More than just a holiday romance

More than just a holiday romance
Published: 10 May 2004

A serious, academic-minded executive who’d never lived outside his native Vienna, Martin Kriegner had just turned 40 when Lafarge offered him a posting in Mumbai. To help him make up his mind, the French cement major invited him to take an all expenses paid holiday in India with his wife. So it was that Kriegner made his first-ever trip to the country in the winter of 2001, visiting Mumbai, Delhi and taking a jaunt around Rajasthan. Somewhere in-between, he picked up the phone and called Paris to tell them he’d be glad to take the job. And he hadn’t even seen Lafarge’s three plants in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Today, ensconced in a Nariman Point high-rise, in a sea facing office laid out with ethnic furniture and artefacts he’s bought in the bazaars of Mumbai, the CEO of Lafarge India is perfectly at home.

In India, he’s Larfarge’s third CEO since the company began operations in the mid-90s and currently, he’s its only expatriate executive. And Kriegner says it was quite a challenge adjusting to the culture at work, for Indian employees are very different from Europeans. "One example I can give you is about how meetings are conducted," he says, "When I first came, I found that no one kept minutes of previous meetings and the same thing would be discussed again and again. I had to bring some discipline into the process." One thing the CEO has no complaints about is the quality of the plants Lafarge has acquired from Tisco and Raymond. "In terms of technology and efficiency, they are better than many of the Larfarge plants worldwide," he says, "We have the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in India, which is very important to us because Lafarge is known globally for its commitment to sustainability."

Kriegner’s taken on the mantle of the Eastern region chief of the Cement Manufacturers Association, a role he takes very seriously. Joining in every delegation that visits Delhi, he’s been adding some international weight to the industry’s lobbying power. "Logistic costs, the cost of power, excise and sales tax are all too high in India," he says, "We’re asking the government to at least give tax breaks for environment-friendly cement manufacturers like ourselves." Kriegner actually needs all the breaks he can get for his mandate is to take Lafarge India to a positive EVA (Economic Value Added) over the next few years. That’s quite a tall order given the state of the industry, but Kriegner’s determined. "It’s very tough, but we will achieve it," he says emphatically.