Civinity CEO Virgeda Jackaite: 'Expansion is in Civinity's DNA, but people matter the most!'

  • 2024-06-17
  • Linas Jegelevicius

Construction of engineering systems and facility management might still look to some like an-all-male industry – all about bolts and screws. But for Virgeda Jackaite, the new CEO of Civinity, a one of the leading building maintenance and engineering solutions group in the Baltics, it is all about something different – people. And then comes expansion!

“For me, it is about those who live, work, or entertain in the buildings, and those who install the most modern engineering systems and maintain various commercial and residential facilities in the name of Civinity. My primary focus is on people, both clients and employees,” V. Jackaite told The Baltic Times Magazine. 

Yet she admits laughing that being a young woman in construction business has gotten her in hilarious situations. 

“I remember I was at one of my first clients’ Christmas events in London. When I introduced myself to the men, one of them didn’t believe that, as a woman, I could lead such a business. Jokingly, he asked me to name the types of ducts. Although I am not an engineer and don’t need to know all the technical details, I took it as a challenge and learned all the system names and their purposes the next day (laughs). I don’t take such situations seriously and try to look at them with a smile,” the Civinity CEO added.

Your brother, Deividas Jacka, told the media last spring that the change in Civinity's CEO was a long-planned move to pass the company management to you, the youngest family member. Do you remember when he first mentioned this? What was your reaction, and why did you agree?

Before joining Civinity, I lived in England for 10 years, studying and pursuing my career. My brother and I had discussed me joining his business since I was young, but I seriously considered it when Civinity entered the UK market.

Three years ago, Civinity Engineering won a bid for Vastint's project, Sugar House Island, in London. I accepted the offer to manage it, which involved setting up the company in the UK, forming the team, establishing processes, and ensuring the project's timely and accurate completion.

Over time, I became involved in other aspects of Civinity's business and started spending more time in Lithuania. This led to my transition from working in the UK subsidiary to working with the main group, and eventually to leading it.

Deividas and I share a vision for the future real estate market, focusing on what clients will need to build and manage buildings and the services city dwellers should receive. This vision is a significant ambition for me, which I aim to achieve with the great Civinity team. I am grateful to Deividas for his trust and believe we just need time to fully realize our plans.

Reflecting on your childhood and youth, what shaped you as a person, individual, and entrepreneur?

Growing up in Palanga, a seaside town in Lithuania, I had a wonderful childhood with a loving family and many friends. I was always active and eager to learn, so at 15, I found a school in England and asked my family to let me study there. Leaving home early, compared to usual traditions in Lithuania, I began living independently.

Living abroad significantly shaped who I am today. It taught me independence, courage, and valuable life lessons. I met people from around the world, becoming more cosmopolitan and tolerant of different opinions and perspectives.

After graduating from Palanga's Old Gymnasium, you chose to study in England. You graduated from St. Clare’s College in Oxford, studied accounting and finance at the University of Birmingham, and completed a leadership course at Harvard University. Why did you choose finance, and why England for your studies?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I always saw myself working in business. Although math was the most challenging subject for me at school, I decided to study finance early on, determined to master it (smiles).

Looking back, I'm pleased with my choice. Finance is essential for making well-informed business decisions. As the head of an international company, the knowledge I gained at university helps me address both everyday and strategic business issues.

And in terms of life experiences, how valuable were your experiences in England? Did you ever regret your decision?

Never. I am very grateful to my family for their trust and financial support. Thinking about the future and my own family, I will encourage my children to study and live in a foreign country if they wish.

After graduating, you worked for several large corporations in London. What experience did you gain during this period, and how do you apply it today?

I often say I am lucky, but that luck involved a lot of effort. While still studying, I interned at one of the largest banks and later at a business consulting firm. After graduation, I secured a job in the administration of Vogue. This stage was both professionally beneficial and enjoyable since I have always been interested in fashion. During my time at Vogue House, I attended the best events in London and met many people in the industry. I learned that finance and networking can open many doors.

After my time in fashion, I moved on to Tradeweb, a leading FinTech company. There I grew professionally and climbed the career ladder. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to participate in the company's IPO process. The experience I gained is invaluable, as I hope to one day use it to take Civinity public.

But Civinity, so to speak, is all about walls, roofs, and doors. No joke: it is a leading building management and engineering group in the Baltic States, controlling more than 30 companies, managing 10 million square meters of buildings, and implementing thousands of engineering systems across Europe. Where did you start when you first took over?

To me, Civinity is primarily about people: those who live, work, or entertain in the buildings, and those who install and maintain the most modern engineering systems. My primary focus has always been on improving their lives.

We are a family business. My brother and I are best friends, so I grew up with the company, always aware of its activities, goals, challenges, and achievements. Deividas and I often discussed the future directions and vision of the business. Therefore, when I took over as leader, I was already familiar with the company, which saved a lot of time.

With these responsibilities came a great deal of accountability. I don't think I know everything, so I surround myself with more experienced professionals. Just a few weeks ago, I returned from New York, where I met with a mentor from Evercore to discuss future trends and possible transformations for Civinity. Of course, my greatest mentor is Deividas, whose advice and opinion I can get by calling him anytime (smiles).

It seems that your financier “gene” also manifests itself at the helm of Civinity…

I believe that any entrepreneur needs to understand numbers. Before starting a new initiative, project, product, or service, it’s essential to understand its financial benefits.

Deividas and I have been a great team for many years: he generates ideas and attracts investments, while I measure his ideas carefully before implementing them. 

Moreover, at Civinity, we have created one thousand five hundred jobs, which is a big responsibility, making sustainable financial management essential.

The revenues of the Civinity group grow every year. Since I joined, revenues have doubled. We plan to expand beyond the Baltic States and consider investments in new sectors. All of this requires financial knowledge.

Is equality and the empowerment of women important to you?

Yes. I am proud that we have almost equal numbers of men and women on the Civinity team. A significant number of women in the group’s companies also hold leadership positions. Although it might seem that we are breaking the standards of a “male” industry, this result feels natural to us—we do not categorize professions as male or female. When selecting employees, we always focus on their competences, abilities, and potential, rather than their gender, age, or similar criteria.

What goals did your brother Deividas set for you when he handed over the leadership of Civinity? And what goals do you set for yourself?

Statistics show that we spend 21 hours a day in buildings. Based on this, a few years ago, we set a vision to create a Smart Green City ecosystem that integrates essential services for city dwellers related to living, working, and receiving services in buildings, as well as mobility when traveling between them. 

Our strategy to achieve this vision is to develop technologies with other leaders in the PropTech industry and integrate them into a single smart product that every city dweller can easily use. 

For this reason, three years ago, we founded the PropTech association with Infobalt, which has now grown and merged with PropTech Lithuania. Our members include leaders in real estate development, startups, the academic community, and government institutions. Currently, Lithuania is a leader in the FinTech sector. I have no doubt that soon, Lithuania will also lead in the PropTech industry.

What is the business's primary focus today? Expansion or service quality?

Both. Quality is our highest priority; sustainable growth isn't possible without it in either current or new markets. We foster a culture oriented toward quality, regularly review processes, and educate employees through the Civinity Academy.

At the same time, expansion is in Civinity's DNA. The group started with the acquisition of the first company in Kaipeda, Lithuania, and has grown continuously by acquiring new businesses. In the future, we will continue to seek growth not only in our home markets of Lithuania, Latvia, and the United Kingdom but also by expanding into new markets such as the Scandinavian countries, the United Arab Emirates and others.

To balance these goals, we have dedicated separate teams and leaders for each. My role is to ensure they have the right conditions to succeed.

Civinity employs 1,500 people in Lithuania, Latvia, and the United Kingdom. What brief message would you like to send them?

I want to thank them for being part of our team. We are a family business, so every employee is like family to us. I often emphasize this in conversations with colleagues. Every Civinity employee is very important to me; I value their experiences and uniqueness and strive to listen to their needs and find the best solutions.

In which direction are building administration, maintenance and engineering solutions moving? What innovative solutions have you already implemented? And which ones are you actively considering? AI (artificial intelligence) has a role in your field too, right?

Absolutely. We can't imagine our future operations without digitalization and artificial intelligence. This includes internal tools for work management and smart solutions for clients, allowing them to quickly and conveniently handle all issues related to their property.

Civinity is listed on Nasdaq Vilnius. Are you planning a new share issue?

We issued the last bond in October of last year, which received tremendous interest from investors. In the first week, we collected applications for the full amount, and ultimately, demand exceeded supply. Such results are inspiring, and we are currently considering the possibility of issuing another bond. We are also considering an IPO when market conditions are favourable, and we are ready for it.

Where would you like to see Civinity in another 10 years?

For us, it's more important to focus on how we want to see Civinity rather than where. We envision it being several times larger than it is today and, most importantly, creating unique added value for our clients. We want to provide services that make city dwellers' daily lives easier.

They say you should dream big, so I want Civinity to be the first choice for customers in Western Europe.

And at the end of the day, how do you best unwind? What can't you imagine your pastime without? And do you have any free time?

I have a one-year-old golden retriever named Apelsinas, and I enjoy long evening walks with him in the park. Recently, I started running and participated in my first half marathon. I also love mountains and heights, so hiking often becomes my vacation destination. I value and cherish every day spent with my family. We enjoy traveling and spending time together in different ways. It's no surprise that even during our leisure time, conversations often drift towards Civinity.