Six years on: Holcim CEO cements hopes for Romania

Newsroom 28/02/2011 | 14:27

At the end of March, Markus Wirth will bring his six-year mandate as CEO of the local branch of Holcim to an end, leaving new CEO Daniel Bach in the role. He will however continue as a member of the Foreign Investors Council’s management team, as well as an expert in infrastructure issues within the organization. In the future, he plans to offer consulting to potential investors who wish to build their business in Romania. He met with BR to discuss his achievements on the local market and to offer his feedback on the perspectives of development for the Romanian economy.

Corina Dumitrescu


How have you seen the local cement industry change during your stay here?

Ever since my arrival in Romania, the construction market in general and the cement industry in particular have been through a peculiar development. First, it was the 2004-2008 period, in which Romanian construction registered double digit growth, a rate which could not be called sustainable. Then, from 2009, the entire economy felt the effects of the recession and also of the previous unhealthy growth.

 

From your experience on the local market, what are the major pros and cons of investing here? What would you recommend to make Romania more attractive for investment?

Romania is still attractive to foreign investors. This is a big domestic market and the country’s location as a production site for goods to be exported to EU markets is a plus. There are good human resources, which can create an advantage for Romania in competition with other countries in the region. However the transport connections to EU markets are not yet sufficiently developed.

Unfortunately there is still a high level of bureaucracy and delay in taking action from the state authorities, as well as too many unforeseen legislative changes and political instability.

The government should invest more in the infrastructure of the country – this increases the GDP and creates jobs. Also, I recommend the implementation of the 12 main measures proposed to the government by the FIC in 2010, as an initiative to bring back sustainable growth to Romania.

 

What sectors of the Romanian economy do you see as the most profitable in the years to come?

The automotive industry has developed products that have been well received

on foreign markets. Furthermore there are Romanian companies specialized in developing IT solutions and they might also be successful on export markets.

One of the things I have noticed when inviting people from abroad to visit is that Romania doesn’t have a proper image and marketing. Tourism could become a profitable business provided Romania has a solid country branding and marketing.

 

When do you think that the local construction and real estate market will begin to recover?

We hope that, starting 2012, both construction and real estate will return to growth, provided certain economic recovery measures are taken – planning for the development of the energy, agricultural and infrastructure sector; defining projects and executing them with multi-annual programs; simplifying the access procedure for EU funds and changing the public tender legislation.

They are absolutely necessary and could bring Romania to the same recovery level as other Western European markets. 

 

In terms of green projects, how do you see the situation of Romanian companies? Have they adapted to the global trend? How about Holcim, how much has it invested so far in sustainability and what future plans along these lines can you reveal?

Sustainability and green projects are rather new concepts for the Romanian business environment. Fortunately, some local companies have embraced green business principles, but there is still room for improvement.

The entire business strategy of Holcim is built upon the principle of sustainability, materialized in all the company’s actions and aiming at economic performance, environmental protection and social responsibility.

The most recent example is a EUR 14 million investment in an energy efficient project that will begin this year at our cement plant in Alesd.

The project is a unique one in Eastern Europe and will meet roughly 15 percent of the electrical energy needs of the plant, using the heat generated during the cement production process.

 

How would you describe the typical Romanian employee in terms of involvement, level of professional training and management skills?

Romanian employees are very enthusiastic people and their hard work has changed Romania in a positive way in the past six years. In our company they have delivered complete and correct working results. 

I was surprised to see that Romanian employees have adapted very fast to this period of crisis, especially the young ones who had never faced a crisis before.

 

What does a Swiss investor look for when coming to Romania?

All foreign investors are looking for a stable political and economic environment. The authorities should be more transparent and willing to cooperate with the business community, considering the benefits that could be offered in terms of management and technical expertise for different sectors of the economy.

The investors also need people who are willing to learn and work with dedication.  Transport infrastructure is urgently needed in order to attract investors in production facilities as well as tourism projects.

 

What did you know about Romania when you first came here? With what impression will you leave?

I have learned that Romania’s frequently negative reputation abroad is only a small part of the truth. I have personally experienced that the bigger part of the truth is good people who want to achieve success and move the country forward. I perceive Romania as a beautiful and safe country, with tremendous market opportunities which should be taken advantage of.

 

What do you consider to be Romania’s biggest assets in terms of tourism? What would you recommend to a foreigner visiting the country, either on business or vacation?

The Danube Delta is a unique paradise. I recommend foreigners spend a few days in a privately managed hotel, pension or home and go on excursions on the water as well as on land.

I have found my favorite places to travel and to go to in the mountain areas, by going north and west from Bucharest. 

Wide, untouched nature and the warm hospitality of people living there have given me many great memories. Visit the monasteries in Bucovina and the Church fortresses in Transylvania. 

 

corina.dumitrescu@business-review.ro

 

CV Markus Wirth

1976-1986: project manager in the Middle East and South East Asia at Holcim Group, then as technical director for Cementos Apasco in Mexico

1986-2000: various management positions at Von Roll Group

2000-2002: manager of a strategic project for the optimization of cement production in Western Europe at Holcim

2002-2004: head of Holcim operations in Serbia

2004-2011: CEO, Holcim Romania

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