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A year-end reflection with RHI Magnesita CEO Stefan Borgas: Navigating challenges and celebrating success!

28. 12月 2023

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How did the year 2023 unfold for RHI Magnesita and the refractory industry at large?

This year brought unexpected demand challenges for the entire industry worldwide – the worst year in the past 15 years from that perspective. It put productivity pressures on our employees; we need to fight high inflation in many countries; we deal with quickly rising financing costs. I am mostly proud of how the RHI Magnesita team acted, and how each person fulfilled their role: thanks to them, our company showed operational and financial strength, a testament to dedication and hard work. This serves as a promising sign for the upcoming year.

How do you stay afloat and, moreover, remain a leader?

To overcome these challenges and maintain a leadership position, we are laser-focused on short-term execution and, at the same time, keeping a rather long-term strategic approach. Over the past four years, we’ve invested over EUR 850 million in our facilities, focusing on reducing costs, improving quality, optimizing our production network, and ensuring the smooth delivery of our commitments. This period of investment has made us much stronger for the future.

An important part of our strategy involves prioritizing the safety and well-being of our employees. In 2023, we increased our investments in physical safety infrastructure, expanded our expert staff, introduced digital tools safety, and reinforced safety training. Our longstanding belief is that people drive progress, contributing significantly to our overall resilience.

What were the main achievements of RHI Magnesita in 2023?

Despite the turbulence, our great team achieved a lot – here are a few highlights:

  • Completion of strategic acquisitions, including Dalmia Bharat Refractories Limited, Jinan New Emei Industries Co. Ltd., Seven Refractories, and P-D Refractories. This brings the total to nine acquisitions in the last two years, expanding our global presence and diversifying our product offering. Latest news: we offer silica bricks from the Czech Republic and India, ISO thin-slab from India, and true circular solutions in every geography – – to mention just several of the new capabilities.
  • Welcoming approximately 4,000 new colleagues across Europe, CIS & Türkiye, India, China, and North America, resulting in a workforce of around 20,000 professionals worldwide. Our commitment to diversity is evident with 105 nationalities represented (compared to 60 last year) and an increase in female representation in senior leadership positions to 29% (up from 19% last year). We have also launched a new internal employee app, to keep everyone connected, informed, and heard, whether you are at the plant or in the office.
  • Continued dedication to environmental sustainability, characterized by substantial investments in lowering CO2 emissions and exploring advanced technologies for even greater reductions. Collaborations with Australian cleantech MCi Carbon and Compact Membrane Systems (CMS) underscore our commitment. Our joint venture MIRECO received a prestigious European Refractory Industry Sustainability Award for its Recycling Center in Mitterdorf. And just last month, RHI Magnesita received an Award for Sustainability Disclosure of the Year! All these efforts since 2018 led to an annual reduction of CO2 emissions by 1.3 million tons. We have switched to renewable electricity in most markets in the world. This December, together with many industrial peers in Europe, we convinced the authorities to keep the allocation of free CO2 certificates for process emissions on the same level for the next ETS period, which gives us some more time to implement solutions.
  • Receiving a record number of applications for the RHI Magnesita Global Trainee Program 2023 from emerging professionals all over the world. Two weeks ago, I met with 12 new members of our family – amazing, talented people; the future of RHI Magnesita and the refractory industry overall. Don’t forget to apply/encourage your friends to apply for the RHI Magnesita Global Trainee Program 2024, which is now even more cross-functional!
  • Active engagement with various industry stakeholders, in both private and public sectors, to stay at the forefront of promoting innovation, knowledge-sharing, and sustainable solutions. To highlight a few events we were part of: Alpbach Forum, UNIDO General Conference, EU Raw Materials Week, St. Gallen Symposium, Mineral Recycling Forum, AMB Week in South America, International Steel and Metallurgy Exhibition and CII Green Steel Summit in India, Annual Symposium on Refractories and Steel Forum in China, and many others.

We’ll use these positive results as motivation to propel ourselves forward because there’s always space for further growth and enhancement; all while actively listening to our customers.

Now Holiday blitz questions – fun but still related to business. Define your leadership style: do you glide through the corporate landscape like a figure skater or blaze a trail like a daring snowboarder?

Neither one: I prefer to play the role of the coach, but in the midst of the ring. For some activities, we employ the world’s best refractory figure skaters, whom I trust and support; for others, we have our existing daring snowboarders, who are also top-notch, and whom I can guide and advise.

Without a doubt, we need to ensure room for creativity and agility, akin to occasional “pirouettes”… and sometimes even a little cozy nap under a Christmas tree. I always aim for weighted decisions and case-specific strategies.

In all of this, solid partnerships and intense teamwork are crucial. The entire Executive Management Team is a very high-performance team; and enjoy working with each other.

If you were to gift your company a theme song for the holidays, would it be a classic carol or a modern jingle?

Probably a modern jingle – it resonates with our identity as innovator, frontrunner, and pioneer, always oriented toward the future.

If your company were a Holiday movie genre, would it be a heartwarming comedy, a thrilling action flick, or a dramatic saga?

In light of recent external uncertainties, our narrative aligns closely with that of a suspenseful thriller (one where the good guy always wins at the end). Despite unforeseen events, we consistently find a positive resolution.

Obviously, maintaining a warm atmosphere within the company is a precondition for dealing with the tough world out there. This necessitates an approachable management team and space for occasional celebrations, fun, and laughter. Unnecessary drama is simply not on our script.

To sum everything up, on behalf of the RHI Magnesita Executive Management Team and our Board of Directors, I extend warm holiday wishes and a profound thank-you to all our employees, partners, investors, customers, suppliers, and supporters. The success of RHI Magnesita is a testament to your unwavering passion and engagement. Here’s to a new season filled with joy, success, and the anticipation of a blockbuster sequel in 2024!

By Dana Đikić