June 14, 2021
Philippe Bourg, Senior Vice President of our Refractory, Abrasives & Construction business explains that while carrying out a 40 million euro project during a global pandemic was certainly an ambitious objective, our teams stepped up to the challenge.
As leaders within our industry, we have a long-term strategy to expand our business globally and so, we’ve done just that and commissioned a new plant in India. Imerys already has a long and successful track record in India, with 16 industrial sites, 8 sales offices, 800 employees and 150 M€ of sales in 2020. Our country chairman Ish Garg has been instrumental in the past years in expanding our presence in this country. When it comes to steel, China and India are the leading producers globally; the next logical step for our refractory and building & infrastructure markets was to expand to these countries. As we had already expanded to China with 7 plants already operating, India was our next move.
Our aim for this expansion was to strengthen our local and global leadership by becoming key players across the world, bolstering our market position. With this project, our objective was to develop new market shares in India by being closer to local companies, as well as benefiting from the local expertise of workers, engineers and partners.
This project started back in 2015, when the decision was made to buy land in Vizag, which lies on the south east coast of India. An important consideration when buying the land was making sure the plant was near the sea for the import of raw materials, as well as the distribution of domestic sales across India. Although India is part of the developing world, we see the production of this plant as an opportunity; we hope to be seen as an early bird in this thriving country and help local and other international players from across the globe, develop their solutions in India for Refractory and Building & Infrastructure end markets.
For the Refractory teams, this was our first time working in India and we knew that the process may be slightly different to what we’re used to. When we work on a project in Europe, we can work with local contractors and equipment which we are familiar with. When working in a completely new territory, on a new continent, there are many challenges and a lot of complexities related to the specificity of the Indian market in terms of standardised procedures, workforce and skill, but we were prepared to succeed.
Since day one, the team has been focused on driving this project forward, but very quickly we realised that a project like this could only be run by someone with experience, who knew our approach to maintenance, quality control, leadership and so on. We therefore organised training for the team in India, who visited our plants in the UK and throughout Europe. The team were able to interact with their colleagues in the UK, for instance, getting to know them, know the equipment, and understand how we operate. This invaluable interaction between the teams generated a lot of positivity amongst the local workforce and teams in India and especially with what was coming our way.
We were making great progress with the project before the pandemic hit, which inevitably threw more difficulties our way. We had to set up remote control from our Technology Center in Lyon, France where our teams were interacting daily with our colleagues in India through technology such as virtual reality cameras to ensure the commissioning of the plant was moving forward. Years back, If I’d been told that one day we would start a plant remotely thanks to technology I couldn’t have believed it to be possible.
Throughout the project, there have been complications for sure, but one thing that really stood out to me from my colleagues in India, is that they are always extremely positive. When the stars aren’t aligned or something goes wrong, the positivity doesn’t disappear and they always try to find the positive in any situation; it’s that strength that inspires me and it’s that positivity that has helped us persevere through difficult times. This strong and always present cultural trait struck, and positively surprised me, when I first came across it back in 1996 during my first visit to India.
I joined Imerys nearly 25 years ago in July 1996, and this is the first time I’ve managed such a greenfield project. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved and I’m happy to have shared the experience with so many phenomenally talented colleagues especially in such a unique context.
When we plan projects like this, our clients' needs are at the forefront of our strategy. Completing a plant in a new country and region reaps great rewards; now having an industrial base in India, complementary to our existing commercial office and technical support laboratory, we are closer to some clients than ever before. Another benefit of our new location is that we are able to become a local market player; with less need for complicated logistics, import procedures hurdles and financial complications, we’re able to maintain a cost effective process whilst maintaining our quality, as we export our quality standards to uphold our practices.
India is already an important country and market for us. Even though we’re early in our story, this plant strengthens our position in India and South Asia. It bolsters the possibilities of local synergies and increases the attractiveness of the company within a new region, meaning we can appeal to local talent. We’re looking to continue building in India - we may have only opened our first plant, but there was once a time where we only had one plant in China, where we have expanded to three plants. We have ambition to develop our business in other states throughout India to potentially replicate the story in China. For us, this is more than just a plant, this is an investment for the future and a long term commitment for us.
I hope to visit India for the inauguration of our Vizag plant; those who helped deliver this project deserve the recognition for stepping up to all of the challenges we faced along the way. Our CEO, Alessandro Dazza, is also expected to visit whenever sanitary conditions will allow it and I’m excited for him to meet all of our fantastic colleagues in India, and learn about the hard work that went into this project. As part of the Indian culture, I’m looking forward to planting a new tree which will represent this new endeavour and symbolize the birth of something new and exciting for all of us. This will be one of the most special trees I will plant in this beautiful country since the first one I planted over 2 decades ago.
Special thank you to Vincent Couty, Olivier Berger, Chris Parr, Segi idicula, Arvind Sigh, Patrick Molitor, Olivier Bernard and all their teams who have been instrumental in leading this project and launching the commercialization. I’m looking forward to whatever the future holds for us, and we’re all excited to continue our journey in India.
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