Monday Interview: Pedro Poole, UK and Ireland MD, Velux

Pedro Poole, MD for Velux.
Pedro Poole, MD for Velux.
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It is a somewhat unconventional introduction to the world of business, but one that Pedro Poole believes has proved a key advantage.

He explains that growing up as one of 14 siblings it was difficult for the family to make ends meet — so he became a magician for children’s parties.

It allowed him to pay his 
way through university, where he studied law and business administration, and he entered the world of banking when offered a job by one of his party customers.

The charismatic Spaniard is convinced that magic taught him the importance of communication, both rational and emotional. “Good magic is about communicating emotions… it has helped me in understanding emotions and in communicating well — and in management, communication is a pillar.”

Poole is now hoping to cast a spell on window specialist Velux in the UK and Ireland after overseeing its Spanish operations for 12 years.

Now based in Glenrothes, leading a team of about 270, he sees great potential for his new territory due to their higher need for natural light and ventilation than in Spain. “For me it’s attractive because it’s a bigger market in which Velux can contribute more than [it can] in other markets.”

He sees a trend for renovation and expansion rather than moving, as consumers battle stifled spending power and, in Scotland, controversial land and buildings transaction tax felt most keenly at the top end of the housing market.

This is all set against the backdrop of economic uncertainty. “When people are uncertain about the future they’d rather stay where they are,” Poole says.

Velux is focusing on single-storey extensions and loft conversions, he adds, also flagging innovation by the firm, saying it is next year launching computerised products measuring factors like light levels and opening and closing windows and blinds when needed.

But he acknowledges the economic struggles in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK, as well as the shadow cast by the UK leaving Europe. In his view, Brexit is “a question mark” adding challenge, because when faced with an uncertain future it is much harder to plan a strategy and to prepare resources.

But challenges are “fun”, he believes, became they require new ways of doing things.

Turning the wheel “in the same way as usual is not as exciting”, noting that he comes from the Spanish market that famously experienced a “very tough” crisis, requiring Velux to change everything it did.

He explains that the company’s sales there had been 80 per cent to new builds and 20 per cent for renovation. “Now it’s the other way round… and it’s not temporary.”

Until the country’s property sector crashed spectacularly, it had been building more homes than the UK, Germany and France combined, at 800,000 a year at the peak.

This has now fallen to 50,000, says Poole, while the country has been found to have the fourth-largest number of empty homes globally.

“We had to adapt there,” he continues. “It was difficult and you learn a lot.”

His roles prior to Velux also included six years in sales and marketing at Unilever (“where I learned the basics of marketing strategy”), as well as heading up a distribution company in Colombia that had exclusive distribution rights to brands including Bacardi, later moving to Chile to work with L’Oreal.

He then returned to Spain, working for market research firm Ipsos, and says that by advising big multinationals, “you learn a lot about marketing”.

Poole was then contacted by Danish-headquartered Velux. The company is owned by limited company VKR Holding, whose revenue in 2016 amounted to €2.43 billion (£2.15bn) and net profit €350.9 million.

Velux also has about 9,500 staff globally, and announced in October 2014 that it was shedding 180 jobs in Glenrothes. But Poole is optimistic. “We believe the business is going to keep on growing,” he says. As for whether headcount could grow, “I would not be realistic if I didn’t admit that there is uncertainty, and promising growth in staff without knowing [what’s ahead]… would not be responsible. Our expectation is to [expand] the business despite Brexit. I would like the company to keep on growing significantly above the level of economic growth.”