GW: Congratulations on your recent promotion to Executive Vice President for Guardian Glass. With operations in India, the Middle East and Africa added to your existing responsibilities in Europe and Asia, please describe the new management structure.
Thank you. With effect from July this year, Ron Vaupel, President and CEO of Guardian Industries has assumed leadership of the company’s glass business following the departure of Kevin Baird, formerly President and CEO of Guardian Glass. At the senior leadership level, Rick Zoulek and I have been named Executive Vice Presidents for Guardian Glass. While Rick manages the Americas, I have added Guardian Glass operations in India, the Middle East and Africa to my previous responsibilities in Europe, Russia and Asia.
GW: What does it mean to take on such increased responsibility within the organisation?
I am excited for this opportunity and the increased responsibilities and confident that together, this expanded region will work as one team to create preferred partnerships and virtuous cycles of mutual benefit. We have an opportunity to better leverage our capabilities across Guardian Industries and Koch Industries to create long-term value for our customers and investable returns for our company and its employees.
GW: What are your hopes and expectations for the role?
These changes will increase the momentum of the company’s ongoing operational transformation to ensure that Guardian Glass remains the preferred global supplier of architectural glass solutions. The business environment today varies from region to region. The needs of our customers and the economic environment combine to create continuous change to which we must anticipate and adjust. Therefore, it’s imperative that we understand the complex requirements of our customers and provide the products and services that they value. It is my intention to work with our teams to manage, nurture and maintain our customer and partner relationships to create preferred partnerships.
GW: How will the new structure benefit internal and external operations?
This new structure is enabling us to better communicate, share knowledge and leverage our capabilities across the different regions to create competitive advantages. Guardian already benefits by having a large global footprint, so we are able to navigate economic and other challenges that can escalate from country to country and region to region. We’ve seen this during the Covid-19 pandemic, as we had and continue to have certain regions impacted at different times.
GW: Following the recent announcement about your Polish operation, please summarise what activities are undertaken at the Czestochowa glass plant. Also, who are the factory’s main customers and how will the recent investment benefit them?
This second float and coated glass manufacturing plant focusing on residential products, adjacent to our existing Czestochowa plant, will allow Guardian Glass to continue to serve customers in Poland and meet growing demand for high performance coated and fabricated glass products in Eastern Europe. This investment underlines Guardian’s long-term commitment to its customers to be the preferred supplier of glass solutions.
GW: In general, what are your hopes and expectations for the Czestochowa glass plant in the short, medium and long-term?
We’re very excited about the growth we’ve seen in Eastern Europe and are confident that the Czestochowa location is well-positioned to meet our customers’ needs in the region. Further evidence of our confidence in the growth of demand is that our existing float line in Czestochowa just went through a repair, which increased its production capacity by approximately 25%. With both furnaces, we are tripling production. To give you an idea of the sheer size of this project, in the future, we will be able to produce 60km of glass every day.
GW: Please describe the features and benefits of the new float line and coater.
The second float and coater line in Czestochowa represents the biggest greenfield capital investment in Guardian Glass history. It is the company’s most efficient and operationally effective plant and houses our largest furnace and largest coater. The new float line has a nominal capacity of 1000 tonnes of glass per day, while the new coater represents the latest in technology for Guardian and we believe, for the market.
GW: How did you partner with technology suppliers to assist with this investment?
We carefully selected preferred suppliers based on their ability to provide the latest technology. These partners are well known to Guardian because of their ability to deliver creative, high quality solutions. Through these preferred partnerships, we specifically installed new technology related to glass cleaning and washing, along with environmentally-
friendly vacuum pumps. Robotics and automated glass handling minimise opportunities for human error in the process.
GW: How does Guardian differentiate itself from other glass manufacturers in the region?
We believe our culture and our business philosophy sets us apart. Market-Based Management is the business philosophy and framework that we apply to innovate, improve and transform ourselves and the company in order to create greater value and find fulfilment. Our MBM Guiding Principles are who we are as a company and they guide everything we do. Our vision is to become the preferred partner for customers for architectural glass solutions. We continuously innovate and develop solutions that create real value for customers. The needs of our customers are continuously changing and becoming more complex. We are trying to stay nimble and focused on serving these needs in the most efficient and effective way.
GW: What did it mean for Guardian Glass Europe to attain Bronze level Cradle to Cradle certification for float, coated and laminated glass products manufactured at eight of your European plants earlier this year?
Achieving Bronze level certification for our float, coated and laminated glass products was a significant step to align our products and manufacturing processes with our vision of ‘helping people improve their lives by providing products and services they value more highly than their alternatives and do so responsibly while consuming fewer resources’. This vision involves producing glass products that help reduce energy usage and increase occupant comfort in buildings.
This is a great achievement by the team involved. Over a period of 12 months, eight of our European production plants – Czestochowa included – and some 60 employees across more than 15 capabilities were involved in the C2C certification process. Attaining Bronze level certification validates Guardian’s ongoing commitment and investment as a global leader in the responsible manufacturing of sustainable glass products.
GW: Please summarise market conditions and opportunities for architectural and automotive glass in Eastern and Central Europe.
Because of the global pandemic, there is still a lot of uncertainty in the market because our customers have limited visibility on the medium- and long-term. The construction market is recovering well in the region, possibly better than expected but the situation remains fluid and we don’t expect demand to return to pre-Covid-19 levels until the end of 2021.
We will also have to wait and see what new trends will emerge as a result of the pandemic. What will happen to office space going forward, with regard to remote working and the requirements for a safe and healthy work environment for office workers? We can expect less open space development, more interior partitions and greater focus on the cost of office maintenance. All of which will create new opportunities for glass that is easy to clean and has good anti-bacterial performance.
Recovery in the architectural sector will also be driven by new energy efficiency regulation, meaning that investors and architects pay far more attention to the type of glass used on facades and for instance, how it can contribute to Nearly Zero Energy Building
(NZEB) regulations. This will not only increase triple silver glass specification but will open the door for new energy generation technologies such as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), where we have recently announced a strategic partnership agreement with ML Systems SA.
In the residential sector, we are seeing a strong rebound in demand – most likely driven by the fact that more people are spending more time at home and therefore, more investment in home refurbishment. Trends here remain the momentum to move from double to triple glazing for greater energy efficiency and the general trend to increase natural light to improve health and wellbeing.
The automotive industry in the region and indeed, worldwide, was of course seriously impacted by Covid-19 during the first half of the year. A potential consequence of its economic impact could be the resurgence of the used car market, as well as new forms of ownership, including subscription models. Nonetheless, current demand is better than feared during the height of the pandemic and we are cautiously optimistic about the situation.
GW: And in Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa?
They have fared no differently than Europe, demonstrating the truly global impact of the pandemic. Construction around the world slowed during the first half of 2020 but we are starting to see a gradual return to normality and remain optimistic about growth in these regions. Opportunities include the adoption of more stringent green building codes, where glass continues to be a major part of an integrated facade solution, coupled with government-backed initiatives aimed at dealing with the new economic reality, or the demands of a burgeoning urban population. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, there is a strategic framework, known as Vision 2030, to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism. Similarly, in India, the Smart Cities Mission is an urban renewal and retrofitting programme by the India government, with the objective of developing smart cities across the country, making them citizen-friendly and sustainable. It is in examples such as these that we see the biggest opportunities for glass.
GW: What are the main challenges and opportunities you face in the months ahead?
Rapid changes in our industry include more complex customer requirements, digital transformation disrupting supply chains, cost structures and business models with intensifying regulatory and sustainability expectations. We are challenging ourselves to transform faster, while maintaining the business fundamentals of safety, compliance, service and quality.
Examples of where we see opportunity include:
- Sustainability: We are committed to sustainability and social responsibility and we continue to work to make impact at our facilities by using fewer resources. We’re also committed to continuous transformation and innovation in the energy efficiency of our products and helping customers understand opportunities through services such as our Sustainability Calculator and illustrating how Guardian products can help projects earn credits for LEED, BREEAM, WELL and other building certifications.
- eCommerce: Our team has made a great effort in the last 12 months to improve our digital engagement and we are working towards improving this capability, while recognising this is not a process that can be done in a few weeks. We’re excited to talk about these advances in the future.
- Preferred partnerships with our customers: We do this by cementing relationships with key customers and by being nimble to make further inroads with other customers. This includes ways to reach customers more effectively with virtual solutions, so this works hand-in-hand with our digital efforts.
GW: Are the media reports accurate that Guardian Glass will close the Dudelange site and transfer production to the Bascharage plant in Luxembourg? If so, what were the determining factors for this development?
There have been challenges around demand at our facilities in Luxembourg, with an oversupply of glass in Western Europe, combined with underutilised capacity of our assets. This was the case before and was further exacerbated by the pandemic. We therefore recently completed the cooldown of the Dudelange furnace and are moving to a one float, coater and lamination line system in Luxembourg.
GW: What are the highlights of other investments planned across your plants in the regions within your responsibility?
While the situation surrounding Covid-19 remains fluid and the demand we see is below pre-pandemic levels, we are pleased to see some recent increase in customer demand in certain regions. This has given us the confidence to restart preparation for the Goole and Oroshaza cold tank repairs in the UK and Hungary respectively.
GW: How is Guardian Glass planning for Brexit?
As a company, we support open and free trade. We have a float glass manufacturing plant in Goole, in the UK, which largely serves customers in the UK and Ireland. Moreover, our diverse footprint in Europe gives us flexibility to adjust to any changes. We will continue to focus on the needs of our customers wherever they are.