When the Union Cement Company was founded in 1972, it was the first cement producer in the United Arab Emirates. Today, it is one of the biggest in the country. CEO Vijay Kumar Somani says there are several factors behind this longstanding success.
“The key has been staying focused and aligning ourselves with innovation, markets, customers and suppliers to deliver invariably high quality, on time and at a fair price,” he reveals.
“The challenge has been to enhance the business along with the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.” One particular advantage that has helped the company is the business-friendly environment of the market in which it operates.
“The UAE is a land of unlimited opportunities and it is known for its investor-friendly and competitive investment policies,” Vijay says. The past couple of years have been tough for the nation’s cement producers, which have been fighting falling sales and profits.
But Vijay is confident the UAE’s construction industry, and thus its cement sector, will bounce back strongly over the rest of the decade, thanks to high spending on infrastructure in Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
The UAE has dynamic leadership and an eminent vision to positively respond and bounce back after every international crisis.
“The UAE has dynamic leadership and an eminent vision to positively respond and bounce back after every international crisis, be it the financial crisis in 2008 or the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020,” he explains. “It is earnestly willing to spend big on infrastructure projects when the need arises.”
In 2018, India’s Shree Cement acquired Union Cement Company for €257 million. The acquisition allowed Shree to expand its cement production by more than 10% to 37.9 million tonnes per year. It was also the first time the Kolkata-based company had expanded outside of India. Union Cement now has plans to expand its own footprint.
The Indian government has announced multiple infrastructure projects in its 2021–22 budget, which the business will be able to benefit from via its parent company.
“Shree Cement will decide how to proceed with its large capex plan of doubling capacities in six years in India, depending on how demand grows in line with the Indian government’s ambitious plans for affordable housing and nation-building infrastructure,” Vijay shares.
Union Cement also sees growth opportunities in the coming years in specialty cement products and other innovations in the UAE and neighbour countries. TEAMWORK WINS However, in addition to creating opportunities, the company’s acquisition by Shree Cement has also brought new challenges.
“A complete change of management took place since we stepped in in July 2018, due to the change of investors and the Board of the company,” Vijay points out. “That presented the challenge of aligning and going along with a team of around 500-plus employees comprising almost 30 nationalities.”
The company has risen to that challenge. “The team has consistently delivered better results year after year,” he adds. “In every sphere of life, let us not forget what Michael Jordan taught us: that talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships. That applies perfectly to the team of Union Cement Company.”
Vijay has been based in Dubai since 2005 and was made responsible for overseas investments at Shree Cement in 2015. The thing he finds most enjoyable and meaningful about his job is the constant variety it offers him.
“Today was a day of struggle, stress and achievement, where I was representing employees to the other board members of the company on long-term personnel policies,” he says. “Every day is a fresh day, and my day starts with one focus: to map every piece of information and action into business objectives and the bottom line.
My day starts with one focus: to map every piece of information and action into business objectives and the bottom line.
“In other words, every action is a shrewd way to conceptualise the relationship among our customers, products, services and transactions to fix embedded unprofitability, enabling us to assess and prioritise our key profit levers and to crystallise this into a high-impact action plan. This is what makes it so enjoyable for me, despite all the struggle and stress.”
Union Cement’s technical team is always flexing its innovative skills and pushing for continuous improvement, Vijay explains. The goal is to establish the company as a well-known, low-cost producer by enhancing productivity and efficiency.
“Two-and-a-half years back, the plant was producing 10,000 tonnes per day and that has now been upgraded to 14,000 tonnes per day,” he notes. “At the same time, the team has expanded green power generation by 13 megawatts, utilising waste heat, which shows how keeping the environment clean is a top priority.”
If there was one thing Vijay could change about the industry he works in, it would be to bring about more unity to strengthen the market. “I would strive to bring every cement producer in the UAE together to work shoulder to shoulder within legal directives to strike a balance in order to mitigate excessive capacities and saturating demand,” he says.
As for the company, Vijay has a vision that, in 10 years’ time, it will be the first choice for cement consumers and one of the best performers in terms of shareholder wealth creation in the UAE’s cement industry.
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