In little more than a decade, Mexico’s largest cement manufacturer, Cemex, has transformed itself from a primarily Mexican operation into the third-largest cement company in the world behind Holcim of Switzerland and Lafarge Group of France. Cemex has long been a powerhouse in Mexico and currently controls more than 60 percent of the market for cement in that country. Cemex’s domestic success has been based in large part on an obsession with efficient manufacturing and a focus on customer service that is tops in the industry.
Cemex is a leader in using information technology to match production with consumer demand. The company sells ready-mixed cement that can survive for only about 90 minutes before solidifying, so precise delivery is important. But Cemex can never predict with total certainty what demand will be on any given day, week, or month. To better manage unpredictable demand patterns, Cemex developed a system of seamless information technology, including truck-mounted global positioning systems, radio transmitters, satellites, and computer hardware, that allows it to control the production and distribution of cement like no other company can, responding quickly to unanticipated changes in demand and reducing waste. The results are lower costs and superior customer service, both differentiating factors for Cemex.
The company also pays lavish attention to its distributors—some 5,000 in Mexico alone—who can earn points toward rewards for hitting sales targets. The distributors can then convert those points into Cemex stock. High-volume distributors can purchase trucks and other supplies through Cemex at significant discounts. Cemex also is known for its marketing drives that focus on end users, the builders themselves. For example, Cemex trucks drive around Mexican building sites, and if Cemex cement is being used, the construction crews win soccer balls, caps, and T-shirts.
Cemex’s international expansion strategy was driven by a number of factors. First, the company wished to reduce its reliance on the Mexican construction market, which was characterized by very volatile demand. Second, the company realized there was tremendous demand for cement in many developing countries, where significant construction was being undertaken or needed. Third, the company believed that it understood the needs of construction businesses in developing nations better than the established multinational cement companies, all of which were from developed nations. Fourth, Cemex believed that it could create significant value by acquiring inefficient cement companies in other markets and transferring its skills in customer service, marketing, information technology, and production management to those units.
The company embarked in earnest on its international expansion strategy in the early 1990s. Initially, Cemex targeted other developing nations, acquiring established cement makers in Venezuela, Colombia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, and several other countries. It also purchased two stagnant companies in Spain and turned them around. Bolstered by the success of its Spanish ventures, Cemex began to look for expansion opportunities in developed nations. In 2000, Cemex purchased Houston-based Southland, one of the largest cement companies in the United States, for $2.5 billion. Following the Southland acquisition, Cemex had 56 cement plants in 30 countries, most of which were gained through acquisitions. In all cases, Cemex devoted great attention to transferring its technological, management, and marketing know-how to acquired units, thereby improving their performance.
In 2004, Cemex made another major foreign investment move, purchasing RMC of Great Britain for $5.8 billion. RMC was a huge multinational cement firm with sales of $8.0 billion, only 22 percent of which were in the United Kingdom, and operations in more than 20 other nations, including many European nations where Cemex had no presence. Finalized in March 2005, the RMC acquisition has transformed Cemex into a global powerhouse in the cement industry with more than $15 billion in annual sales and operations in 50 countries. Only about 15 percent of the company’s sales are now generated in Mexico. Following the acquisition of RMC, Cemex found that the RMC plant in Rugby was running at only 70 percent of capacity, partly because repeated production problems kept causing a kiln shutdown. Cemex brought in an international team of specialists to fix the problem and quickly increased production to 90 percent of capacity. Going forward, Cemex has made it clear that it will continue to expand and is eyeing opportunities in the fast-growing economies of China and India where currently it lacks a presence, and where its global rivals are already expanding.
Sources: C. Piggott, “Cemex’s Stratospheric Rise,” Latin Finance, March 2001, p. 76; J. F. Smith, “Making Cement a Household Word,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2000, p. C1; D. Helft, “Cemex Attempts to Cement Its Future,” The Industry Standard, November 6, 2000; Diane Lindquist, “From Cement to Services,” Chief Executive, November 2002, pp. 48–50; “Cementing Global Success,” Strategic Direct Investor, March 2003, p. 1; M. T. Derham, “The Cemex Surprise,” Latin Finance, November 2004, pp. 1–2; “Holcim Seeks to Acquire Aggregate,” The Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2005, p. 1; J. Lyons, “Cemex Prowls for Deals in Both China and India,” The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2006, p. C4; and S. Donnan, “Cemex Sells 25 Percent Stake in Semen Gresik,” FT.com, May 4, 2006, p. 1.
Hill, Charles W.L..Global Business Today, 7th Edition.McGraw-Hill Learning Solutions, 2012.<vbk:0077631471#outline(7.11)>.