During the 22 years Olivier Milhaud has worked at LafargeHolcim, the cement industry has changed a great deal. “I’ve seen this industry transform very quickly. It’s obviously improved a lot in terms of efficiency and compliance, especially environmental compliance,” he explains.
Based in the United Arab Emirates since 2015, Milhaud first became CFO at LafargeHolcim’s Lafarge Emirates Cement and then transitioned to General Manager in January 2020. Before relocating to the country, he spent 12 years in China, where he witnessed major shifts in how the industry operates.
“In China, 20 years ago, the cement industry was still artisanal, but large groups have emerged and have built big factories,” he says. “These companies are now relying on a strong economy, advanced technology, high efficiency and waste recycling, as well as protecting the environment being of paramount significance when it comes to emissions.”
Many countries across the world are following the transformation Milhaud saw in China, at different speeds. In the United Arab Emirates, the cement industry is rapidly progressing toward meeting new challenges, particularly with tackling environmental concerns.
One aspect he points to as a major innovation is the optimization of energy consumption, in part through recycling. “There is a device that is now used often called Waste Heat Recovery, where the hot gases of the production line are being used to run turbo generators, which themselves produce electricity for the plant,” he shares.
“Success is about cost efficiency, product efficiency and management efficiency because we are in a commodity business.”
Not only are these innovations benefiting Lafarge Emirates Cement, they are proving to be extremely good for the economy and the environment. While there is clearly more to achieve when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, early results are showing promise.
“There are scientific projects designed to recycle CO2 [Carbon Capture Utilization] and to incorporate it in products [carbon concrete]. This is still at the experimental stage and our plant has been selected to run one of the trial studies,” Milhaud adds.
When it comes to defining success at Lafarge Emirates Cement, efficiency in all its forms is essential. “Success is about cost efficiency, product efficiency and management efficiency because we are in a commodity business,” Milhaud points out. “The critical aspect is to be able to maximize the volume with the minimum cost at all stages of the production.”
Securing business basics – such as maintaining solid relationships with customers and offering quality products – are also central ingredients to creating an industry leading company. With an extensive network of export markets, it’s especially important to ensure all products meet exacting standards, as products are being tested at the time of loading and offloading.
For Milhaud, the role of the quality team is critical to ensuring the success of the export business. “We are exporting to different areas of the world – the Indian ocean, the US market – and we have plans to export to India, Sri Lanka and other destinations in the region,” he says.
In such a competitive and crowded industry, Milhaud believes that Lafarge Emirates Cement can thrive thanks to its strict level of compliance across many areas in the business.
From the way manufacturing plants are operated to upholding human rights compliance codes and having a prequalification of suppliers for health and safety, a strong rules-based business environment helps ensure all stakeholders are happy.
“We know that the people we work with are quite demanding, but we have selected our suppliers well and are confident that they will comply with our rules,” he explains.
“We have a very skilled, quality team, who are able to adapt to the diverse level of specifications and different norms.”
One of the benefits of being part of a larger corporate group is the ability to learn best practices from staff across the diverse network of companies. Unlike small-scale firms with a single location, Lafarge Emirates Cement can provide mobility to its employees, as well as unique training opportunities, with the business benefiting from the best experiences that are being shared with others in the network.
“We have a very skilled, quality team, who are able to adapt to the diverse level of specifications and different norms,” Milhaud concludes. “This really shows the rigor in our management – it’s a way to differentiate us from competitors.”
In the years that Milhaud has worked at Lafarge Emirates Cement, he’s helped to foster close relationships with a range of suppliers. These strategic partnerships have enabled the company to always rely on suppliers.
“The trusted suppliers of the company have an in-depth knowledge of our organization, and since these suppliers adapt their resources to our needs, the business is thereby able to work at an optimized level. There is no time wasted and we work in close cooperation – it’s helpful in terms of boosting efficiency,” he says.