After asset buying, Indian cement companies shift focus to marketing

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Over the past the years, the Indian cement industry has seen its biggest ever acquisition, impact of two global majors joining hands and entry of a detergent maker into this segment. The result is a churn in ownership of assets and in managerial expertise.

Industry experts say this means the focus is now on marketing. “It is absolutely clear that most of the top appointments in the past few years were made while keeping marketing expertise in mind,” said an official who was earlier associated with a cement maker.

On September 20, Nuvoco Vista Corp announced the appointment of Jayakumar Krishnaswamy as managing director (MD). Nuvoco is the subsidiary created by the Nirma Group to house the cement assets it bought from Lafarge India, for $1.4 billion (about Rs 100 billion) in July 2016. 

That acquisition also started a chain of managerial change. As part of the deal, Ujjwal Batria, earlier with Lafarge India, became the MD for Nuvoco. But not for long. He resigned from Nuvoco early this year, to join Dalmia Cement in June as chief operating officer. 

“LafargeHolcim brought Martin, who has had past experience with India, back to head India in 2016. Such appointments help improve sales in a specific market. Others like Maheshwari at UltraTech or Akhoury at ACC are known for marketing expertise,” said Nitin Bhasin, head of institutional equities research at Ambit Capital. It is not surprising that after the global merger, LafargeHolcim chose to tap into its top managerial staff which already understands the Indian market. Martin Kriegner was appointed head of India for LafargeHolcim in 2016, after the global merger. In earlier stints, Kriegner worked in India as chief executive officer (CEO) of the erstwhile Lafarge’s cement operations in 2002, and later as regional president, cement, for Asia. In 2012, he was appointed CEO of Lafarge India for cement, RMX and aggregates.

According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, the country’s annual cement production capacity was nearly 455 million tonnes (mt) as of 2017-18. The current annual output is 280 mt for meeting domestic demand and 5 mt for export. This demand-supply mismatch, industry officials add, makes for a clear case to focus on marketing. “In a market where there is over-capacity, there is constant effort to pump in more cement and the managerial appointments might have been made with the same in mind,” said the official quoted earlier.

LafargeHolcim also brought Neeraj Akhoury as MD and CEO from ACC in February 2017. Prior to the appointment, he was CEO of Lafarge Surma Cement and country representative of LafargeHolcim Bangladesh. In the past, Akhoury held leadership roles in India and other markets, through a career in Tata Steel in 1993 and LafargeHolcim Group in India in 1999. 

In 2016, K K Maheshwari took over as the new MD for UltraTech Cement, after O P Puranmalka’s term ended. The year coincides with UltraTech’s decision to buy out Jaiprakash Associates’ cement assets.

“Maheshwari is an old hand in the Aditya Birla Group and known for his marketing skills,” said the official quoted earlier.

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