What’s it like to design toys at Denmark’s secretive Lego headquarters?

As a boy, Samuel Tacchi was crazy about Lego cranes. Now he designs them, under cloak-and-dagger secrecy, at the Danish group's headquarters where Santa has filled his sacks for decades.

What's it like to design toys at Denmark's secretive Lego headquarters?
Lego designer Samuel Tacchi from France, 34, shows a few designs at the Lego campus in Billund. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

At its ultra-modern flagship building in Billund, a visit to the offices where the design work is done is out of the question — the company is fiercely protective of its trade secrets.

But Tacchi, a 34-year-old Frenchman, lifts the veil a smidgen on the creative process, standing at a display featuring some of the brand’s colourful toy kits.

“I always start with a little sketch on paper about what I have in mind”, says Tacchi, who designs for the Lego Technic series.

“Then I start to build the technical layout: the drive train, steering, and starting to build with the function. And then I dive into the styling.”

“Then afterwards we dive into the computer.”

His office is a child’s dream come true, chock-a-block with Lego Technic pieces.

“We have an elements shelf behind our backs. It’s easy to reach and fix some elements, build them together and see if (our idea) works,” he says.

In his seven years with the company, Tacchi has helped create around 25 kits.

A family-owned company, Lego employs more than 20,000 people around the world — more than a quarter of them in Billund, which is also home to its oldest factory.

Here, in a huge hall where robots move about like in a choreographed dance, hundreds of thousands of pieces are manufactured each day.

Colourful plastic is moulded into familiar shapes: bricks, figurines, hair, dragon wings and tyres (Lego is reported to be the biggest tyre manufacturer in the world!)

Sorted and stored by model in large crates in an adjoining warehouse, the pieces are then sent to other factories to be included in kits.

An early toy fire engine is displayed next to the lettering ‘Leg Godt’ (Play Well), at the Lego Museum in Billund. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

While everything is made of plastic today, the toy empire was founded by a carpenter very conscious of the quality of the wood he used.

In 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, Ole Kirk Kristiansen began making wooden toys, winning the favour of Danish children with his yo-yos.

“He sold the yo-yo to every child in Billund and… (when every child had one) he couldn’t sell anymore. But he still had them laying around,” explains Signe Wiese, Lego’s resident historian.

“So instead of throwing them out or just leaving them, he reused them. He split the yo-yos in half and he used them for wheels on wagons.”

Four years later, having given up on carpentry, he named his new company “Lego”, a contraction of the Danish “Leg godt”, which means “Play well”.

With a shortage of raw materials after World War II, Kirk Kristiansen gradually turned towards plastic and invested his life savings in an injection moulding machine.

“He was really fascinated with the technology and the machinery and the material itself,” says Wiese.

“So for him, it seems to have been a pretty easy decision, in spite of the fact that everyone was actually advising him against it.”

The idea for the bricks came later.

Initially they were made without Lego’s famed “clutch power” — the mechanism that makes it possible to click the bricks together.

The design was patented in 1958, paving the way for an endless catalogue of figures, shapes and kits.

Now, Lego is the biggest toymaker in the world, ahead of Japan’s Bandai Namca and US groups Hasbro and Mattel, according to market analysts Statista.

This year, Lego says its catalogue of toys is bigger than ever before, but refuses to disclose the exact number. Another trade secret…

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How have work permit rules been changed in Denmark?

After the Danish parliament last week voted to ease some work permit requirements, we take a closer look at which rules have been changed.

How have work permit rules been changed in Denmark?

Parliament to voted last week to make changes to Denmark’s immigrations rules designed to make it easier to for companies to hire internationally.

The bill, which was submitted to parliament in February by immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek, permanently reduces the minimum wage required under the Pay Limit Scheme (Beløbsordning), making it easier for companies to recruit skilled workers from non-EU countries.

It also opens up the country’s fast-track work permit certification scheme to companies with as few as ten employees, extends the job search period for foreign graduates of Danish universities to three years, adds more job titles to the Positive List for People with Higher Education, and extends the Start-up Denmark scheme for entrepreneurs. 

The new rules come into effect on April 1st, after which work permits can be applied for under the new rules.

Pay Limit Scheme 

The Pay Limit Scheme is an arrangement by which work permits are granted to non-EU nationals. Under the scheme, work permits can be granted to applicants who have been offered a wage above a set amount by a Danish employer.

Under the old rules that minimum wage was 448,000 kroner per year. The law change permanently reduces it to 375,000 kroner per year.

Foreign workers can now be given a work permit under the scheme on the lower wage, but it should be noted that that jobs given to non-EU citizens hired internationally are still subject to rules ensuring equivalent pay for the roles.

This means that if the role being hired for was normally paid 425,000 kroner, for example, employers will still have to pay this level, and not the 375,000 kroner minimum. 

Fast-track work permit 

The Fast-track Scheme allows certified companies to employ foreign nationals with special qualifications more quickly and easily than through the standard pathway.

If an employer and employee agree they want the new job to be started quickly, the employer can be given power of attorney to submit an application under the Fast-track Scheme on behalf the employee. It is a prerequisite that the employer is certified to use the Fast-track Scheme.

In short, this means that employers, by registering the scheme, can enable their foreign hires to be granted a temporary work permit so they can start their job immediately after arriving in Denmark, or – if the employee is not exempted from Danish visa rules – get them a permit including an entry visa within 10 days.

The new rules allow companies with as few as 10 employees to register for the scheme, a reduction from the minimum of 20 under the old rules.

Job search period for foreign graduates of Danish universities 

The outgoing rules allow students who have completed and been awarded a Danish Professional Bachelor’s (vocational), Bachelor’s, Master’s degree or PhD degree to can for an establishment card.

This is a residence and work permit that allows the graduated student to stay in Denmark for two years, the period of time the permit is valid, to enable them to apply for jobs and establish themselves on the labour market.

There are certain conditions attached to the establishment card: You must not give up your Danish address or stay abroad for longer than 6 successive months, and the permit does not allow you to work in other Schengen countries.

Under the new rules, all foreign nationals who complete degree programmes with the above classifications will automatically be given a three-year (a longer period than the two years given under the old rules) “job seeking period” in which they have the right to live and work in Denmark.

Positive List for People with Higher Education

The Positive List is a list of professions experiencing a shortage of qualified professionals in Denmark.

Danish Residence and work permits can be granted based on offers of jobs included in the Positive List. Applicants must have an educational background that makes them qualified for the job.

The Positive List is usually updated twice a year, in January and July, but the new rules open up this list to a broader range of applicants.

No information is currently available as to who will be covered by this broader scope, but the now-passed bill which implements the changes mentions that “regional labour market councils” and “specialised a-kasser” [unemployment insurance providers] can conclude there is “a national lack of qualified labour” and that job offers can thereby qualify for the positive list.

Start-up Denmark scheme for entrepreneurs

Start-up Denmark is a scheme for foreign entrepreneurs. Two-year work permits can be granted based on a business idea which must be approved by a panel of experts appointed by the Danish Business Authority. If the business is successful, the permits can be extended for three years at a time.

The scheme can be used by both individuals and teams of up to three people who want to start a business together in Denmark through a joined business plan.

There must be specific Danish business interests that favour of the establishment of the business in Denmark, and normal businesses such as restaurants or retail do not normally qualify under the existing rules.

However, like with the Positive List, the rule changes open the scheme to a broader range of applicants.

While it seems the new rules could benefit a broad target group of potential skilled foreign workers who see opportunities in Denmark, they “may be a game changer for the smaller companies hiring employees within industries with lower salary thresholds where the new hire has only a few years of experience,” Rikke Wolfsen, country manager Global Immigration practice with the Danish section of financial services company EY, told The Local in previous comments about the lower salary thresholds. 

Full details of the new rules and their relevant application pages and materials will be published on the website of the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI), the agency which processes work permit applications, on April 1st.

We will also report additional detail relating to, for example, the Positive List and job seeking period for graduates.