5 questions to Guillaume Delacroix, our Senior Vice President of the Performance Minerals EMEA Business Area and a member of Imerys Executive Committee.
1. How did your Business Area respond to the Covid-19 crisis?
From the outset of the crisis, we established shared priorities: protecting our colleagues’ health and keeping our customers running throughout the crisis.
We quickly organized ourselves to implement information sharing, coordination and swift decision making, with all colleagues playing a crucial part in the efforts. As the crisis progressed, we learned to deal with Covid-19 as a more permanent feature in our business and personal lives, adapting by inventing new tools, routines and ways of working to sustain the initial effort in the long term.
We are now entering the last and equally delicate phase, which is the exit out of the crisis and back to new normality which we have not yet fully delineated.
2. What is the specificity of your Business Area and how is this specificity managed in the exceptional Covid-19 situation?
The Europe Middle East Africa business is characterised by a large diversity of customers, products and operations: we serve 16,000 customers active in 100 industrial applications and; we trade more than 15 minerals through 80 industrial sites across 25 countries. This diversity requires sustained information and practice sharing throughout the business.
During the recent crisis, our customers have demonstrated very different demand patterns depending on the sector they operate in, which we had to anticipate and adapt to. Our geographical reach has also allowed us to first establish best practices in the countries initially impacted by Covid-19, which were then rolled out in the rest of the EMEA region as the pandemic progressed.
The last specificity of our EMEA business is its high-degree of interdependency with the rest of the world: we export and import more than 40% of our local sales and therefore have to deal with a long lead-time supply chain which makes accurate mid-term forecasting and agile supply chain management instrumental in our success.
3. What are the impacts on your operations and markets?
We are benefiting from our presence in markets that have proven strategic to the society during the crisis and have thus demonstrated significant growth, for example, healthcare, packaging or food and beverages.
We also serve markets which have been more directly impacted by the social distancing measures, such as automotive, construction and even personal care or chewing-gum. We have thus adapted our production schedule and are constantly revising it to adjust to fluid and varied demand patterns and are adjusting every week to stick to this fluid situation. As most of our customers are now restarting, it is apparent that they are carefully scaling this restart to suit the end-market demand and we are therefore doing the same.
As mineral solution providers we are very much upstream of the economy and we tend to see the macro-trend reflected in the demand for our products one to three months ahead of the game.
4. What will the consequences of this unprecedented crisis be?
As an industrialist, I would not be surprised if we see a mild re-regionalization of the global economy with more intense trade flows within the EMEA region, as the safety of the supply chain for critical goods will be prioritized. If this occurs, we are ready to follow our customers in this direction, although, as a citizen, I believe that we ought to recognize the interdependence we live in as well as the positive impact of globalization on our daily lives.
I also expect that the attention to sustainable development and the fight against climate change will be given further importance in political and economic agendas as we realize the limits of a development model fully skewed toward quantitative growth. Personally, I think this is a very good thing, and we, at Imerys are deploying increasing R&D and marketing resources to develop sustainable solutions for the many markets we serve: from sustainable packaging to sustainable mobility or greener building materials.
5. What are your Business Area’s future prospects?
Our future prospects will be partly driven by the acceleration of our geographic expansion in the MEA and Central & Eastern European parts of EMEA. We currently have a nascent presence and want to make it commensurate to the huge potential that Africa and the Middle East or CEE can offer.
Another prospect for our business in Europe is the ability to be a successful player in the upcoming energy transition towards a sustainable industrial model. Our minerals have a key role to play in this transition and we have many developments underway, from plastic recycling enablers, to light weight additives for building materials or post-industrial minerals waste regeneration.
Lastly, we are committed to unleashing the full innovation potential of our customer-centric organisation by continuing to expand our offer of value-added additives solutions that will position us on faster growing segments.