A fascination with cultural diversity and a dynamic, constantly challenging international financing environment provide Tine Bremholm Kokfeldt with all the motivation she needs to help get large projects off the ground.
Investing in a cement plant is no small decision. It takes big money, and almost every prospective owner will need significant financial backing. But how does an investor go about raising the necessary finance? For many of the producers entering the cement industry or a new market, it’s a daunting challenge, particularly without the contacts and knowledge of the international financing environment.
It may be a niche offer in the supplier market, but the ability to assist customers with financing is a clear point of differentiation. As a pioneer in a global industry, FLSmidth has in fact great expertise and experience in this area. In recent years, the responsibility has rested largely on the shoulders of FLSmidth’s resident project financing expert, Tine Bremholm Kokfeldt, who has helped secure financing for several of our biggest projects.
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of such a position before. Tine is part of a rather exclusive group, as only large companies involved in significant infrastructure investments tend to require such a skillset.
So how did she end up in this scarce role? As is often the case, chance played a big part.
Tine’s first meeting with FLSmidth was during her economics studies at Copenhagen University in the late 1980s. As part of her thesis studying the effects of the international financial debt crisis, she interviewed a representative of the finance department. Soon after, she moved to the US – and it wasn’t long before she ran into FLSmidth again.
“Funnily enough, I kept hearing about FLSmidth, when I was working for the International Finance Corporation (ed. a division of the World Bank Group) in Washington DC. We were analysing various industries, and FLSmidth often popped up as a technology provider in the building materials space.”
After four years and back in Denmark, Tine started working for the Investment Fund for Developing Countries (IFU), in Denmark. IFU has had a long history with FLSmidth, and during her six years at IFU, Tine found herself becoming increasingly intrigued by FLSmidth’s business. So when an opportunity presented itself in 2000, Tine applied for a position. She has been with the company ever since.
In her position within project and export finance, her aim is quite simple: to help clients obtain financing needed to realise their investment in a cement plant – whether greenfield or expansion projects. “I suppose you could say it’s part of our value proposition,” she explains.
“By helping clients to secure financing, FLSmidth is becoming the trusted partner throughout the project. There are projects that clearly are sold because of the financing.” - Tine Bremholm Kokfeldt, Department Manager, Financing
But as straightforward as it may sound, it rather masks the complexity of her role. It requires intricate knowledge of the financing environment and the myriad of options available, as well as an understanding of the owner’s capabilities and requirements.
“The enormous costs of acquisition and construction inevitably require significant financial backing. New owners or players investing in challenging markets abroad often find they lack a sufficient network. Often, one financial partner is not enough and it is necessary to gather several together to achieve the desired level of financing.”
As part of the sales team, her role is quite unique, as it is purely focused on the finance, but still with an eye on the big picture. One of the reasons Tine finds her role so rewarding is the bridge she provides between the client, her colleagues at FLSmidth and the world of international financing, which to most is a foreign language. She also needs to follow the international political situation closely, as this has a big impact on financing opportunities.
“It’s not just that we offer the best technology and the right solutions for our customers; our ability to help facilitate financing adds a lot of value,” says Tine.
“We open the door to the international finance community that our clients would have difficulties doing on their own – this is really a powerful means of building the relationship with the customer. At the same time, it gives us another door into the client, particularly early on in the discussions, and it shows that we have a broad range of competencies.”
It seems that the connections she makes really make an impression on clients, too. It’s not unusual for Tine to receive special messages of thanks, addressed to her personally from clients. She received one such letter of appreciation recently after a long, intensive period of negotiations concerning a plant in Brazil. Reluctantly, she admits to a certain satisfaction at being acknowledged in this way: “When you get special recognition from clients in this way, you know you’ve made a difference – but I’m very aware that I’m part of a collective team effort.”
A wide network
Within the financial community, Tine’s longest-standing partner is the EKF, Denmark’s Export Credit Agency. EKF is a Danish state-owned company that helps raise financing for the customers of Danish exporters when buying equipment and services from Denmark.
The organisation takes financial and political risks that the normal commercial market is unable to support. On many occasions, Tine has seen EKF’s support help seemingly impossible projects get off the ground.
“Our relationship with the people at EKF is extremely important – by helping EKF, we help FLSmidth.”
Her work also brings her into direct contact with the Danish government. She has travelled to client locations in different countries with government representatives, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and from time to time advises ministries, such as the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs on how to support Danish export by ways of financing programmes.
One step ahead
As financing is one of the first hurdles to investing in cement operations, client discussions provide some early indicators about important market developments. Tine recalls, for example, when environmental and social responsibility started getting greater focus within the industry. “In discussions with clients in the early 2000s, we saw the first requirements concerning emissions from the financing parties. They wanted to see commitments to acting responsibly towards the environment and compliance. In the early days, I had to research and provide a lot of this information, but now it's a normal part of our business, and we obviously have dedicated people for these roles.”
Such is the nature of Tine’s work that she can work on projects that don't end up with a signed contract. Perhaps she is developing a sixth sense, because although there is no guarantee that a project will work out until the contract is signed, she can often get a strong sense of whether there’s a project with “meat on it”.
Inspired by diversity
Not surprisingly, much of Tine’s work involves projects in developing regions. It’s taken her to all corners of the earth, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Bangladesh to Mongolia – and just about everywhere in between. As well-travelled and culturally aware as she is, she sometimes finds herself as the ‘travel guide’ when travelling with financing partners, offering crucial advice on local cultural etiquette.
“I’ve always been fascinated by getting to know people from other cultures, which started back when I worked at the World Bank, and met a lot of really capable people from all over the world.”
And her fascination for an international workplace continued into FLSmidth.
“FLSmidth is one of Denmark’s truly global companies, and I feel inspired by working in such a culturally diverse environment. Really, I get the best of both worlds. I meet so many different people from different countries, while at the same time applying myself professionally to what I’m good at.”
What more could one ask for?
Tine Bremholm Kokfeldt, Department Manager, Financing