SPOKEN – Episode 9

In this issue of SPOKEN, meet the CEO of LIBERTY Steel USA, Greg Jones, get the low-down on global procurement and hear from our Executive Chairman, Sanjeev Gupta.



Show Transcript:

JUSTINE: Hello and welcome to ‘Spoken’ – the podcast for GFG Alliance colleagues across the world. I’m Justine Greene and on this episode, we’ll meet Greg Jones, CEO of LIBERTY Steel USA, also we’ll get the low-down on procurement, and we have questions from you. Joining us remotely as always is Sanjeev Gupta, Executive Chairman of the GFG Alliance, hi Sanjeev, how are you?

SANJEEV: Hello, Justine, nice talking to you again. I’m well, thank you.

JUSTINE: Well, hard to believe we’re nearly at the end of the year. We started Spoken back in April, recording ourselves in different locations. Let’s briefly rewind to episode 1…

SANJEEV: (sound effect) We’re recording? I’m really excited about this podcast, I think it’s going to become– I’m sure it’s going to be a real hit. I’m looking forward to lots and lots of queries and questions from everybody. thank you. (sound effect)

JUSTINE: Well, I’m pleased to say that the podcast has been going well! And Sanjeev would you say that your own self-recording skills have improved?

SANJEEV: I’m still improving, every day you learn how to do better. (laugh) But it’s been a very satisfying and fun as well, thank you for your efforts.

JUSTINE: Well, it’s certainly been a year like no other. And looking forward to 2021, a potentially big development for the business, is your recent ‘non-binding indicative offer’ for Thyssenkrupp Steel. When do you hope to have more news to share with us on this?

SANJEEV: We are in good discussions, they’re progressing positively. So, there will be news of course, but at the moment it’s as good as it could be. It’s progressing very well, lots of good, positive discussions. But perhaps in the new year, we’ll have some news by then.

JUSTINE: Okay. What other priorities do you have for GFG in the year ahead?

SANJEEV: Well, for LIBERTY, it’s a very important year next year. Not only because of our potential acquisition of Thyssenkrupp but also all our businesses next year in LIBERTY Steel should be firing on all cylinders. We’ve fixed quite a lot of the turnaround issues, there were a few businesses which needed some care and attention, which they’ve got, and they’re in a good position so that they should start yielding results next year as well. All the other businesses are all doing very well, we expect next year to be a good year at the moment, despite fears of demand impact by COVID, all indications are next year will be good, so fingers crossed. So really, next year is very important for LIBERTY, because it’ll really come into its own.

You know, we’ve done the consolidation of the group into one corporate this year, with the Board and the governance, financials will be published by then. So, it will be a very important year for really a mature LIBERTY Steel.

For the other businesses, ALVANCE is very much on its growth journey, we did an amazing acquisition of Duffel, but there are other irons in the fire. And certainly, ALVANCE needs to become a bit more substantial, to have critical mass in the market, so they’re definitely pursuing other ambitions.

And in energy, we have our three mega-projects. We have Australia’s– one of Australia’s largest solar farms, which we have to build out next year, in Whyalla….we have the UK’s largest onshore subsidy-free wind farm we’re building out, hopefully, that will progress in Scotland. And, of course, our coal conversion to waste, the world’s first coal plant which will be converted to use waste instead of using coal, to give us, again, sustainable power for our ambitions in Newport. So these three energy projects will all come to maturity next year, which is critical for SIMEC’s future, LIBERTY consolidation, and you know, basically reaping the benefits of all our hard work, and advance on our growth story.

JUSTINE: On the last podcast we spoke with Julia Stoddart, from the foothills of Ben Nevis, and there’s news from just down the road at Fort William… So what’s happening there?

SANJEEV: Very exciting, it’s, you know, sometimes out of adversity come great things. Our plan for Lochaber, when we acquired it a few years ago, was to build an alloy wheel plant there for cars. The car industry or the auto industry in the meantime has unfortunately taken a nosedive in the UK, so that sort of scuttled our plans to build a new wheel plant there. But of course, we are committed to Lochaber, we’re committed to Scotland, so we had to come up with an alternative. And the alternative we’ve come up with, in many ways for me, it ticks many more boxes and is far more satisfying. So, we will more than double the production at Lochaber, and we will do this by adding recycling to smelting. So we will– the UK has an abundance of aluminum steel scrap, and we will start recycling this instead of exporting it, and bringing it back as imported aluminum. There’s a good market for aluminum billets, which is what we’ll be producing for the construction industry. So while the car industry has been somewhat poor, the construction industry actually is incredibly well, and there’s good demand for these round billets, which are used for the construction industry. Already, we’ve tied up a lot of demand, a lot of customers, so it’s very exciting stuff. Not only are we basically increasing the production substantially, we’re actually recycling which is critical to our overall CN30 ambitions. Now that aluminum recycling becomes a key part of our business, both in Lochaber and also actually in Duffel, means that aluminum is on a similar journey to steel, where we are both looking at primary production in carbon-neutral ways, and also recycling and creating a local circular economy.

JUSTINE: So some great green credentials there?

SANJEEV: Absolutely, Justine. We regard our aluminum production there as the greenest in the world. This is because we have our own hydroelectric power stations there, we collect the water from the Highlands including Ben Nevis’s water, and that then generates electricity, which is used to make our green aluminum already. And the same electricity will also be used to recycle aluminum, so we will definitely claim that amazing fact that we are, you know, from nature’s water we are producing not only new aluminum but also recycling old aluminum now.

JUSTINE: Well, for the moment thanks Sanjeev. Stay with us, we’ll chat again shortly, but we’re off to Australia, next.

JUSTINE: Joining us on the line from Sydney is Greg Jones, appointed CEO of LIBERTY Steel USA, earlier this year. Hi Greg, I understand, your move to the U.S. has been somewhat delayed….

GREG JONES: Hi Justine, yes it has. It’s been an unusual year for most people, and my timing of moving to the US was in March, which coincided obviously with things changing somewhat around the world.

JUSTINE: Now, we like to find out a little about our guests’ passions outside of work. Recently, we’ve had cricket, Bollywood and sailing – what about you?

GREG: Yeah, sure, well like one of your previous guests, I do spend a fair amount of time at the cricket fields both my son and my daughter are avid cricketers, so most weekends I’m at an oval around Sydney somewhere. Outside of that, and this has been a bit more difficult through 2020, but as a family, we do enjoy travelling and exploring new places, and just experiencing different cultures and foods and places to be.

JUSTINE: Ok, well, looking at the business – what’s your focus for LIBERTY Steel USA into 2021?

GREG: Yeah, I think as we look at 2021, the focus is really taking the foundations that we’ve set in 2020, as we’ve settled down the business in the US and done the benchmarking work and started to bring the business together as a more integrated business, using that as a platform for some of the growth opportunities that are in front of us. And we’ve certainly got a significant capital programme into next year, looking at fabrication and while drawing capital projects that are underway. And then looking at the transformational capital programmes around the restart of major facilities, Georgetown and LaPlace being two examples. And really making the US a much more sustainable business, being able to fund our sustaining capital programmes as well as our growth programmes into 2021.

JUSTINE: Now with a new U.S. President – what effect do you think this will have on the steel industry?

GREG: Yeah, it’s an interesting question, in the short term we believe that there will be not much impact, in that post-COVID I think there will be some infrastructure spend, irrespective of which president is in office. And so we’re looking to leverage off that. I think the focus for the US, like many other jurisdictions, will be what does the recovery look like post-COVID? And I think that that’s not necessarily impacted by the change in office.

JUSTINE: Well, finally, Greg, one of your colleagues is on the line keen to ask you a question, here they are….

SANDY DUSACK: Hi Greg, this is Sandy Dusack from LIBERTY Wire Johnstown, Pennsylvania USA. The US operation is growing rapidly while unfortunately you are stuck in Australia due to COVID travel restrictions. How are you handling the day-to-day obstacles of managing the US operations by being remote and almost in an opposite time zone?

GREG: Thanks for your question, Sandy. Look, as I said earlier, it’s been a difficult year for most people. Managing the time zones is unusual, but really that’s all it is, it’s unusual. I think there’s a great team in the US who’ve been very understanding of me not being able to be there. The things that you can do, via technology now, has probably far exceeded what I thought was possible nine months ago. The aspects that are difficult are visiting the facilities and visiting people, and seeing people face to face and shaking hands and really talking to people. And hopefully, I’ll get to make up for some of that, next year. But the overarching thing for me has been, one, technology makes a lot of things possible that may not have been possible in the past, but number two, and most importantly, people have been very accommodating and understanding through this period. So, it’s not ideal, but it’s not been ideal for most people, so we’re just finding a way to get through it.

JUSTINE: Well, thanks to Sandy for getting in touch with that question. And Greg, thanks very much for joining us…

GREG: Thanks for having me, Justine.

JUSTINE: And to another of GFG’s leaders now, this time it’s Vipin Trehan, Head of Global Procurement, has been given just a minute to explain, procurement’s role in the business. Hello Vipin, tell us more…

VIPIN: Hello Justine. I’ve been with the group now for fourteen months, I represent here two roles, one is the Head of Procurement for Europe, and the other one is leading the Global Procurement Excellence for the GFG. I must confess, there is no dearth of excitement within the world of procurement, we in the procurement community are managing a spend of almost $8 billion-plus, which is spread over more than 11,000 suppliers. Savings has been a key focus and we have been, this year, successful in getting more than $120 million across the group. We operate in more than thirty countries, and that is forever growing, which creates excitement in itself. The procurement team is multicultural, multi-lingual, the team is geographically dispersed. Back to you, Justine, and thanks for the time.

JUSTINE: Thanks Vipin, a fascinating insight. OK, we’ll round off our podcast with a question from you for Sanjeev… next.

JUSTINE: Well, this is your chance now to ask Sanjeev a question. We’ll tell you how to get in touch in a moment. In the meantime, here’s a question for you Sanjeev….

LIBOR ZAVODNIK: Hi Sanjeev, this is Libor Zavodnik, I am an employee of the coke plant in LIBERTY Ostrava in the Czech Republic, will the new hybrid technology planned for the Ostrava plant require hiring new employees or will the current employees of the upstream be trained for the new competencies?

SANJEEV: Okay, the first thing to say is that the upstream minster is not going anywhere in a hurry, it’s a transition to 2030, so we have a long time and there are different stages, one furnace, a second furnace. The new electricity connection, and so on. So the transition to pure scrap is over ten years, and even then, there is a plan that if we can do some CO2 capture, maybe we don’t even fully transition, which is the beauty of the hybrid-furnace, because it allows you to adapt between hot metal and melting scrap. The second thing I would say is that we will always retrain, so we– our employees are important, they’re central to our value-base, and they will always be looked after so we will always retrain. And that’s critical to how we look at the future. We look at it in two ways, one is retraining old employees into new skills, new technologies. And second is bringing in fresh talent, the next generation. And for these purposes, actually, we’re setting up what we are calling the ‘Green Steel Academy’, in all our key plants globally. And certainly in Ostrava that’s planned as well, where we will look to do both those things, retrain old employees and train new, fresh, next-generation employees.

JUSTINE: Thank you Sanjeev, and thanks Libor for your question. If you want to ask Sanjeev a question – just drop us an email to spoken@gfgalliance.com, that’s spoken@gfgalliance.com.

JUSTINE: Now, as we mentioned earlier, we started the podcast back in April, with many of us working from home, including, of course, yourself Sanjeev. Here’s a clip from back then…

SANJEEV: (sound effect) Well, put it this way, I’ve never spent three weeks in a row at home with my family in my life, in history, so it’s definitely a new experience. (sound effect)

JUSTINE: So, a new experience then. Is it now the new normal, Sanjeev?

SANJEEV: Look, it’s a year which nobody will ever forget in their history, and it will go down in centuries later, we’ll be talking about 2020. It is an exceptional year. But it has brought in a lot of positives, and I think family time for all of us, I think, is a big positive. I can say that I can definitely credit the year, for me, having a stronger bond with my children than I could afford before, as a result of the amount of time I’ve spent with them. I, you know, I try my best to tuck my children into bed every night now, no matter how– No matter where I am, or call them. That is not something I used to do last year. So, I’m really very happy with some of these benefits in this terrible year, which have come out.

JUSTINE: It must be lovely to have those special moments. What would you say you’ve learnt from them?

SANJEEV: I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that life carries on, and human beings have an amazing ability to tackle any challenge which is thrown at them, and that is very much a GFG trait. We always fight and always win, and we always bounce back, even if we take hits here and there.

And I think this has been proven now, the world is bouncing back, and I think this will– Next year, all things being equal and you know, if the vaccines do start to get rolled out, we expect a great year and great years ahead, actually. Because I think as a result of this terrible year, there will be a greater ambition, a greater resolve, and it’s also in great things. Like, you know, like the decarbonisation of the world. I think that effort has benefitted hugely from COVID, ironically. There is a lot, a lot– There was already momentum, but it has really exponentially increased the amount of attention and the amount of focus and amount of resolve the world has on the decarbonisation of industries. And especially now with the elections in America, I believe there will be a united front. The West will be united, East will follow, and we will see a new era with all nations pulling their weight in terms of decarbonisation.

JUSTINE: Now, I know as the year’s gone on, you have been able to visit parts of the business. But, I imagine you’re keen to meet with more colleagues across GFG in 2021?

SANJEEV: I am gutted, not being able to go to places like Australia, our new businesses in India, US, and so many places in the world I’ve not been able to go this year, which I’m really, really missing. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to travel within Europe, with all the restrictions, and you know despite that, by following strict protocols, we’ve managed to find ways and means of me going to many of the plants in Europe which I’m grateful for. But I’m really looking forward to, of course, as soon as possible, to get out to the further reaches in Australia, India, US and so on.

JUSTINE: And there’s a landmark birthday to come for you next year?

SANJEEV: That’s a secret that should not have been told. (laugh) Indeed, indeed. And the following year is a landmark birthday for the group, in 2022, the group will also turn thirty. Whereas I will turn, of course, fifty next year.

JUSTINE: Well, a big year, and lots to celebrate. In the meantime, how are the Gupta family hoping to spend the festive season?

SANJEEV: Actually, they’re headed to Dubai. There is a corridor now, between Dubai and the UK, so they’re able to travel which is amazing, because, you know, it’s been tough for the family because they’ve been– Confinement for children is the most difficult thing, out of all of us. I think we find it difficult, but children find it even more difficult. So, for them to be able to get out to Dubai and spend three weeks there, I think it’ll be amazing. They’re taking there some of the grandparents with them, so it’s going to be amazing for me. Unfortunately, I’m probably going to have to spend quite a lot of time commuting. I will get there for Christmas and New Year, but apart from that, I’ll be working here in Europe. But I’m really happy that they’re able to get out.

JUSTINE: Finally, Sanjeev, do you have any message for colleagues listening now, as we close out the year?

SANJEEV: What GFG has gone through this year, and the effort everybody has made to come together, some of the sacrifices people have made, it’s really something, which really reinforces my values and my belief that we are a special group. And we look and care for each other. And I think we will come out next year, when we can get together again physically and get back on our journeys, I am hopeful that we will get actually learnings from this year which we can deploy and be even better as time goes forward.

JUSTINE: Thanks very much Sanjeev, wishing you season’s greetings, and I look forward to catching up again in January.

SANJEEV: Thank you, Justine. Have a very, very happy Christmas.

JUSTINE: Thank you so much. So, we’ll be back with Sanjeev in January, with the very latest news from across GFG. In the meantime, look out for our ‘2020 Spoken Highlights Special’. Until then, from me, Justine Greene, and Sanjeev Gupta, it’s goodbye.

1 Comment

    • Shreesh
    • 6 January, 2021

    An eye-opening and heart-warming podcast, Justine.


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SPOKEN – Episode 9