When people think of all the aluminium in the world – all the metal that is pulled from the earth and put into our cars and ships and buildings, and the containers that transport everything we use across the globe – they may not immediately picture an industry that has much to contribute to the health of our planet.
Emilio Braghi, Senior Vice President and President Europe of industrial aluminium producer Novelis, has devoted the past several years of his career to correcting that misconception, and he has succeeded by reshaping his company in accordance with one central principle: “Aluminium is infinitely recyclable.”
“The image of the aluminium industry is that of an industry that is energy intensive, high in CO 2 generation, and not environmentally friendly,” Emilio says. “This is a mistake because the industry really varies from energyintensive primary production to the other extreme, which is focused on recycling, low-energy consumption and low CO 2 impact.
“Aluminium is a perfect fit with the circular economy and the project of decarbonisation because it can be recycled again and again without any change in property. The same cannot be said for other materials, especially plastic.”
Since 2011, Novelis has committed more than US$500 million to grow recycling capacity in excess of 2.1MT, allowing the company to double its use of recycled content in its products from 30–60%. In Germany, the company built the world’s largest recycling centre – which has the capacity to recycle 400,000 tonnes of scrap every year.
“Our vision for Europe is to deliver the lowest CO 2 generation for our products because we are competing with other materials, like plastics, steel, copper and other hard metals,” Emilio says.
“Aluminium stays perpetually solid in terms of properties without any deterioration. Building on this quality, Novelis has gone from one of the worst performers in the industry 10 years ago to the leading producer in Europe today.”
Positioning Novelis as the leading environmental performer in the European aluminium industry is just one of the projects that has made Emilio’s leadership a triumph since he accepted the position in late 2016.
Equally crucial has been his implementation of the company’s Focused 5 initiative, which aims to enhance Novelis’s performance in five key areas: safety, customer centricity, excellence in quality, operational excellence, and return on capital employed.
Beyond operational performance, he has also been charged with turning around the company’s internal culture, across the organisation from the top to the bottom.
“We collected feedback from the top 150 leaders in the organisation and created a new set of cultural beliefs, which are basically the values with which we can build a new culture,” Emilio says.
“One belief is in a strong sense of ownership, so that everyone feels accountability to deliver our targets. We believe in winning together, which means teamwork extends across functions and across regions. Finally, we instituted a culture of ‘say anything’, which means we gather feedback from the entire organisation, starting with the shop floor. At any level, we are open to feedback – not only positive feedback but also constructive feedback.”
The results of Emilio’s reforms speak for themselves. In fiscal year 2020, Novelis Europe achieved the best historical EBITDA in the region. “Novelis is by far the best performer in the aluminium industry. We have strengthened our balance sheet year after year, becoming a benchmark for our competitors,” he says.
Stronger under presure
However, with each new year comes new challenges, and 2020 has brought what might be the most complex challenge Emilio has ever had to face. “COVID-19 has completely changed our world and altered the way we work,” he says.
“Protecting our employees and families, the communities we live in and work in, and our business meant closing our sites to all but essential personnel – those whose presence onsite is critical to running the business and operations – and taking maximum precautionary safety measures for those who needed to remain onsite.”
Further complicating matters, the pandemic coincided with Novelis’s acquisition of Aleris, a major US-based aluminium producer, launching Novelis into the high-end aerospace segment.
“The acquisition and regulatory process took longer than we had expected and, therefore, required lots of patience and perseverance from our employees on both sides working through it,” Emilio says.
“Moreover, the acquisition came with the obligation to divest two major plants. This shows that major events in life and in business can fall out of our control and might happen differently than expected. However, the vision, attitude and drive to thrive is what defines success. That’s why I am confident today that this transaction creates many benefits to our European organisation and that our joint forces will enable us to lead a prosperous transformation, unleashing innovation and creativity to generate long-term growth.”
Overall, the pandemic has proven to Emilio that his investments into building a strong, collaborative team with a communicative corporate culture have paid off.
“We managed to achieve this transition smoothly, despite the general feelings of concern and uncertainty,” he says.
“The solidarity, compassion, spirit and dedication our employees demonstrated to make this happen have been remarkable. Relying on our strong cultural foundation, I believe that this crisis can make us even stronger, even if it requires us to rethink and reinvent ourselves and the way we work.”
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