Santa Fe Group CEO, Lars Lykke Iversen, is celebrating 40 years in business this year. As his name suggests, Lars is Danish however he has lived overseas for more than 36 years including living in Hong Kong for over 20 years.
After Santa Fe purchased Interdean last year Lars and his wife Wendy, moved to the UK to oversee the new Group from the Interdean office in London. Steve Jordan took a trip to London NW10, the hub of the UK international moving industry, to have a chat with him about his career so far and his plans for the future.
Lars began his career with the Santa Fe Group's parent company EAC (East Asiatic Company), in 1972 in Copenhagen. Since then, he has managed to build one of the world’s best global relocation companies.
Lars joined EAC in the hope that it would give him the opportunity to travel. After four years training and a year riding horses in the Danish Army as a member of the Queens Guards, he got his wish. “I wanted to go to Africa or Asia,” he said. But it was to the company’s Vancouver Shipping Department that Lars was posted. There he stayed for six years, meeting Wendy, and subsequently being posted to Pasadena in California to set up a shipping office for the company’s Trans Pacific service.
In 1986, Lars and Wendy relocated to Hong Kong where he successfully managed the flotation of EAC in Hong Kong, the acquisition of Santa Fe Transport in 1988 by EAC and the successful merger of Santa Fe & Global Silver Hawk in 2001. In 2010 and 2011, Lars subsequently closed major deals, engaging with Wridgways in Australia and Interdean in Europe, providing customers with an end to end solution across the globe.
“We didn’t want to start from scratch in Australia,” said Lars. “It’s a mature market with a lot of good players. When we bought Wridgways it doubled the size of the company.” Of course, when you move into a new area you have to accept that you will lose the reciprocal business from your previous partners. But Lars feels that it was the right decision. “We certainly gained more than we lost.”
The argument was similar in Europe too. Interdean had already sold its Asian offices, so when Santa Fe acquired Interdean there was no overlap in coverage. “We would not have gone into Europe unless this type of opportunity had arisen,” said Lars. “It would have taken too long to set up and we would have lost too much business from our existing European partners.”
The story is different in the USA though. “We are very clear on our strategy in the USA. We will not make an acquisition in the US and we will continue to work through our established partners. We understand the business we would lose from our partners,” he said. “Interdean Interconex proved that model didn’t work some time ago. We won’t make that same mistake as we respect the long term reciprocal relationships we have already established in the US.”
Santa Fe has, however, recently opened a service centre in Houston run by Fran Vollaro. The Houston office is simply to provide a customer service contact point through which the company’s corporate clients, largely in the oil and gas industry, can be adequately serviced. All physical operations will continue to be provided by Santa Fe’s US partners.
As the CEO of the Santa Fe Group, Lars has developed the company into a leading global organisation with 52 offices around the world. Personally he has amassed a long list of accolades including being a long-standing member of the Board of Directors for ERC and has been awarded the Meritorious Service Award; Past Chairman of The Danish Business Association of Hong Kong; Board member of Far East Movers Association; and is a member of the APAC Program Task Force. Lars also spent nine years on the Board of OMNI including two years as its president.
While the company has focused primarily on corporate moving and relocation services, Lars feels that the direct consumer side of the business is likely to see an increase if current trends continue. “I think this segment will increase because companies have more people moving around, often for educational and cultural reasons and many have taken to providing these transferee’s with a cash allowance to handle the move themselves. We see this as a great opportunity for our Group.”
Asked what his ambitions were Lars said that they were to see the company continue to grow and prosper. In this regard he wants Santa Fe Group to continue to be seen as a great place for people to work in the industry, all built on a customer-centric philosophy that has been the hallmark of his esteemed career to date.