Corporate news

Philippe Bourg: “This crisis reinforces human dimension of the manager role“

5 questions to Philippe Bourg, our Senior Vice President of Refractory, Abrasives & Construction Business Area and member of the Imerys’ Executive Committee.

A picture of Philippe Bourg

Philippe joined Imerys in 1996, where he held several positions within the Refractory division. In 2010, he then moved to the Ceramics division, which he was appointed Vice-President (VP) and General Manager in 2014. He has been leading the Refractory, Abrasives and Construction Business Areas (BA) since November 2018.

1. What is your role as Senior VP and what is your role in the Covid-19 crisis management?

My role is a blend of vision, operations and management. It’s about taking the day-to-day management decisions at the BA level as well as being an active and collaborative member of the Executive Committee. Together with my colleagues, we address challenges and opportunities for Imerys as a Group and we participate in cross BAs initiatives, envisioning Imerys’ future and its strategy, to ensure consistency across the Group and relevance within our BA.

In the context of the Covid-19 outbreak, I play more than ever the role of a conductor, combining organizational needs, coordinative approach, with the necessary agility and speed, tackling a wide range of issues, including safety, supply chain, logistics and IT, as well as overseeing the impact on our customers. I am also in constant contact with our managers to deal with all questions relating to the crisis.

What really strikes me most in the unprecedented situation we are all facing, is how this crisis puts the emphasis on the human dimension of the manager’s role; where our ability to listen, care and empathize is put to the test, when it is, in fact, the solution! It is also a good reminder to all leaders of the importance of their social responsibility when making decisions: the support we offer to employees across the Group must be fair and consistent, even if that means additional efforts.

2. What is the specificity of your BA and how is this specificity managed in the exceptional Covid-19 situation?

Refractory, Abrasives and Construction is a global BA both in production and sales—we operate 40 industrial assets in 20 countries and serve customers in 90 different geographies—with strong exposure to heavy industries (such as Automotive and Iron & steel).

There are important growth opportunities for the BA in both China and India.

Our recent acquisition of Mount Tai Abrasives contributes to this path, reinforcing our presence in China.

Given the nature of our activities, our BA is one of the highest carbon footprint contributors within the Group. With this in mind, we are continuously investing in R&D and working towards lowering our emissions and providing sustainable products and solutions to our clients, such as our special cement that allows low-carbon footprint building construction.

We are ensuring delivery even in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, thanks to the continuous presence and actions of our teams and to our diverse and comprehensive portfolio. Our products and geographical presence are complementary and enable us to ensure our clients’ supply chain in this challenging time.

3. What are the impacts on your markets?

Our BA has been very resilient during the first quarter. We have begun to see a slowdown in April in the USA and in Europe, the most affected segment being Construction. However, we also believe that this segment will pick up the fastest, thanks in particular to government support across the world. This is the trend we are currently observing in China.

For Refractories & Abrasives, the crisis effect on our order books is more limited at the moment, but our exposure to the Automotive and Steel industries, that have been severely impacted by the crisis, means that we are expecting an impact.

4. What will the consequences of this unprecedented crisis be?

From an internal perspective, I think that this crisis has strengthened the ties between our different teams, which have all come together around a central value: ensuring the best possible service, without compromising the safety of the teams.

I am impressed by their motivation to keep on working and serving our clients. When we all meet again (physically/face to face), we'll be even closer together and unified. Going through this ordeal together, with its share of successes and failures, will undoubtedly bring us closer together.

This crisis will also enable us to strengthen our relationships with our customers. One of the objectives of our recent transformation journey was to put our customers at the heart of our thinking. Today, our sales teams are forging unprecedented ties with Imerys' customers. We are having new discussions that will bring us ever closer to their demands. Our commitment at their side during these difficult times will also reinforce their confidence in us – I believe we will be rewarded for all the efforts Imerys teams are making.

5. What are the Refractory, Abrasives & Construction BA’s future prospects?

We will continue our work on disruptive innovation and capturing organic growth opportunities while continuing to ensure that safety remains at the heart of our strategy.

An interesting development that underlines the environmental specificity I mentioned above is the investment we are completing in the US, following the example of other solutions already developed within the group, that will reduce the group's carbon footprint by 5%, thanks to the use of peanut hulls as a fuel.

A few words to conclude

A crisis is always a defining moment in identifying an organization's strengths and weaknesses. Imerys teams demonstrated their strong adaptability and commitment towards our company and our customers. I would like to highlight the wonderful work our colleagues are making and express my sincerest thanks to them and to our customers and all our partners who are demonstrating every day the confidence they have in our company.