s and 1930s a growing interest in organisational theory and rationalisation of production began to emerge within the business sector in general. However, only very few of the Danish consulting engineer companies had any real experience with this new way of organising a company in 1981. This was also the case for Rambøll & Hannemann – until one day when an interesting suggestion landed on the two partners’ desks: A proposal from the well-established PLS Consult – an acronym for Planning, Logistics and Systems development – asking to be bought up by Rambøll & Hannemann.

This was unprecedented: An engineering company merging with something as foreign as a company consisting of economists, business developers etc. But Rambøll and Hannemann saw a potential that few other people recognised: the possibility of establishing a holistic, multidisciplinary company that did not suffer from what they called the “one-eyed technicians syndrome”. Future challenges, they thought, will be complex and require technical specialist know-how combined with a broader understanding of the societal impacts of our way of living and organizing.

Thus, Rambøll & Hannemann accepted the offer. PLS Consult (now Ramboll Management Consulting) started out as a separate daughter company, but later on became an integrated business unit working alongside the company’s other markets.
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1986: A company built on social responsibility

The value creation of the company was not focusing on profit, growth or international recognition, Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann agreed from the very beginning. Their intention was rather to turn this business model upside-down and begin with the people: to evaluate the company’s success in terms of the happiness of the employees and the positive impacts their work had on society. They strongly believed that if the employees were happy the company would naturally thrive as a consequence.

Børge Rambøll thought that a company’s culture – the glue that binds the employees together – is something that is created when employees and management alike are having casual discussions and influencing each other across the lunch table. Culture is not something that exits on a piece of paper that lists a predefined set of values – it is a lived experience.

But in 1986, the number of employees had exceeded 500 and this called for a change in management strategy as there was no table fit for this number of people.

Despite his belief that the company culture was best sustained through casual dialogue, Børge Rambøll saw no better solution than to put the philosophy and visions into writing – after all a written introduction was better than no introduction at all.

See an interview with Børge Rambøll about the ‘Ramboll Philosophy’ and his thoughts behind it on Our Legacy page.

Børge Rambøll described the key point of the philosophy in the following: “The essence is that you have to behave properly and decently as a person and treat all others as you wish them to treat yourself. This relates to individual customers, colleagues and society as a whole. Being decent and proper does not only concern whether your tie is in place when doing business. It is about treating other people and society right in a long-time perspective”.

The following are quotes from the original document from 1986:
”The daily work-life is a crucial part of one’s presence, and it should not be necessary to underline that happiness is a desideratum for any human being. And based on this perspective, all of Ramboll’s objectives should be regarded as means, necessary or practical, to reach the goal.”

”The company seeks fair solutions to questions of conflict, even if these solutions may exceed the company’s or the customers’ economic interests.”

”Employees should work as independently as possible and have the opportunity to develop, so that the ideas can blossom.”

”We have throughout time attempted to gather employees who have an ethically, responsible- and a societal attitude. And we have as a company seen to that their work does not conflict with their conscience.”
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1991: Joint forces – the merger of Rambøll & Hannemann and B. Højlund Rasmussen

At the time, there was one dominant engineering consultancy company in Denmark: COWI. This resulted in COWI winning many of the large public tenders, which often left supporting roles to Rambøll & Hannemann and the other smaller companies.

But in 1991, Rambøll & Hannemann merged with B. Højlund Rasmussen – one of Denmark’s most esteemed engineering consultancies with 200 employees.  The founders of the two companies shared a common background from the Danish Technical University and they had been friends for many years. The two companies also had previous experience with collaborating as they worked closely together on the final Great Belt bridge project.

B. Højlund Rasmussen also held a doctorate in engineering and his company was acknowledged for expertise in subsidiary bridges, motorways and tunnels. By combining the strengths from both companies, the new Rambøll, Hannemann & Højlund became a strong player on the national engineering consultancy market. And as it grew strong in the Danish market, it established a strong platform for further development and the management began to look outwards to internationalisation opportunities.
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1995: Holistic Accounting

In line with the company’s philosophy, Rambøll introduced a holistic approach to accounting during the 1990’s. This meant that Rambøll began to account for all of the values and assets in the company- not only money, as seen in a traditional economic balance sheet.  The holistic balance sheet includes statements of employee resources, client-specific results and societal results and thereby takes account of internal and external value creation.

Since 1991, the holistic concept has been formally implemented in the Rambøll business and is termed the “Ramboll Holistic Enterprise Model”.  In this way, Rambøll has a framework which reflects the holistic philosophy, and serves as a guideline for leadership, development, operation and reporting.

The company published its first Holistic Accounts in 1995 to give stakeholders a complete view of the company’s many intangible results and value creation. Since then, holistic reporting has been an integrated part of the Annual Report.
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1995: Call us Ramboll

At the company’s 50th jubilee, the company celebrated that they had gone from being two good friends and partners with an idea, to being an international consulting company with more than 2000 employees. However, since the merger with B. Højlund Rasmussen in 1991, the company’s name had been Rambøll, Hannemann & B. Højlund Rasmussen, much to the despair of the company’s telephone ladies.

“Our telephone ladies were sad and tired of repeating all three names all day long. So we agreed to shorten the name to Rambøll”, Børge Rambøll explained.

Since the beginning, Børge Rambøll’s philosophy, influence and presence had become a core part of the company and it was decided that it would be natural to name the company after him. To ease the local use and understanding of the name, it was decided to introduce ‘the key-board rule’, meaning that the Danish ‘ø’ will be transcribed to the nearest local letter in each language that in logic and simple way replaces the ‘ø’. So as examples in English and Finnish it becomes: Ramboll, in German and Swedish it becomes: Ramböll and in Danish and Norwegian: Rambøll in written text.

The new company logo was designed so that for those who know, the reference to the original proper name is clear, but the local pronunciation is just natural and easy in all our languages.

The name was tested in countries all over the world and luckily with positive results. In India they specifically liked the name, as “Ram” is the name of one of the Gods and therefore Ramboll was a friend of Ram. As a result, the company had a new name that could work internationally and the telephone ladies were content.
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2003: Local partners – global knowledge

During the 1990s Ramboll had grown to become the fourth biggest player in the Danish consultancy market. But on the international market, things did not go as smooth: competitors were getting ahead and it was evident to Børge Rambøll and Johan Hannemann that the future market would require international knowledge and expertise.

Therefore, a strategy for internationalization was adopted by the board of directors in the late 1980s. In the 1990s it was decided to focus the strategy more specifically on expanding in the Nordic regions. The idea was to create a strong regional fundament before tapping into the more competitive international market.

At a syndicate on the Oresund link, Ramboll came in contact with the Swedish company Scandiaconsult AB: a big competitor with international expertise within the buildings and construction sector. Scandiaconsult shared Ramboll’s mission of ‘Nordification’ and there were great synergies between the two companies’ competencies and ethics.  Three years after the Oresund link opened in 2000, Ramboll acquired Scandiaconsult – a decision very much in line with the early Ramboll philosophy of “local partners – global knowledge”. With this acquisition, Ramboll at an instant became the biggest Nordic Consultancy within the engineering field with a total of more than 4000 employees.
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2009: The sound of Ramboll

When you walk into Ramboll Head Office, you may ask yourself, “is that a Steinway piano in the foyer?” and the answer is: “Yes”. For more than 25 years, music from that same piano has played a cherished role in the culture of Ramboll.

In the late 1980’s, the size of the company was growing rapidly and the Ramboll Foundation had to find a way to still make the company feel like a family. First, the Foundation donated art to the different offices. Johan Hannemann had always been very fond of music and played the cello and so it was decided that the head office in Virum would receive a Steinway grand piano. When the musically interested employees walked by the piano, they were encouraged to sit down and play a tune.

Gradually, one of the company’s most valued traditions began to take form: singing together. The news of the grand piano soon spread to the other offices and the Aarhus office asked if they too could have one. Later on, the offices in both Odense and Aalborg received a piano.

Today, it has become a monthly tradition to assemble Ramboll employees around that the same old Steinway piano to sing. Singing together in the morning is an old Danish tradition that has its roots in the Højskolesangbogen – a collection of famous hymns and songs that have played a role in the Danish History.
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2010: From Virum to HQ in Ørestad

The motive for moving Ramboll head office to Ørestad was partly to locate the office in proximity to the airport, the highway to Sweden, the metro and to be in the green capital Copenhagen. Another reason was that Ramboll played a large role in the master planning of the new sustainable neighbourhood Ørestad and by moving there, the HQ could be a living example of the sustainable building solutions.

The employees of Ramboll were an active part of planning the design of the new HQ and the architects did lengthy interviews with the management to understand and implement the culture into the design. One example is that the new head office is a transparent building, which enables an open dialogue both internally and externally – a value that is at the core of the Ramboll Philosophy.  Today, you can stand on the 7th floor and have a clear overview of the inside. Standing there, you can sense the buzz of all the more than 1,600 employees hard at work.

Another element of the building’s design is that it has great acoustics. It has always been an important value for Ramboll to gather the employees for social and cultural events. Today, the foyer is used for both external visitors and for internal events such as the monthly morning song, where the employees gather around our grand piano to sing.

The head office is located on Hannemanns Allé named after our founding father, Johan Hannemann. All the streets in the neighborhood Ørestad are named after famous engineers and architects. And so, although, the company was named after Børge Rambøll, Johan Hannemann got his own street.
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2014: Entering the American market

In December 2014, Ramboll acquired the American environmental and health consultancy ENVIRON. The acquisition added more than 1,500 environmental and health science specialists in 21 countries to Ramboll’s portfolio, and further positioned Ramboll among the top 10 leading environmental consultancies globally.

The acquisition originated in a wish to expand Ramboll’s sustainable society platform to the American markets and strengthen  the company’s ability to provide holistic, one company solutions that meet the complex demands of tomorrow’s global mega trends such as climate changes, demographic changes and urbanization, resource scarcity and globalization. Especially Ramboll’s portfolio within Environment & Health, Water, and Planning & Urban Design was reinforced by the merger and a range of new potential synergies with the existing business units; Buildings, Transport, Energy, Oil & Gas, and Management Consulting was created.

By March 2016, the new synergies with ENVIRON had already generated more than 100 projects within areas such as sustainability strategy, water stewardship, ecosystem services, greenhouse  gas management, waste management, and worker health and safety.
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2016: Our Legacy

In 2016, the Ramboll Foundation revisited the values of the company, which resulted in a publication of the name ‘Our Legacy’. The values in the publication reflect the beliefs and ideals of the founders of Ramboll, as stated in the ‘Ramboll Philosophy’, and the values they wished should continue to guide the company, when they relinquished ownership.

As a consequence, the contents should be understood as the basis upon which all Ramboll Fundamentals must build.

The Ramboll Foundation wishes to communicate Ramboll’s values – to serve as a source of inspiration and guidance for Ramboll employees and managers in all areas of business around the world.

As the owner of Ramboll, and acting through the company’s Board of Directors and managers – the Foundation strives to uphold and cultivate the values on which Ramboll was founded as a constant and recognizable part of our way of doing business.
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2018: The formation of a new Americas business unit

In December 2018, Ramboll acquired the American engineering and design consultancy OBG, adding 900 experts, thus having a total of 2,000 experts in the US. The acquisition of OBG led to the formation of a new Americas Principal Business Unit covering the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil with services in water, energy, environment and health. 

The acquisition originated in a desire and ambition to expand Ramboll’s platform and range of action, thus becoming a multidisciplinary and vital player in the US. The merging of the two companies turned out to be a strong fit in delivering full-scale, integrated solutions to the clients, combining Ramboll’s analytical and consulting-oriented business in the US and the strong project execution capabilities of OBG. 

There was strong support to the acquisition from OBG’s stakeholders with more than 91% of OBG shares cast in favour, clearly reinforcing the strategic and cultural fit. About the merging of the two companies OBG CEO Jim Fox said: “I have full confidence that this combination will result in more growth opportunities for our talented people and innovative solutions for our clients”. 

 
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2020: Joining forces with Henning Larsen

In December 2019, Ramboll CEO Jens Peter Saul announced that the company had decided to join forces with the world-renowned Danish architecture company Henning Larsen, which added approximately 300 architects and strong expertise to the company’s existing architecture competence. The acquisition was effective from 1 January 2020.

Being one of Denmark’s leading architectural firms and globally recognised for its aesthetic, sustainable and social architecture, Henning Larsen was the perfect fit to help create a new identity, The acquisition of Henning Larsen was going to help create integrated design solutions for sustainable cities and buildings based on the joint companies’ global platform and Nordic values.

Like Ramboll, Henning Larsen has a strong Nordic legacy and deeply rooted values and design culture. They also share our strong focus on quality and commitment to high ethical standards and contribution to sustainable societies. This cultural fit provides a powerful common platform for collaboration.

The acquisition would ultimately ensure Ramboll’s global position as a tier-one engineering, architecture and consultancy company. 

 
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