In these difficult days, we all have more time to take on some of the tasks that we have set ourselves but always found a reason, real or imagined, not to carry out. This could be job related, updating the database with the hundreds of business cards that you picked up at recent INTERCEM meetings, or getting round to email that contact you made a few months back and always meant to ask him/her about the family member who wasn’t well.
This is a time for contemplation. Is your company guided by a strategic policy or is it reactionary in its nature? Is your position in the business making the best use of your abilities or do the weeks and years go by without any assessment? We should all use these quieter days to consider these questions and hopefully, when this comes to an end, as it surely will, we will be a better position to address the challenges.
I remain convinced that the world wants to meet, we are social animals and the need to physically interact is undiminished. The use of social media is a relatively new phenomenon, and this is the first international crisis where the use of video interactive platforms like Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp and Messenger have become widespread. All these applications have allowed people to remain connected in a way that an email or phone call cannot quite match. However with all these technological developments, there is no substitute for real interaction. Live contact with friends or a business colleagues has only been emphasised in this period showing we will find a way to get our message to one another.
INTERCEM has a special place in connecting the cement industry worldwide. Since our first meeting in 1985, over 40,000 delegates from more than 100 countries have attended our meetings in 40+ destinations. I was recalling the other day, some of the titans of the cement industry who have graced us with their presence. Some like Lorenzo Zambrano, the force behind Cemex as a global power are no longer with us, whilst others, such as Aliko Dangote remain and will have a big part to play in a post Covid-19 cement industry.
What will the industry look like when we emerge from this global disaster? It’s clear that the pressure on cement producers will be immense. Some companies are better placed than others to survive the economic carnage, whilst others will either close or be consolidated. It would be easy to assume that the multinationals will just ‘hoover up’ some of the more desirable assets. However, this is lazy thinking, as the industry is different to the one that emerged from the 2008/9 economic crisis and a process of restructuring was already underway before we entered this period of uncertainty. Perhaps, the most difficult judgement to make is how global the cement industry will be going forward. As we all know, cement is really a domestic product, serving customers within a relatively short distance from the point of production. However, the growth of the multinationals has led to a domestic product being largely dominated by global interest. We had already seen some rollback of this before the current crisis hit, and it may be that this process is accelerated in the coming months and years.
The cement industry was working very hard on becoming a more environmentally acceptable process before a damaging pandemic took centre stage. I’m sure that once we emerge from this global lockdown, the emphasis will still be there, but will the focus have changed to survival? It’s difficult to make generalisations as the final ‘bill’ for the damage done to global economies is still being calculated. Some predict that the impact will be relatively short term, with a return to something like normality producing a bounce that will see demand spike in the 3rd or 4th quarter of this year. Other more pessimistic interpretations suggest that the world is in for a major recession perhaps, even a depression, that will last for a sustained period. If the second prediction were to become reality, then the changes to both political and societal cohesion could be far more dangerous.