David Molho is CEO of Saint-Gobain in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Despite that region having been relatively spared by Covid-19, he tells us how the pandemic has accelerated innovation and disrupted some routines.
What impact has Covid-19 had on the Group’s business in the Nordics and the Baltics?
Business is doing very well. After a very solid start to the year, at the end of April we posted strong growth throughout the region, almost in line with our pre-Covid-19 forecasts.
The Nordics and Baltics countries have so far been relatively unaffected by the pandemic. Restrictions have remained flexible and governments have kept the economy running. Construction sites were not shut down in the region and construction has remained buoyant. All of our shops have remained open and our factories have continued to operate.
We now hope that the various governments’ stimulus plans will continue to boost our business – especially since the Nordics and the Baltics are trying to combine economic recovery with the energy transition. The climate issue was already very present in Nordic countries before the crisis. All these countries had already announced goals for carbon neutrality in the coming years and Covid-19 hasn’t changed that – all their plans remain in place. This approach fits particularly well with Saint-Gobain’s overall strategy.
Has Covid-19 affected the day-to-day running of businesses?
Of course. Firstly, throughout this whole period, we have carried out intense communications with our teams to find out how they have felt and inform them in real time about our preparations, where we were going and why.
The issue of the supply chain also arose, as we had concerns over certain supplies. Local teams have shown a great deal of creativity in dealing with the restrictions and we have successfully identified other suppliers to establish alternative solutions to serve our customers.
Although our shops have remained open, the way we work in them has changed, including distancing, barrier gestures, etc. In Denmark for example, we have also introduced a new contactless and completely digital journey for our customers, simply using their smartphone – a project that we launched much faster than expected and which we will retain... We have also helped our partners, on and around the worksites, to implement good practices so that activity can continue.
Our sales teams have also adapted how they work. How can we create a bond without physically visiting customers? This is a crucial question and a project that will continue to be worked on after Covid-19.
In our factories, in addition to barrier measures, we have strengthened our continuity plans. In a pilot insulation factory, for example, we have made preparations to operate the plant remotely, with no operator physically present in the control room. If an employee tests positive for Covid-19, the factory can continue to function.
Do you think that the Covid-19 crisis will change the regional market… and our customers’ expectations?
New commercial opportunities are emerging. In our sanitary retail brands, for example, we are seeing strong demand for hands-free products. In terms of buildings, real thought is being given to the layout of offices, protective equipment, etc. These are new opportunities for our business.
Is this a cyclical phenomenon or is it going to be prolonged over time? What is certain is that hygiene and health and safety concerns will remain essential, both at work and at home.
Can any lessons be learned from this crisis already?
Without it being a complete revolution, this Covid-19 crisis is likely to accelerate certain pre-existing trends.
E-commerce was already a key part of our business and has now become even more important. We were already at the cutting-edge in terms of digital development and we will accelerate.
Roll-out of Microsoft Teams was a real success. It has allowed us to improve our organisation while also keeping in touch with our customers and maintain their interest by emphasising our differentiation. We have also developed webinars, interactive sessions bringing together architects and specifiers. We have shown our customers that even in these difficult times, we are with them, reliable and innovative. And that creates loyalty.