United Cement Company of Nigeria (UNICEM) has invested $23m (N2.9 billion) on its plant’s upgrade, to turn round the fortunes of the firm. The company, which started production eight months ago is jointly owned by Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc and Holcim Trading, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Holcim.
Incorporated in October 2002, Unicem purchased from the liquidator the assets of the erstwhile Calabar Cement Company (CALCEMCO), which was joined by the Federal and Cross River State governments. The Managing Director of the company, Joe Pemberton, while speaking to The Guardian in Calabar, said with the injection of this amount in priming the plant, the company is now ready to produce at its installed capacity from next year. Of the 30,000t installed capacity, it has only utilised 60 per cent since operations commenced.
Pemberton said the company had to start gradually, build confidence among the dealers and end-users before deciding to go full blast now that all has been achieved. He described the standard of the company’s product as "world class and based on Nigeria Industrial Standard (NIS). We have a rigorous test regime in the factory and nothing goes out of our factory without being tested."
The managing director said that operating in a competitive market like Nigeria is challenging. "If you sell the right product you will find relevance because in a growing market there is room for expansion. "When you set up a new business, there are always a lot of challenges, and then some days are good days while others are bad. If everything were to be easy, it would have been a boring time without challenges."
Reacting to allegations that his firm has sidelined indigenes in its employment policy, Pemberton said "more than 80 per cent of the company’s workforce are sourced from within" with the host state accounting for more than half of that. " The perception that we are not employing many from the area is because people want to see a huge workforce, but we are a very young company and cannot afford to employ that much for now."
Earlier, at a get-together, dealers of the product had been assured by the firm’s management of improved services even, as they vowed to maintain the quality, which had received several commendation. Some of the dealers, who spoke called on the management to explore ways of ensuring parity between the price of UNICEM and the products from rival firms. The slight differentials in cases where the product are moved out of the state capital they complained seems to give other competitor a little leverage. They also complained about the size of the bag, which the management said does not matter, as contents were similar in weight to others in slim tall bags.