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Interview Home > Interview

Safety, Innovation and Development - Refwin Interview with CEO and Senior VP of Imerys


Imerys, the world leader in mineral-based specialties for the industry, delivers high value-added, functional solutions to a great number of industries, ranging from process manufacturing to consumer goods, with 237 industrial sites in over 50 countries.

Conrad Keijzer, joined Imerys as Chief Executive Officer in May 2018. He was in AkzoNobel as a member of the Board of Management and CEO of its Performance Coatings business.

Philippe Bourg, joined Imerys in 1996 and was appointed as Senior Vice President Refractory, Abrasives & Construction in November 2018.

First of all, I wish Imerys Tianjin a Happy 20th birthday!

Refwin: What was the original intention and goal of building this factory? After 20 years of development, has the original goal been achieved?

Imerys: At that time already, Imerys was the market leader in Europe, and the intention was to also become a market leader in China. That's why the factory was built twenty years ago. The objective has been more than achieved. We're actually a very strong market leader for high alumina cements in China today.

In 1999, the production of crude steel was 120 million tones in China, and now 20 years later, it's almost 1 billion tones. So at that moment, it was probably a global market share of 10-15%. Now it's actually more than 50% of the world's steel production is in China, so China is not only making steel for China, but also for the world.

China is the leading country for steel. It was important for both, our customers and ourselves, to be there at that time to take the benefits of this development by providing high alumina cement. We are serving the fast growing segment of monolithic with solutions equivalent to the one we are promoting in Europe. We want to keep on supporting the growth of China by providing first-class technology to serve this market.

Refwin: Safety is the cornerstone of Imerys culture and development, and Imerys Aluminates Tianjin is recording zero lost time accident for 16 years. Visitors highly praise the safety assurance. What is explaining this success, what specific measures are you taking to ensure continuous safety across Imerys plants?

Imerys: Safety is a continuous effort and everybody must be involved. It's not just from the top management, it’s because everybody is convinced that safety should be the first priority when they come and work in the plant. I have visited Tianjin factory already three times, every time I'm coming, I see new initiatives, some improvements, because people care for their safety and care for the safety of the others.

Thanks to that, they put in place new ideas, new ways of working. And this is the only way that you can achieve such a long term performance. It is not just about following protocols, it is not just about management decisions, it’s because people really care.

In the end, it's about caring for our employees and employees caring for each other. It's a broader set of principles.

Refwin: Besides Tianjin, Imerys also has production plants in many other provinces in China, could you please introduce the overall developing strategy of Imerys in China in the future? What are your ambition on Imerys development in China?

Imerys: If you look at the history, we started the production in 1999, but before that we were selling some imported products already.

In the past 20 years, Imerys has established in total 13 factories in China, which means that most of the products sold in China are also produced in China. We also export products from our China plants to other countries.

To complete our ambitions for China, we really want to build our development thanks to our local footprint, serving the China markets with solutions developed in China, helping the Chinese industry to develop to very high standard.

This is what we already have experienced in Tianjin.

Refwin: In recent years, Imerys also launched new products like MagArmour and AluAlumour, Secar XR and JC83 for building chemistry for example, which are warmly accepted by the Refractory market. Imerys is always pushing Innovation, could you please tell us more on Imerys ambitions in that respect?

Imerys: We have probably contributed to a step-up in the quality of steel by supplying the same premium technology (high alumina cement, fused zirconia, andalusite, tabular alumina, mullite, ...) than the one we were providing already in Europe.

We have a Science&Technology Centre here in Tianjin, which is not just for China, but which serves refractroy market worldwide. It’s ideally located here, keeping on developing new solutions, new technology to improve the performance of refractories.

For sure, innovation is happening thanks to the interaction with our customers. We are working very closely to understand what are the challenges they need to address.

Innovation is not just in Tianjin. Imerys has 10 Science&Technology centers in Asia, in Europe and USA. At Group level is represents a lot of expertise which are helping us to stregthen our innovation capabilities in all the market segments we serve.

Refwin: You have a very rich portfolio of well-known products serving the refractory market either being produced domestically likeSecar 71 at Imerys Tianjin or Fused Zirconia at Imerys Yingkou as well as a full range of imported products such as Andalusite, Mullite, Chamotte, Ball Clays, White Fused Alumina, Tabular Alumina etc. 

Could you please give us some insight on the worldwide refractory market and the outlook? How Imerys tackle the opportunities and challenges?

Imerys: Refractory market is for us a very attractive market. If you look at the current market conditions, it's still positive growth in the US, but we see a slowdown in Europe. The steel production in Europe was declining by 1% in the first quarter of 2019. In the second quarter, it was declining in Europe by 4%. It is a challenging situation. Fortunately, in China, the market is still in a positive growth.

Refractory producers is a large segment for Imerys. What we want to do in China is to increase our market share. We are the market leader for alumina cement coming out of this plant, but we still have growth potential for other products. We strongly believe that we can increase our market share by putting all together, all the products and solutions, in the hands of a strong and dedicated sales and technical support team.

We want to increase our offering of added value product and solution to the refectory market in China, which is the largest refractory market in the world.

Refwin: Imerys is currently going through a transformation moving from 12 divisions to 5 Business areas, could you please tell us more on the rationale and the expected benefits?

Imerys: We have decided to move from a product-based organization to a market focused and customer centric organization while simplifying our operating model to become more efficient. As you see, we have a lot of customers here today that have been very satisfied with our products and our services over the last 20 years. Our obejective is to continue to serve our customers with even more products and solutions to make their lives easier and do even better innovation with them.

We are the market leader in most of the industries we serve and we want to stay ahead.

Thanks for your time for accepting Refwin’s Interviews! Wish Imerys a brighter future and all the best to you!

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