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Thursday, 9 May 2019

My Morning Routine, with Jose Maria Magrina, managing director of Suez Cement

My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Jose Maria Magrina, managing director of Suez Cement, the largest private supplier of cement and concrete in Egypt

My name is Jose Maria Magrina. I’m 47 years old and I’m from Barcelona (and yes, still mourning Tuesday’s defeat). My wife, Gemma Miralles, and I have three kids: Ignasi (13), Irene (10), and Marc (7). I am energetic and passionate in almost everything I do, with an inexhaustible curiosity about virtually everything.

I’m the managing director of Suez Cement, which is part of HeidelbergCement Group and the largest private supplier of cement and concrete in Egypt. We have four large cement factories in Suez, Kattameya / New Capital, Helwan and Tora, as well as 21 smaller concrete batch plants throughout Egypt. We have 1,600 direct and around 1,000 indirect employees. We also have a port terminal and a ready mix business in Kuwait.

My core responsibility is to make sure that all the wheels move in the same direction and at the same pace. This entails a bit of everything, from making and executing plans to ensuring our operations are of the size required by the market, helping to introduce our products to our customers, communicating with different departments or inspecting our plants to make sure that work is being conducted safely.

Interfacing between our shareholders and the company is another important part of what I do. Being part of a multinational, listed in Germany, while representing two locally listed companies involves a lot of reporting and explaining. In the last two years, we have really been emphasizing cost reduction and we have significantly trimmed our workforce.

Any parent of relatively young children will tell you that they dictate a large part of our schedule. The family wakes up at 6:30am, since the children leave for school at 7:10am. After checking my phone and helping to push the kids out the door (I must admit the majority of this work is done by my great wife), I either go to the gym or go for a run.

If I’m at the gym, I bring my iPad and read Enterprise, then answer emails or read other things. If I go running, I always have an audiobook and so listen to almost 20-30 audiobooks yearly this way. By 8am I’m back home, and after a quick shower I head to the office, where I clock in around 9am.

If I don’t have to travel (which I frequently do), I try to keep my schedule consistent. Sunday, for example, is meeting day. I try to have all my operational meetings on Sundays, starting with our Excom and finishing by 4pm. So yes, that sometimes means seven straight hours of meetings. It helps me to understand where we will prioritize our efforts that week. Tuesdays are for plant visits or offsite days, where all meetings outside the office or works visited are held. Monday and Wednesday are office work days, which is where most of the real work is done. I catch up with internal projects, hold other ad-hoc meetings, review finance projections and complete other similar tasks. Thursday is the swing day, so I leave it to be decided by the events of the week.

It’s about being flexible: Despite all my best intentions, however, the needs of work and our industry mean that I have to be ready to modify my schedule constantly, so I always try to remain flexible. I usually leave the office around 7pm and arrive home around 7:30pm. There, I spend around an hour catching up with my family over dinner and before my kids go to sleep. This is my favorite time of the day. They use this time to reflect on their day’s experiences and we have a few laughs together. After that, I usually spend a couple more hours working, say from 9pm till 11:30pm. This is the time of the day where I answer the majority of my emails. Shortly after this I go to bed, where I read some Quora questions or a book for 10-20 minutes and go to sleep.

I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones in spite of Season 8, which is not — in my humble opinion — living up to expectations. The last book I read was Bill Clinton / James Patterson’s The President is Missing, which is light but interesting in terms of the insights revealed through the main character, which obviously comes from Clinton’s experience. I also really enjoyed the audiobook of The Three Body Problem book series, by Liu Cixin.

Our industry has changed dramatically in the last five years as a result of oversupply, which led to intense, savage competition and meant that all companies experienced losses. The government has to design policies to support the industry or it will disappear. Our industry is a cornerstone of economic development; without cement it’s difficult to imagine industry. New foreign investors understand this and look at both performance and the impact of government policies on our sector when taking investment decisions.

Suez Cement is a large entity with a lot of history, mirroring the Egyptian history of the 20th and 21st centuries. The majority of post-1920 buildings were built thanks to our cement. It’s rare to find a product that you can see in so many places.

Our products are commodities, so we constantly work to decommoditize by improving our services, bringing new products and working with retailers and traders on brand recognition, so the end customer chooses us instead of our competition. We do provide a complete service to our customers, from supplying cement to pouring concrete. We maintain a close, direct connection with the market and our brand is widely recognized in the areas we serve, particularly Cairo and the Delta.

People often don’t understand that we are a big depolluter. Approximately 25% of our energy comes from 600k tons of household and municipal waste, as well as biomass. This is waste that will not be landfilled and that will not contaminate our direct environment. We are leaders in energy efficiency, engaged in a number of renewable energy initiatives that aim to fulfil a large part of our electricity needs through solar power.

Demographics and the growth of Africa as a powerhouse will create a huge change in our industry, which used to be dominated by a few European multinationals focused mainly on mature or nearly mature markets. This is not the case anymore. Both a lot of regional champions and Chinese players have taken the marketplace, creating a much more challenging environment.

CO2 emissions will also affect the industry. We have made a large improvement this century but we still have to do more to lower our CO2 footprint by reducing the clinker content in our products and using byproducts of other industries as active ingredients or fillers. Also, we need to educate the markets we serve to demand this new, cleaner product.

Unfortunately, the most important business lessons I learned were with the best teacher in life: Failure. One is that the key to business success is to be pragmatic and stay flexible. It’s good to plan and strategize, but you have to remain close to circumstances on the ground and be ready to completely change your plans if conditions change. The other is summarized in a quote I heard a while ago: “If you think that education is expensive, try ignorance.” Great truth.

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