Lafarge Africa Plc was nominated in the categories of “Innovative Company of the Year”, “Most Innovative in Housing & Urban Development”, “Most Innovative
in Manufacturing” and the “Most Innovative Multinational” categories. Subsequently, the Company emerged the winner in the “Most Innovative in Manufacturing
in Nigeria” Awards Category.

Outside the oil and gas and telecommunications industries, LafargeHolcim is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria; and is currently
making a further 400 billion Naira investment into the country. In this interview with OMOSOMI OMOMIA, the CEO of Lafarge Africa, Michel Puchercos explains
how Lafarge continues to successfully advance the frontiers of innovation in Nigeria and indeed, the African Continent.

Lafarge has the highest number of nominations at the upcoming Innovation Awards. Subsequently, what has been the strategies adopted by your Organization that have ensured the high level of success in innovating? Lafarge Africa Plc has put innovation at the core of its businesses. We are committed to generating value for our customers and responding to the needs of our stakeholders in the markets in which we operate.

Understanding our stakeholder needs and the way they use our products enables us develop truly innovative products, systems, and solutions. Therefore, we rely on a powerful central Research and Development structure and on Development Labs, operating as close to our markets as possible. What, in your opinion, are the most important ingredients for successful innovationfor any Organization or Company operating in Nigeria? I believe strongly that an organization needs to have in-depth and up to date knowledge of its customers and their needs to be truly innovative. Equally important are factors including technical know-how, relevant skills and the orientation to be customer-centric.

Please shed more light on the Innovative Climate Action Initiatives of Lafarge Nigeria? As a leading building solutions provider in Nigeria, Lafarge Africa is committed to contributing to more sustainable construction and better architectural creativity ultimately bringing greater safety, comfort, and quality to everyday surroundings. Hence, we have the widest range of products in the industry, in addition to which we are consistently developing new vertically integrated solutions to further deepen our impact on the construction industry. One of our recent cutting edge projects in innovation is our Biomass Alternative Fuel Feeding System, commissioned on September 21st, 2016. The project is focused on developing an alternative fuel (primarily biomass) supply and utilization system to partly substitute the use of fossil fuels at our Ewekoro and Sagamu plant facilities. Nigeria has abundant reserves of fossil fuels and is a major global exporter of both crude and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Until recently, all Lafarge Africa Plc kilns have relied almost exclusively on natural gas. Replacing focil fuels and gas with alternative fuel (that is renewable energy) is fully part of our sustainable development strategy.

What inspired you to embark on the above innovation Strategy? 

The inspiration is basically from our value and vision as an organization. Innovation is the bedrock of our differentiation and we have made significant investments in research and development at the group level. Lafarge Holcim’s building materials laboratory is the biggest and most advanced in the world and globally, we spend €120 million on research annually with a network of more than 1000 experts. Specifically, the biomass project came up in response to the scarcity of foreign exchange and energy experienced in Nigeria last year. As an agriculture hub, Ogun State made it possible for us to produce power from biomass. We aim to roll out in other plants inEwekoro II, as well Mfamosing in Cross River State and Ashaka, Gombe State.

What are the internal and external constraints and challenges Lafarge faces daily instriving to successfully innovate in Nigeria?

Innovation is about newness, and connotes change. Generally, issues relating to apathy, competency,availability of tools, infrastructure and cost may pose challenges either from within or outside an organization. At Lafarge Africa, we surmount constraints with clear innovation strategy that is well communicated within the organization and by motivating and empowering employees to innovate. As a country, Nigeria provides limitless opportunity to innovate, with its huge and growing market, and vast pool of talents.

How has Lafarge’s “Innovative Climate Action Initiatives” impacted upon your Company’s performance, in terms of operational effectives, business sustainability and financial results?

The introduction of biomass as a fuel for pyro-processing in Lafarge Africa Plc’s cement kilns will go beyond contributing to the global environmental goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to improving the domestic technical skills of the cement industry in the use of biomass. This could result in more applications in the use of renewable fuels and clean technologies in cement manufacturing and other energy based industries in Nigeria. This project is also the first wide-scale use of third-party biomass in Nigeria. It will support the development of agriculture while creating a carbon-neutral sustainable energy source. Furthermore, it provides wide range socioeconomic benefits, especially in terms of employment generation within our host communities and the ability to replicate this technology to increase the use of biomass for energy provision in other sectors. Indeed, Lafarge Africa Plc through this project is providing important leadership in innovation for actively developing Nigeria’s biomass sector for fuel. Overall, Lafarge Africa’s Turnaround programme is beginning to yield positive results as must have been noticed from our recently published financial statements for the first quarter of 2017.

To what extent is your organization’s strategy dependent on innovation for its long-term success?

From the foregoing, it is obvious that for us, long-term success is hinged on innovation, especially considering the ever changing customer taste and expectations.

In what areas is Lafarge Nigeria looking to innovate over the next 3 years?

Innovation is integral to our operations and permeates all our activities. We commit to continued innovation in all areas, especially regarding building and infrastructure solutions for customers and use of waste and biomass energy.

How does it feel for your efforts and contributions to be recognized as one of the Most Innovative Companies in Nigeria and to be included in the Innovation Report:Companies to Inspire Nigeria in 2017?

We feel challenged by the award, which is a testimony to Lafarge Africa’s commitment to delivering innovative building solutions. The award is certainly an indication that institutions including the media and the people are watching and taking note of outputs and activities of corporate organizations like ours. It also goes to show that Nigeria desires and appreciates innovative efforts. We are indeed, grateful for this recognition. It will definitely energize us to do more and encourage other organizations to join hands with us in the drive for enhanced customer satisfaction and excellence.

by Businessday

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