24 posts
TimePosted 17/12/2008 20:27:00

Truth, dare or consequences

It’s perhaps the sign of a simple mind, but I never fail to smile at the recollection of the Woody Allen quotation that the definition of a financial advisor is someone who you pay to invest your money …until it's all gone. Its resonance in today’s financial meltdown conditions is particularly apt, but the underlying truth of our current malaise also seems to stem from gross under-regulation of the banking and financial sectors, greedy and at times dishonest bankers and, not least, a gullible public, especially those of us in the US and the UK who believed that the housing market was a one way bet to everlasting financial security

Some of our own cement leaders are now having to face up to some stark truths. Adolf Merckle, a seemingly unassuming 74-year old grandfatherly figure, and one of Germany’s richest men, has until quite recently masterminded a seven billion dollar empire based around pharmaceuticals and more recently a massive cement portfolio, following his surprise 2005 takeover of HeidelbergCement. Regretably his secret passions also seem to have included betting the family silver on a string of losing positions on the VW car-making empire. As the German government has since refused to bail him out of his losses, we await the consequences for HeidelbergCement with more than a passing interest.

We will not dwell here of the predicament of Lorenzo Zambrano of Cemex, but it’s perhaps a good time to try to wean him off employing all those bright young Stanford educated MBA graduates with their complex spread sheets and incomprehensible debt derivative formulae. It would also be unfair to quiz him, yet again, on why he bought Rinker at the very top of the market. So we won’t.

Dare to be a Daniel goes the revivalist hymn, an apt phrase for those in cement who are working on new types of ‘green’ cement, nanotechnology advances, lower energy cement mixes, pollution-eating cement etc. Recently a new research document dropped on our desk with the rather unfortunate sub-title of ‘magic cement’ but its content held our attention. Apparently it’s a new cement now under development that is largely formulated from a mix containing 50-85 per cent mineral additives all held together by surface activation technologies.

Moving swiftly on! The consequences of not developing new types of cement, not reducing our carbon footprint and as a result failing to mitigate global warming, should make us all step back and think again. We remain lukewarm on the latest European cement pronouncements feigning shock-horror  at the arrival of carbon-tax-free imported cement from outside the EU.  But as a briefing document it certainly has had a positive effect for European cement producers, with the EU rule-makers now backtracking on imposing yet more curbs and costs on European cement production. Well done to Cembureau for its success in this respect, but as the children’s game tells us, we will all have to face up to the consequences of our continued inaction on global warming at some point. Well probably not us, but our certainly our children and most certainly theirs.


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John Harrison
1 posts
TimePosted 31/12/2008 06:59:40

re: Truth, dare or consequences

I applaud your comment "The consequences of not developing new types of cement, not reducing our carbon footprint and as a result failing to mitigate global warming, should make us all step back and think again."

I have been working for some years  "daring to be a Daniel" in the industry developing man made carbonate concretes. It has not been easy and I could do with a little assistance from influential heavyweights like you and the above comment is a good start.

The industry must come to understand that their main source of income in years to come will be carbon credits from selling a carbon neutral or even carbon negative material.

It's all technically feasible, will be transparent to end users and potentially very profitable. The main problem seems to be the lack of intelligence or will (and I am not sure which) amongst our industry leaders to get behind us to make it happen

John Harrison