Lafarge Tarmac chief executive Cyrille Ragoucy is in an ebullient mood. Having been at the helm for just over a year - the giant joint venture between the UK operations of Lafarge and Anglo American began trading as Lafarge Tarmac on 7 January 2013 - he is confident that his firm is ready to make a serious impact.
“One plus one equals five for me,” he states. “We are very strong. Lafarge was very strong in cement and readymix. Tarmac was very strong in aggregates and asphalt. So when we combine the two we make a very good fit,” he explains.
“We are number one in aggregates in the UK and we are number one in cement. We are number one in asphalt and we are a leader in ready mixed concrete. We have a recycling and landfill business. All in all we have 1,600 trucks. All of which shows we are well embedded in the Great Britain footprint.”
I want to switch the company from being a materials supplier to a solutions provider. That is our vision
But the future is even bolder. Ragoucy is determined to drive Lafarge Tarmac’s influence up the supply chain.
“Yes, we have a lot of assets. But I want to switch the company from being a materials supplier to a solutions provider. That is our vision,” he states.
“It is a transformational way of looking at things. We have good products, but they have to be used in a different way to bring value. So what we want to do is start working collaboratively on bids [with contractors] so we can look at providing some win-win solutions.
“We can bring knowledge of materials; they can bring knowledge of construction,” he explains, adding that this collaboration could deliver cost savings through a more efficient logistics strategy or by reducing the size of the structure being built through a better collective understanding of materials properties.
“We can win on turnaround times; on the number of crews needed; or maybe it would be a structural piece, as we understand properties,” he explains.
There are already examples of this approach paying dividends. Ragoucy cites a road project in North West England where, by working with the contractor and client for a year, Lafarge Tarmac was able to shave £10M off the cost of piling.
But can he fully influence a construction industry traditionally resistant to change?
“Maybe the construction industry is not associated with change. But to deliver the government’s construction strategy we have to change the way we are doing things and we have to collaborate more,” he states.
“And the way for the industry to do this is to not ask for a materials price but to ask for a solution.”
Ragoucy is devoting much of his time right now to meeting CEOs of major contractors, setting up board to board meetings and on site tests that will allow him and his senior team to hammer home this message.
“We are a young company, and we need to explain what we can do and will do differently - show them what we can do to help them do better,” he says. “It’s a change of mindset for us, and it’s pretty exciting.”
What I see is that the UK is very professional. But can we move forward faster? I think we could
There’s an example here too - Lafarge Tarmac has just demonstrated its self compacting concrete pile on a key Crossrail contract. The test was needed as the contractor in question didn’t believe the quality promised was possible.
“They didn’t believe what we were saying our product could do,” says Ragoucy. “But our pile was perfect and the finish was perfect. Our competitors couldn’t match it.”
Central to this plan is research and development, something Lafarge has a proud legacy of, with a major R&D centre in Ragoucy’s native France.
“Lafarge in France is doing a lot of research in cement and readymix that we can benefit from,” he explains.
“And what we can do from here is to work with universities to make improvements in the sustainability of housing, and what we can do with asphalt.”
The goal is to develop a solution that enables not just zero carbon but carbon positive housing. Final negotiations are taking place right now with a shortlist of universities to select the one or two that Lafarge Tarmac is going to work with. “And that’s very exciting again,” enthuses Ragoucy.
Alongside this, formal partnerships are being brokered with bitumen suppliers to get their R&D buy-in too.
“In the UK you have access to extremely knowledgeable people, and if you are willing to invest and work together you can create something better,” says Ragoucy. Examples of this approach already exist, with the recent launch of a new low temperature asphalt.
So Ragoucy is bullish about the plan, but cognisant nevertheless of the need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
“It is obviously good to say all that, but the proof is in the pudding. We already have some pretty good products. But we need to move ahead. And we need to listen to the customer as well,” he says.
Herein lies another problem: UK clients are traditionally reluctant to loosen standards, particularly for products and materials that have not been thoroughly whole life tested. Indeed, only last month Highways Agency chief executive Graham Dalton told NCE why he was unapologetic for taking this approach.
How does Ragoucy combat this problem? “What I see is that the UK is very professional. But can we move forward faster? I think we could,” he muses. “Maybe the enthusiasm for innovation is not as great as you could expect, but people are willing to listen.
“Again, the proof will be in the pudding. The only way of knowing if our approach is working is to ask the customers. But for that we need a bit of time,” he says.
Ragoucy is speaking now after spending the majority of 2013 ensuring the proper integration of two very different firms, one French-owned, one UK. It has gone better than could ever have been expected, he says: “To say I am proud of what we have done is an understatement. We had 1,600 people in a recruitment and selection process. That finished last June. So we are starting 2014 in a lot better position. Now we are a company of 5,500 people working across 300 sites and offices, all focused on what they have to deliver.
“We are definitely not finished, but the integration is way ahead of where I thought we’d be,” he says. “And most of our customers did not feel the pain of the merger.”
Health and safety
Health and safety is something of an obsession for Lafarge Tarmac, and under Ragoucy this is unlikely to change; prior to becoming chief executive designate in December 2012, Ragoucy was senior vice president of health and safety for Lafarge.
Rather, he is pushing the agenda to new levels. The firm has already taken the lead on cycle safety, and Ragoucy is not stopping with his truck drivers: everyone who drives a vehicle while working is about to feel the effect of his firm’s new mobile phone policy.
“From June nobody in Lafarge Tarmac will be making calls on their mobile phones while driving,” he states. “And I would be shocked if anyone is still doing this now. The message is simple: don’t do it; it’s dangerous and its killing people.”
Truck drivers are already banned from using their mobiles, but it’s a bold call to apply it everyone and anyone - and it applies whether you are hands-free or not.
“So you have to change the way you are working,” Ragoucy states. “You have to reinvent the way you do your business.”
It’s just one example of how Lafarge Tarmac is trying to be different. “Everything we are doing, we are trying to do things differently,” notes Ragoucy. “But in a good way.”