Meet the new CEO of LECA - Harald Cholewa
Harald Cholewa moved to Copenhagen at the end of the summer to take over as CEO at LECA International. He has worked at Saint-Gobain for his entire career, starting 17 years ago in Germany in the glass industry and moving on to other Saint-Gobain teams in France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and now Denmark.
“I think it’s absolutely fascinating to discover a new part of Saint-Gobain, and I’m excited about the Leca product – a sustainable, natural product – and its vast possibilities for application. When I visited the teams, there were so many examples of how we are using this lightweight aggregate to do something exceptional. My first routine at LECA was travelling to all the plants, getting to know as many people as possible within my new responsibilities. It’s important to me that they get to know me and that I get to know them. This will remain a routine in the future, visiting the plants and having a face-to-face talk with everyone there so that we understand and share the same vision and pursue the same goals. I have been happy to see a very committed and engaged team all over the country. That makes me proud working for LECA and excited about the future.”
A KEY PLAYER NOW AND TOMORROW
“I see LECA today – and even more tomorrow – as a key player in the construction industry. LECA is present in the three basic market segments: housing, infrastructure, and water management. So, the applications will always be relevant. For the LECA business itself, I see a couple of exciting opportunities. We have been focusing a lot on the infrastructure sector: on road construction and hopefully also soon railway construction, which our team is working hard at. We will continue to be involved in these big, public investments. But we also have some niche applications, like Filtralite®, where I think that with a bit more effort and focus we can still grow our market share. Water management and treatment is another interesting area for the Leca® products. We know that with climate change, the topic of water retention in big cities gets increasing attention. And having clear and clean drinking water is a concern already today and will be of even greater concern tomorrow. There are so many possibilities of application and a huge potential still ahead of us. I'm sure that we have not yet explored all the possibilities.”
THE PERFECT STORM
“Right now, we are close to a perfect storm. times are changing extremely fast, and we have to be very agile to adapt to the situation The energy prices are soaring, and as a logical consequence, the prices of our products have to reflect the increased production costs. On the other hand, with rising inflation and rising mortgage rates, we start to see a market cooldown from the historical highs in the past two years So, the first and utmost priority right now is to conserve our margin that means we have to compensate on the selling price. On top of that, we need to launch all the improvement projects that we have to minimise the cost-impact; That's priority number one. The second priority is to switch to new energies and new ways of producing sustainably Leca aggregates already allow the construction industry to reduce its CO2 footprint by switching our production of the aggregates to renewable energies, we can also reduce our own footprint We have committed to a very tight roadmap to reach net-zero carbon by 2050 at the latest, which is challenging, but I'm convinced that as a team we can lead this to a success.”
TRUST, EMPOWERMENT, AND COLLABORATION
“What is important for me in a company is the people I’m very proud of the transition in management I have been able to make in all the countries where I worked at Saint-Gobain in terms of trusting people, empowering people, and collaborating. The impact has been visible in the yearly Me@Saint-Gobain survey, which also measures how people feel involved and committed and how they identify themselves with the company. But you can also measure this kind of transition in decision-speed and even, ultimately, in operating profit. I believe that if you give the right people the right information, they can make miracles and it's usually better to give people more information than you think. That way they understand the background, and they feel fully involved and will more easily commit to the whole journey that we have to take. ”
MAKING THE RIGHT DECISIONS
“My physics background makes it a bit faster and easier to understand what is happening and having a chat with the worker, the operator, the foreman, or production manager, which is usually on quite a technical level. But in physics, you also learn analytical skills. That is a big asset for leading a company and making the right decisions. A natural behaviour of human beings is that you see a problem, and you directly reflect on a solution; you're building the answer straight away. This is something that I believe you need to push a bit in the background. Instead, you need to look at the facts that you collect for this decision in a calm, reasonable way, without emotion. I do this, and then I usually go back to the first reaction I had to see whether I can align the facts with my gut feeling. Before sharing my decision with anyone, I will usually talk with my management team because the decision-making process is also about getting your team involved and convinced.”
WELCOME TO DENMARK
“My biggest achievement in life is quite simply: my family. I am very happy to have a wife and two kids, who follow me through all the challenges. Every 2-3 years we've been moving, and I know it's not easy for them. The step to Denmark was less difficult, though, because we’ve lived three years just across the bridge in Malmo, and we've been to Copenhagen several times. We moved here at the end of the summer, which was fantastic. Everyone here is super open, welcoming, and helpful. I'm also happy to have the sea so close because I like everything on water: windsurfing, sailing, waterskiing. But mostly, I love cycling in the countryside. It clears my head, and I often think about the decisions to come during cycling. Of course, in Denmark there are no mountains, so mountain biking is a bit difficult. I still have to change my mountain bike to a city bike.”
Full interview available on BUILD Issue number 2 – 2022.