In the interview sections below, you will occasionally find a section titled


. It is unclear whether upper management at CEMEX is simply misinformed, or simply following a PR script. Either way, Corporate ethics and values come from the top down.

A Conversation with CEMEX's President of U.S. Operations Gilberto Perez
by Steven Prokopy, Editor
Cement Americas, Jul 1, 2002

Gilberto Perez began his career at CEMEX in 1988. Since then, he has held various positions is sales, ready mix, logistics, and strategic planning. From 1994 to 1997, Perez worked as Vice President of Planning in Venezuela, where he designed a plan that would result in an increase in production by more than 25% with significant capital expenditures. He also implemented an information system that is now used throughout the company, and participated with in assessing and integrating Vencemos into the CEMEX network.

From 1997 to 1998, Perez served as Vice President of Planning and Marketing in Mexico, where he developed the company's ¤Best Commercial Practices Program.Ë He also was responsible for converting Mexico's cement production facilities from fuel oil consumption to pet coke.

In 1998, he was appointed President of CEMEX USA, and in 2000 he led the post-merger integration team, which integrated Southdown Inc. into CEMEX, resulting in one of the largest cement companies in the United States.

Perez holds a master's degree in business administration from Stanford University, and a bachelor's of arts degree from Monterrey Tech in Mexico.

Cement Americas: How would you define the current state of Cemex's U.S. operations?

Gilberto Perez: We're basically flat compared to the first quarter of last year. Just the United States, which is a little bit better than we did in places like Mexico, but it's mostly seasonal, I would say. Also, we had a milder winter in the United States.
CA: Compared to a lot of companies staying flat is pretty admirable.

GP: Compared to what we thought was going to happen after September 11, and even before September 11, when the economy started to slow down, we were in pretty good shape, and we were happy. We were having problems that we didn't think we were going to have. [It was] pretty tight in some places.

If by the ¤state of the company,Ë you're referring to how we are doing with the acquisition of Southdown, I would say that we are probably in the last phase of the post-merger integration process, which started right after the acquisition at the end of November 2000. As I said, we're probably at the last phase, finishing implementing all the ¤quick hitsË that we saw when we did that integration.
CA: When you say ¤quick hits,Ë what do you mean by that?

GP: Right after an acquisition, we bring a team of specialists from all over the world, from all over the Cemex world. In the particular case of Southdown, we also paired with some Southdown employees for this process. What we do is visit all operations: ready mix, cement, commercial practices, aggregates, every aspect of the corporation is looked at [including] taxes, administrative issues, human resources issues. Then this group of experts gives recommendations, and we decide whether to proceed with those recommendations or not.

In the case of Southdown and the merger with Cemex USA, we found around $110 million in EBITDA savings. We achieved $49 million of that last year. And it goes from human resources initiatives to use of alternate fuels to reducing the fleet in ready mix to supply chain initiatives to exercising centralized purchasing, etc.
CA: When the experts are brought in, is that considered Phase 1?

GP: Yes, that's Phase 1, because, of course, you can not sustain 60 to 70 from all over the world here. First of all, because we get the best, so their countries of origin are screaming for them to return. The timing was complicated because it was right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas █ November and December 2000 █ it was a little bit difficult. That first phase lasted until April 2001.

Another product of that post-merger integration process is organization as it relates to operating the company. The resulting organization is in charge of implementing all these projects. Some of them are quick hits, some of them are more long-term.
CA: I've heard that the savings that you will see as a result of the integration process will be about $200 million over the next three years. Is that accurate?

GP: That's accurate. But, as I said, some of them are recurrent, some of them are nonrecurrent. Some of them impact EBITDA, and some of them do not. But, it's about $200 million. About half is EBITDA-related and recurring.
CA: How is the integration process going in terms of the U.S. plants personnel reacting to any changes you're making?

GP: I think it was a good fit. Southdown likes operational efficiencies. We're passionate about costs. We love operational efficiencies, so we didn't find much resistance in changing ideas on how to do things better. The former Southdown people always welcome the opinion of experts about how they are operating. So, it was pretty smooth. We were surprised about how smooth it was.
CA: So, what is your forecast for the next year or two for the U.S. operations? You said right now it's flat. Do you expect it to pick up before the end of the year and maybe go up substantially next year?

GP: I think that for this year we will probably do a little bit better than the rest of the industry. Just a little bit better, and that's because of the synergies of putting two companies together, and our presence in 30 states gives us some competitive advantage. We have customers that are national as well, so we have signs from national agreements that are going to help with volumes. So, I think we'll be a little bit better than the rest of the industry for this year.

For the remaining years, I think it all depends on the economic conditions of the country: how TEA-21 matures, if the commercial sector recovers, if the housing sector remains as resilient as it has been in the last 18 months. I think nobody expected that resilience. But for the following years, I expect 2003 to be a little bit better than 2002. Going forward, small not spectacular growth. At the same time, with the operational efficiencies that we are gaining, we'll be in good shape as a company.
CA: You mentioned TEA-21. Are you worried about the some of the talk lately about cutting back on public works spending?

GP: No, I think that the industry is doing and is going to continue making the right moves, whatever we need to do to make sure that these projects are funded.
CA: It seemed like right about the time that the integration of the old Southdown had taken hold, that that's when the economy began to take a turn. Was that disappointing, or had you anticipated that?

GP: Of course, nobody knew about the events of September 11, which created a negative environment towards everything. But, we saw a slowdown before that. But, we're pretty happy █ we're flat at regular levels.

I think the downturn has happened across the board, and it has to do with the accommodation of all the political factors, a new administration, and all the people that make decisions in Washington. Maybe it didn't happen for the second Clinton administration, but since this was a complete change in power, it affects us all somehow.
CA: Cemex went from having a fairly minimal presence here to being the biggest producer in the United States. How do you see Cemex as a member of the United States community of cement producers right now? Do you feel isolated, or do you feel like you're an accepted part of it?

GP: We had a small, but I would say, significant presence in the southern states of the United States in what we call the Sunbelt. We had a large presence here in Texas, Arizona, and California. We had both cement and ready mix operations. We've been here for 50 years in this marketplace. But, it was a business model completely different from the one we acquired through Southdown. We only had production capacity here in Texas, and the rest was imported cement, taking advantage of the Cemex global network.

What happened is that the business model completely changed to one in which imports are just supplemental to our domestic production. And, of course, our domestic production is a priority for us. And still, we continue to take advantage of the Cemex International network.

We don't feel isolated at all. I think that we started to develop good relationships when we were Cemex USA. I advised here in 1998, and since then we started developing a good relationship with the industry. Of course, now being the largest distributor of cement in the United States, changes a lot of things. We have more weight in the decisions that are made in trade associations. I cannot say that was the case before. But, I think that we've been pretty well accepted.

I should add that the whole landscape of the cement industry in the United States is changing. You don't have the same faces anymore. There are two or three who are left; the rest have changed. Heidelberg has a new face; Lafarge has a new face; California Portland has a new face. The whole landscape is changing. It's going to be a challenge for all of these new faces to make this industry continue working.


CEMENT vs Democracy
CA: I read recently that you can deliver an order within 30 minutes or less. Someone said that it's almost like a pizza delivery. That's quite a claim, and it speaks volumes about your strategy.

GP: That's a model that we developed in Mexico for the conditions of the Mexican market. It's a complicated model that uses very complicated algorithms. What we're doing right now is to accommodate that model to the needs of the U.S. market, usually with much larger customers with the same needs but in much larger quantities. We're trying to accommodate that model to our markets in the United States. We'll get there. Actually what you heard about 30 minutes or less is in ready mix, specifically.
CA: And you're also talking about bag shipping versus bulk, since most of your Mexican business is done in bags. But I'm sure there are other places Cemex has a presence where you have adjusted to the bulk shipping. What do you see as the difference between bags and bulk?

GP: The main difference is that cement in bags is a branded product. Bulk product is a complete commodity. Differentiation is through service and through price. In other markets where bags are sold in a larger percentage compared to bulk, not only our price and service are an issue, but brand is an issue, tradition is an issue. Also the distribution channels are completely different. These markets are completely fragmented, and you have very few large customers, most of them are pretty small. So the dynamics of the market are completely different. The challenge here in the U.S., we sell ¤nakedË because it is brandless. There is no bag to cover it. In other places we sell, it is completely dressed with a very strong brand.
CA: Cemex is as recognizable a brand name as Coke or McDonald's of Mexico, correct?

GP: Well, actually the recognizability of our brands in Mexico is equal to that of McDonald's or Coca-Cola. The challenge here is precisely that, and through service █ and not through price █ to differentiate ourselves by offering a high-quality product on time to our customers. And, to offer maybe other tools to make our customers more efficient through the use of tools that are available to us now like the internet.
CA: We ran a story in Cement Americas last year on the CX Networks, Cemex's Internet business, and I remember the Cemex people I interviewed saying that a lot of the technological changes that occur within the company were implemented because [Cemex S.A. Chairman] Lorenzo Zambrano is a technology wizard, and he says, ¤Why aren't we doing this?Ë

GP: I would describe the boss as a visionary. Let me give an example: in 1991, we started using e-mail. The Internet didn't exist then. We were a guinea pig for Lotus Notes. When I came to school in the United States in 1993 for a management program here, the use of e-mail was something extremely new. Cemex was using e-mail since 1991. That changed the company a lot. I would not say that that describes our culture, but our culture is about change. We are fast adopters of things that we believe in.
CA: Does CX Networks have much of a presence here in the United States? How is that working for you here?

GP: CX Networks is working right now mostly in Latin America, but I guess your question has more to do with what we're doing here in terms of the uses of the internet for our own purposes and to help our customers do business. About three years ago, as Cemex was growing internationally with operations in extremely different conditions and places █ Egypt, Costa Rica, Panama, the Philippines, the U.S., Mexico, Spain █ we saw a huge opportunity in standardizing the way we operate and the way we do things in terms of reporting, back-office systems, purchasing. By doing so, we could concentrate and focus on the things that we do best, which is to produce high-quality products and to deliver those to our customers.

We developed a philosophy that we call the Cemex Way, and it's the automatization of a lot of functions. It's standardization of reports, back-office functions, centralization of purchasing, and things like that that are going to give us the ability to have more mobility. I'm here today in our office in Houston heading the U.S. operation; if tomorrow I'm heading the operations in the Philippines, I will have the same reports, I will have the same systems. If tomorrow we acquire something, we'll have a faster integration of this company. We're trying to achieve a common language. The use of the internet in this philosophy is very helpful.

A second step will be once we install these systems in the United States █ right now we're in the process of doing it █ to start using the internet and the information available to us to provide much better customer service.
CA: Did Southdown have something like that in place prior to the acquisition?

GP: Southdown was a perfect fit for Cemex for many reasons. Unfortunately, they didn't have that because they didn't have that much of a culture, an IT culture, so they're embracing it right now. Southdown was an extremely decentralized company. Right now █ we could change in the future according to conditions █ Cemex is a centralized company. So, we will use networking and the power that that gives you, and that's what we are trying to achieve. The former Southdown people are welcoming this as a change that's going to benefit us in the United States.
CA: Let's talk about some of the specific plants in the United States and some of the upgrades and modernizations, most of which were already started when Cemex entered the picture.

GP: We finished the Victorville expansion in early December, and the new kiln is completely stabilized, operating at 100%, so we're very happy with that. The capacity there right now is a little bit more than 9,000 tpd. That makes Victorville the largest plant in the Americas. It's operating extremely well. It's also going to help our margins because we're going to substitute imported cement from Asia and Mexico with domestically produced cement.
CA: Is that imported cement coming from Cemex operations in Asia and Mexico?

GP: Not necessarily. We buy cement from a lot of suppliers. In the case of the imports through California, we are buying cement from China, Taiwan, and our operation in Thailand. In Houston, we're bringing cement in from Korea, Denmark, and our operations in Venezuela.
CA: Other expansion projects?

GP: We finished an expansion of our Louisville facility. It was a 600,000-ton expansion, which is also going extremely well. The product is much needed in the marketplace. We're always thinking about how to better serve our network. We have decided to de-bottleneck our plant in Balcones, here in New Braunfels, Texas. We've done the permitting process, and we'll start the de-bottlenecking of that facility early next year. It's a 200,000-ton de-bottlenecking. We're also looking into adding a new line to that facility; the timing is yet undecided. We're also looking for opportunities in places where cement demand is tight, especially in places that are land-locked, where we don't have the flexibility of bringing cement from somewhere else.

Also, what's going on in our cement plants in the United States, I think is very interesting, is that we are not only moving American people from plant to plant, but we're also bringing people from the global Cemex global network. We have a Mexican as plant manager in Louisville, and we have a Philippino as plant manager in Charlevoix, Mich. That's an interesting one because the Philippines are basically tropical, and Charlevoix, Mich., is almost a tundra. So, it's going to be interesting for him. But that's globalization █ we encourage globalization.
CA: Is a greenfield plant even a possible step in these economic conditions?

GP: We always consider things that economically make sense. A greenfield at this time ¸ I don't see any in the short-term. We might have to do something in Colorado, though, because supply is pretty tight with the expansion that took place there last year.


The Definition of Clean Air
CA: I've been to the Lyons plant, and that's a fairly small plant, too.

GP: Yes and it's sold out, so we might consider doing something there to make sure we don't lose any of our market share. But, there might be an efficient way to supply the market from somewhere else.
CA: Being Cemex, another solution to that might be acquiring another company, and there have been a few rumblings that your company is looking again. Is there room for that kind of expansion in the United States at this point?

GP: I think that is always room for expansion. I wouldn't say that there is any particular candidate for us; there aren't many left. Something Cemex has understood and learned is that the U.S. is a very attractive market, a young market. We tend to see the U.S. as a mature market with the right demographics for expansion. We would look at not only a structural growth, but also penetration in places where we don't participate as much, like paving, parking lots, things like that. The potential in this country is huge. So, whatever opportunity comes around in the United States or elsewhere that has economic sense for Cemex, we're always very serious about that.
CA: Another possibility is joint ventures, such as the one you have with Lehigh?

GP: We have two partnerships in the United States. One is with Lone Star (Dyckerhoff). We own 75% of the Louisville facility; the rest is owned by Dyckerhoff. And, we have a three-way partnership with Heidelberg and Aalborg of Denmark to produce and market white cement in the United States. It's a very good and profitable partnership. No partnership possibility is discarded.

Back to your question about how I perceive the industry's welcoming or not welcoming Cemex in the United States █ that's why it's important that the industry has received Cemex well. It's in our best interest to cooperate with the industry with promotional efforts and carry that flag that Southdown carried for so many years.

As I said, we are the largest. If you consider cement volume, we are the largest player in the United States, and it is in our best interest to have a profitable operation in this marketplace.
CA: What is the role of imports to Cemex's U.S. network today? I don't think I'm overstating it when I say that the company has been the most scrutinized company in terms of imports coming in, and the dumping charges have been there for 13 years now. How do you perceive that changing now that you are a presence in the United States?

GP: It's a business matter. I have extremely good relationships with many people in the industry. Still, it's a business decision to keep supporting the charges of dumping. As a Cemex executive, I still believe that it's an irritant, more so between the two governments than between the industries. We are actually the largest player in the Southern Tier, so to banish this market would be unthinkable to Cemex. Still I believe in free trade, but as a large player in this industry, I also understand that the industry 13 years ago decided to protect itself against imports. I can also understand that perfectly. Whether the dumping order belongs in this time and age, I think it doesn't belong. Things have changed dramatically. But, it's a business decision; I understand that decision.
CA: This was something I talked to [former Southdown President and CEO] Clarence Comer about. He pulled Southdown out of that Southern Tier group of cement companies charging Cemex with dumping. His logic at the time was that if the U.S. producers are not producing enough cement to meet demand, how can there be dumping?

GP: The United States will be a importer forever, even with the capacity expansions that are under way or have been announced. The United States will continue to import cement for many years. There are many differences between 13 years ago and today. Most of the import capacity is now owned by cement players, for instance. But nothing has changed really. At the time we were imposed with the dumping rule, we were exporting approximately 5 million tons to the U.S. We're still importing 5 million tons to the U.S. The only difference is that instead of bringing the cement from Mexico, which is two or three days away and we could have more flexibility to serve our customers better, now it's coming from China, Korea, and Thailand. But, nothing has changed really. Actually, the dumping really pushed us into being much more international and not to depend on the U.S. alone as a market.
CA: In your new role with Cemex North America, do you find that this 13-year history carries a stigma that you have to overcome?

GP: Again it's a business decision to me. If I can acquire more flexibility to supply my customers needs by getting rid of the dumping, I'm going to do everything in my power to get rid of the dumping. Yesterday I was in Mexico City talking to the Mexican government to see if we can work out something with the U.S. government. But, again, it's a business decision. We haven't lost market share because of the dumping margin. We have a lot of money in the form of duties in the possession of the U.S Treasury, but that's another story.
CA: How do you see your role within Cemex? What sort of things are you personally going to focus on in terms of growth?

GP: Right now, the most important issue that Cemex faces in the United States is to attract and retain the best talent available. If this economy continues to grow and we get past this mild recession that we have experienced, one of the biggest issues that we're going to have is attraction and retention of people. I spend a lot of time on those issues █ from communications to having a physical presence in the plants to talking to our employees at all levels of the organization. So, that keeps me grounded, and that way I know firsthand what's going on in every corner of the organization. That's extremely valuable for me.

That doesn't mean I don't spend time on commercial issues and operational issues. I spend a lot of time on those as well, as well as administrative issues, especially right now when we're introducing so many changes in terms of systems. We're centralizing many functions and so forth.

I think that the industry as a whole has a big challenge in continuing to attracting and retaining people. What I've noticed in this industry is that almost everyone in it has been with two, three, four different cement companies. I think we should recruit from the outside and not from ourselves, because if not, the only resources are going to be more scarce all the time. It's not in our best interest.

Right now, because the acquisition is recent, I think Cemex is hot, so a lot of people want to work for us, which is great. But, people come from the industry to the industry. We're not recruiting from the outside. That's going to be problem sometime soon. As a company and as an industry, we have to become much more attractive in the United States. And, that's something that we're working on. We have to promote the industry not only as the products that we handle and produce, but also as an attractive place to work. It's a very dynamic industry, a fun industry, an industry that is getting much more sophisticated, and I think we should be able to attract talent and retain it.
CA: Specifically, what are you doing in terms of recruiting and retaining good people?

GP: We are continuing a program that Southdown had called ¤First OutË program, which consisted of hiring people from engineering schools and putting them at plants. What Cemex is bringing to the table █ we have a program that we call ¤New TalentsË █ where we hire people, mostly fresh out of college or with two or three years of experience, and we rotate them through our organization for 18 months. More or less three or four months into this process, they decide what their interest is, whether commercial, operations, administration, human resources, etc. At the end of the program, they spend more time with this particular function or department, and that way we are finding well-rounded employees who are going to help us a lot. We started that process in the United States this year. We are going to have around 20 new talents. For next year, we hope we can get even more. We are in the process of developing relationships with universities throughout the United States. We are also working on raising the awareness of the Cemex name in the United States. Cemex is a very well known company in the cement and construction industry and places where we have operations, but let's face it, it's still not a very well known company in the United States.

We also have internal programs like the Cemex International Management Program. Right now, seven of our people are participating in this program, both from Cemex USA and former Southdown. This is a program that lasts 12 weeks in six sessions, two weeks at a time. These people spend these two weeks in top U.S. universities, like Stanford █ they just came back from Stanford after two weeks. Or, it might be at MIT or Monterrey Tech in Mexico. They spend time in administrative planning, administrative issues, human resources issues. They spend time learning about the industry and learning about Cemex. All in all, these new talent programs, the Cemex International Management Program, the Global Leadership Program that we have in which executives are exposed to top management in the whole Cemex world. All in all, we spend about $30 million to $35 million per year in training. That's going to be an important part of our operation in the United States.
CA: That's something we're seeing a lot of lately, the more global companies are more attractive because new employees like the idea of traveling or working in offices in Europe, Latin America, or Asia.

GP: Right. I joined Cemex 14 years ago and I went from being a cost accountant to logistics to export sales manager. I traveled extensively throughout Asia when I was 30 years old, which was very exciting. Then I spent time in Venezuela and Mexico, now in the United States. So, it's a pretty dynamic company.
CA: What is Cemex's approach to community relations in the United States?

GP: We are very sensitive to the communities in which we operate all over the world. We have plants in Mexico, for instance, that are already part of the city. We spend a lot of resources in the relationship with the community, in education. We spend a lot of resources in environmental equipment.

The state of our relations with communities in the United States is being evaluated, and we'll have a diagnostic very soon, because even if Southdown was doing something, we want to do more. I think that having good relationships with communities and having their good faith, having them trust the company is an extremely important asset. In most cases, Southdown had a good relationship with their communities, and it's something that we plan to strengthen even further. There might be a few problem spots, but if I'm not aware of them, it may be that they're pretty mild.


Has CEMEX checked with these communities?
...a partial list...

CEMEX signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the community of the St. Vrain Valley in August 2001.

Plant Manager, John Lohr, was interviewed recently in the Daily Times Call regarding the tire-burning issue. The interview stated that he did "...not bother to keep a copy of the memorandum, but it's spirit is intact..."
CA: What about your operations in Florida or California? There seems to be the most resistance to cement development there.

GP: We're in pretty good shape both in Florida and California. Southdown had some issues in the past because of the hazardous waste company that they built, and they were trying to burn hazardous waste. They had issues in some of the communities, but that's long gone fortunately.


January 23, 2002: Cemex files suit against the County in order to halt further delays in opening the mine, Santa Clarita files suit against the US government in order to protect endangered species.
February 27, 2002: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors votes 5 - 0 against the mine, citing inadequate traffic studies. TMC refused earlier this month to complete the additional traffic analysis requested by the county.
...StopTMC website
July, 2002: The federal government's intervention is in support of the BLM's sand and gravel contracts with CEMEX, Inc., (formerly Transit Mixed Concrete, Inc.) which was awarded the contracts by BLM in 1990.
...Our Land is Their Land...
CA: Do any Cemex plants use waste fuels currently?

GP: No. In most of our plants, we use coal, pet coke, and we're introducing now much more heavily the use of tire-derived fuel.


Not true, What about...

"...Mexico╠s cement industry has embraced the incineration of a variety of liquid and solid hazardous wastes in their cement kilns...Although there are no official estimates of how much hazardous waste has been burned by Mexico╠s cement industry, 21 of the 29 cement plants throughout Mexico have received either test-burn permits or annual authorizations to burn a variety of hazardous wastes. This incineration has been led by the two largest cement producers in Mexico, which have joint ventures with U.S. transnationals to blend hazardous waste into fuels before burning the waste in their kilns...This practice in Mexico mirrors what happened first in Europe and then in the United States█burning hazardous wastes in cement kilns with much less regulation and public awareness than has been the case with commercial incinerators. As in the United States, however, public opposition to the practice is growing as communities learn of the dangers of hazardous waste incineration...The two largest cement groups in Mexico█Cementos de Mexico (CEMEX) and Cementos Apasco█are leading the way in the use of hazardous waste as fuel...(detail...)
CA: That leads us into environmental issues. The new EPA emissions standards take effect in June. I assume that all Cemex plants are currently ready and compliant.

GP: Yes, we have a certification process to ensure that we are in compliance. As I said, Cemex has always been an environmentally conscious company. As you may know, Lorenzo Zambrano received the Gold Medal [for International Corporate Environmental Achievement] from the World Environment Center in May in Washington, D.C., for the awareness that we create towards being a good citizen and towards the environment. I'm not saying that we are completely ready throughout our network in the United States, but the certification process is going to end very soon, and we are in pretty good shape.

We also publish every year precisely to create environmental awareness. These pieces are just beautiful. Cemex is the sponsor and they work with environmental and research firms around the world to produce these books. They're donated to libraries and universities throughout the world. There are not only photographs in them, there are pieces of very serious research that we sponsored.


What does CEMEX plan to do for our neighbors in Ohio? Did CEMEX uncover this potenital liability during the due diligence phase of the Southdown purchase? Did it affect their intent to purchase, or did they know the outcome?

"This is the first attempt that we know of by anyone in the United States to circumvent the public health and water quality protections of the Clean Water Act by trying to 'secretly sell away' their liability," said Michael Jones, a Greene County businessman"(Details...)
CA: In the United States, have you carried on the environmental programs that were in place with Southdown in terms of remediation and conservation? Or, have you stepped them up to a certain degree?

GP: Our plan is to step them up. Compliance █ just being in line █ can be dangerous. So, we're planning to follow a Cemex philosoph
(...the article is cut off here?...)

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