On the fourth floor of a worndown office building in Manila, Per Stangegaard is busy staying on top of his mushrooming empire. Like in a modern Santa Claus´s workshop, he is working side by side with his secretaries, carpenters, web-designers and marketingemployees in the 200 square metre office.
Until recently all three of Per´s companies, Filtra Inc., Philscan and Scandinavia-Trend, were based here. However, Scandianavia-Trend, selling all kinds of Danish designed articles ranging from candlesticks to deck chairs, got its own high-end store elsewhere in Manila on May 5th. That gives the 50-60 employees a little more room to realize Per´s ideas.
And he gets a lot of new ideas in a number of different areas. Thats why he needs three companies. Philscan creates IT-solutions and homepages for companies in Denmark. The biggest company Filtra Inc. is doing import as well as export. The export to Denmark mainly consists of Phillippine wood, which is used for e.g. furniture. Filtra Inc.´s carpenters often make blueprints for products like trenchers and knifeboxes, which are being bought by exclusive brands in Denmark and sold in stores like Illum and Bahne.
The import departement mainly focuses on representing Danish design companies in the Philippines. For instances by selling their products in the recently opened Scandianavia Trend store.
Why only import?
Back in 1998, Per Stangegaard decided to take a year off after having worked in the lumberindustry for 20 years in different jobs in France, the Philippines, Holland and Ghana. Shortly after Per Stangegaard started thinking about the studio apartment he bought back in Manila, while he worked there from 1983 to 1991. In 1999 he flew back to Manila to investigate the possibilities of importing goods to the Philippines.
“A lot had changed, but numerous of my local contacts from the days at EAC, encouraged me to start a business,” Per Stangegaard says. He went back to Denmark to find danish companies, that would be interested in the Philippine market.
“It was difficult to convince the first companies that it would be a good idea to be represented in the Philippines, as they feared that the market wasn´t big enough. But as soon as the first companies were convinced, more followed soon after. So it didn´t take long, before a large variety of companies agreed to be represented by me. I felt enough companies had signed up to make it possible for me to move back to the Phillippines,” Per Stangegaard explains. In May 2000 he went to Manila and made the 36 square metre large studio apartment his temporary office head quarters.
At that time there wasn´t a lot of construction work going on in Manila. Despite that, Per did manage to get Junckers some orders, making Junckers able to ship the first container to Manila early 2001. The following year a few more containers were sent to the Phillippines, but that came to a sudden stop, as the U.S.-dollar exchange rate made it a bad business.
Having temporary trouble importing goods to the Phillippines, Per Stangegaard decided to find goods to export. Meanwhile, however, he was still finding importers and distributers for Danish companies like Louis Poulsen.
As the Phillippines put a stop to all export of cut lumber in 1986, the country had slowly but steadily developed an industry capable of producing manufactured, high quality woodden goods. It didn´t take Per long to combine his situation with his expertise and experience in the lumber business, and soon after contacts to buyers in Denmark had been established.
In 2002 Filtra Inc.had it´s first export order. A container full of mahogany to Denmark. Eva Solo was looking for an alternative to their beech trencher.
“That order gave us a lot of experience, and we got a chance to test the market. It also caused some synergy. After that we have been able to sell to the Danish companies, we at the same time were representing on the Phillippines. That created a two way-relationship, that has been strengthening our business ever since,” Per Stangegaard says.
Carpenter by coincidence
By October 2002 the business had improved so much that Per Stangegaard decided to move Filtra Inc. from the crammed studio apartment. But not far. The company stayed in the very same building, but moved into the 200 square metre office they are still residing today. Ever since both business and number of employees have increased steadily.
“It has called for investments, and from the very beginning I preferred to use money from my own savings rather than attracting outside investors. I don´t drive a fancy car, but I have been able to make a business that seems prosperous, but I don´t want to inform you of my annually business,” Per Stangegaard says.
Despite the fact, that Filtra Inc. currently imports and exports a large variety of products, designs e.g. kitchen utensils and leather briefcases, there was still room to take in another business. In 2001 Per decided to become a partner of an IT-company, now known as PhilScan.com.
“It all started, when we needed to have our own home page designed. When I realized how much money a programmer in Denmark costs hourly, I started thinking, we could do something in this field. In stead of paying a 1,200 danish kroner per hour in Denmark, we could hire skillfull Philippine programmers, who could do the same job for 200 kroner per hour,” Per Stangegaard explains. It didn´t take him long to find a business partner and start PhilScan as a joint venture.
Beside making IT-solutions for Filtra Inc., PhilScan soon got the then Danish embassy in Manila and some lumber suppliers as customers. Today Per owns PhilScan 100% after having bought his business partners share of the company in the end of 2003. Today the 15 employees do larger programmingjobs as well as tradional home page solutions, primarily for danish companies.
That Per Stangegaard can do business in wood as well as in IT is quite illustrative of the way he is thinking when doing business in the Phillippines.
“In my view, doing business in IT must be like doing business in wood. Actually, its easier doing business in IT. You still got your solution, once you sold it. Thats great. Then you can refresh it and sell it again. A thing you can´t do with wood. Once you´ve sold the wood, you´ll have to cut down another tree,” he explains enthusiastically.
And Per Stangegaard knows about wood. It´s in his blood – his grandfather and great-grandfather were both furniture carpenters. But not Per. Instead he decided to buy and sell wood. However, in 2003 coincidence had it that Per became a carpenter for the first time.
“ I was going to Denmark to do some advertising for the company and hopefully take a few orders with me back home. A Danish customer asked me to bring a few samples of trenchers. Quickly I designed and made some in Philippine mahogany. They liked it a lot and asked me to have it designed, so by coincidence I did become a carpenter after all. Today those very trenchers are very important in our production and export to Denmark,” Per Stangegaard says. Now, he often uses the nights to design new ideas, which his skillfull carpenters later can make to perfection.
“I am not as good a carpenter as my granddad and my great-granddad, but it has become a nice hobby for me,” he admits.
Bring on the bigger investors
After moving permanently to Manila in 2001 and starting to do business from the Philippines, no less than 50 danish trainees have been working with him. Today they got their own social network and meet in Denmark every summer. This year at Dragør Golfklub.
“It has been perfect having competent danish trainees out here, while expanding my business. It has been useful both to them and to me. I often meet with a lot of them, when I visit Denmark and several of them are now working permanently in the Phillippines,” Per Stangegaard says. He goes to Denmark two or three times a year, adding up to a total of four months.
As business with Danish customers is increasing, PhilScan is working closely with two consultants, who take care of a lot of the relationship with IT-customers in Denmark. The consultants are based in Denmark. That saves a lot of traveltime. Currently, Per Stangegaard is considering, whether to be more aggressive, when it comes to getting some of his business activities financed.
“Till now, we haven´t had ressources to promote ourselves on a greater scale. We have been very dependant on our network. Now could be the time for PhilScan to get capital from major investors. We have several good solutions, which we could offer as one complete solution. But that require many resources, so we´ll have to take it one step at a time for now. Actually, should an investor one day come by and say “That´s a moneymaker. I would like to invest in that,” then our IT-capacity would give us numerous possibilities,” Per Stangegaard says.
A little less ambitious, but still from the bottom of the heart, Per has developed a fictitious, vikinglike figure called Burgundar, which shall be used to sell equipment for a number of garden- and leisuretime-games that Filtra Inc. produces in Philippine wood. Some of these games have already been sold to Sweden and Canada amongst others.
“Don´t ask me, how I got the idea, but we do those kind of things as well now. We already received the first orders from customers wanting to play different garden games,” Per says smilingly.
The companies is what makes the 46-year old Jack-of-All-Trades live and he enjoys it. Meanwhile, he is pleased that his own business adventure can create a few extra jobs and help promote the Phillippines and the population, according to Per Stangegaard, the nicest in the world.
“It comes from the heart, when people are smiling down here. I hope to stay here for many years to come. My companies are my family. When people ask whether I got any kids, I usually replies `I got one, who already left home, two in puberty and one who still needs a new diaper once and a while.`That´s what it´s like right now. And there is a lot of new kids coming,” he laughs.