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Building high-tech home comforts

By Wu Yiyao | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2016-02-28 14:55

Construction giant Saint-Gobain approaches its China strategy with a focus on quality, its Asia-Pacific CEO says

Javier Gimeno, 51, sleeps just five hours a night, but he is a bundle of energy on his tightly scheduled mornings, which are usually filled by meetings with colleagues, clients or the media.

The chief executive of Asia-Pacific operations for Saint-Gobain, a 350-year-old French multinational, says the fast-changing China market keeps him focused like a thoroughbred horse, his zodiac sign.

Building high-tech home comforts

Javier Gimeno, CEO for the Asia-Pacific operations of Compagnie de Saint-Gobain SA, said his company is implementing its concept of a "multi-comfort house" in China. Provided to China Daily


Saint-Gobain's high-tech products are used in the construction or renovation of residential and industrial structures. The company is known for its versatile glass products, premixed mortars and high-performance tiles, and deals with needs in the plumbing, heating, sanitation, plasterboard, roofing, fencing, abrasives and tools sectors.

The multinational's philosophy is that the thermal, air, acoustic, visual, modular and security aspects of modern habitats should be sustainable and in harmony, not only providing comfort to residents, but also safety to construction workers, company officials say.

Gimeno has worked in China for six years. His office overlooks the Bund in the heart of Shanghai.

Despite ups and downs in the volatile China market, Saint-Gobain, a Fortune 500 company, is estimated to have posted double-digit growth last year, with its sales forecast at 1.4 billion euros ($1.50 billion), accounting for 50 percent of the total across the Asia-Pacific region.

"It was a good year, and we feel comfortable despite the changing market conditions," Gimeno says.

Saint-Gobain's 350th anniversary celebrations were recently kicked off with an event in Shanghai. The company has been striving to get closer to Chinese consumers through a series of campaigns and events.

"In the past, we were a little bit shy, but now we're happy Saint-Gobain is more widely known in China."

Gimeno exudes confidence, as the market for his company's products and solutions is expanding on the back of three factors: the growing aspiration among China's middle class for a better lifestyle after the rise in disposable income; the accelerating urbanization process; and the government's commitment to reform its economic growth pattern.

He says Saint-Gobain is well placed to contribute to efforts to improve air quality and the environment in China, and slow climate change.

The company chose Changzhou, a city in Jiangsu province, as the location to try out its concept of a "multi-comfort house". Using rooftop solar panels, the property produces more energy than it consumes, while other products and technologies mean it protects interior areas from heat during the summer and captures heat for use during the winter, at the same time as improving the interior air quality.

However, the going has not always been smooth in the price-sensitive China market, Gimeno says. "Saint-Gobain faced pressure initially. Lower-priced, inferior products were in demand. Now, consumers realize the importance of quality. Middle-class consumers like to buy the best they can."

Automobile glass and construction materials are among Saint-Gobain fastest-growing businesses in China. Gimeno believes this shows that Chinese consumers, manufacturers and property developers attach importance to product performance.

For example, the company's ClimatCoat glass, which he says is popular in China, helps reduce heat from sunlight during summer and blocks heat in the car during winter, reducing not only the load on the air conditioner, but fuel consumption and hazardous gas emissions, the company says.

Similarly, Saint-Gobain's innovative window frame helps maintain room temperature, reducing energy consumption of homes and offices and commercial buildings, while its tile adhesive reduces dust by 80 percent, protecting construction workers' health, the company claims.

Although the company's products are not cheap, demand for high-performance habitat products is increasing in China, Gimeno says.

Meanwhile, Saint-Gobain China has also been recognized for more than just its products and systems. For three years now, it has bagged the top employer award from the Top Employers' Institute, an international organization focused on researching working conditions and human resources management.

"Every colleague is like an entrepreneur. Only in this way is sustainable innovation possible, which keeps the company going further continuously," Gimeno says. "The commitment to fulfill responsibilities, to care for people and invest in the future must be genuine. If not, people can tell from your eyes."

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