Business View Caribbean interviews Sophia Lowe, Communications and Business Development Manager of the Caribbean Cement Company.
The Caribbean Cement Company Ltd. of Kingston Jamaica is the oldest and largest Portland cement manufacturer in the country. Together with its subsidiaries, it manufactures and sells 90 percent of the cement and clinker produced on the island. (Portland cement clinker, which occur as lumps or nodules formed during the cement kiln stage, when ground to a fine powder, is used as the binder in many cement products.) The company is also involved in the mining, manufacture, and sale of gypsum, shale, pozzolan, and anhydrite. Further, Carib Cement provides direct delivery services; technical support services to commercial concrete producers and block makers; and mobile silos to users of bulk cement. In 2016, the company made a profit of $1.3 billion, having come a very long way from its initial conception back in 1921.
“At that time, a small country like Jamaica was not seen to be able to support such a large and prosperous manufacturing industry like cement,” says Sophia Lowe, Carib Cement’s Communications and Business Development Manager. “So, it took all the way until 1947 before the company was incorporated, and 1952 before the factory was officially opened and the first cement was produced. But when cement manufacturing began, we were the only ones who had a facility, and over time, as Jamaica grew, we remain the main supplier of cement. We grew from one kiln to two, we upgraded the plant multiple times, and we moved from 100,000 tons of capacity a year to 2,000,000. We are one of the biggest companies in Jamaica as it relates to capital, profits, and reach; we’re actually one of the companies they use to determine if there is growth in the country, based on our performance.”
Today, Carib Cement’s operations take place at six Jamaican locations: Rockfort, Kingston, where limestone is mined, raw meal manufactured, and clinker and cement are produced; three quarries – Jamaica Gypsum and Quarries, where gypsum and shale are mined and transported to the plant via trucks, and Cambridge Hill, where shale is also mined for transport; and two depot facilities located at Montego Bay and Mandeville, where cement is stored, dispatched, and sold.
The company has about 250 full-time employees and another 200 contractors. The majority of its products are packaged with about 70 percent of its product going to the retail market. It also exports its surplus gypsum and cement. “We do export from time to time,” says Lowe. “Some years our exportation is a lot more robust than others. This year, it’s not as high because we’ve been focusing on a booming local economy. We have a lot of projects going on during the overall economic upturn. And with more disposable income, we have seen more persons adding on their homes.”
Not content with simply dominating the local market, Lowe says that Carib Cement is now focusing intensely on becoming a more customer-centric company. “We want to ensure that, as we grow, our customers get the biggest bang for their buck, as well as quality products. We want to offer them cement solutions, not just the cement, itself,” she states. “For example, in Jamaica, we have a problem with blocks not meeting all the various specifications; many of the problems come from not understanding how to make a proper block. One of the value propositions we have is consistent mentorship that helps maintain that process. With large hotel projects, we offer special delivery, special packaging, special information, and technical assistance in dealing with the local climate. Many of the hoteliers are from other countries and they need to understand how to operate within our climate using the cement.”
“So, our main goal, right now, is to move from just being a manufacturer of cement to be a solutions-oriented company.” She continues. “We want to ensure that our customers see themselves as part of our family and that they know that they’re getting the best from us. Part of that is making it easier for our customers and making sure that they would never want to go anywhere else.”
Recently, Carib Cement’s parent company, The TCL Group, was purchased by CEMEX, the global building materials company with customers in more than 50 countries and trade relationships with 100 nations. The sale has provided Carib Cement the impetus to push harder to meet globally recognized manufacturing standards, and Lowe reports that the process of integrating operations and processes in order to meet that goal is ongoing. The company currently holds ISO 14001, as well as OHSAS 18001 and ISO 9000 certifications.
Another company objective, says Lowe, is a continued focus on a culture of safety and environmental responsibility. “We believe we are doing well there, but we can always do better,” she avers. “That’s an area we want to be not only a country leader, but a regional and world leader, as well. We also expect to be one of those companies with heart. We have a very robust corporate responsibility program that focuses on various at-risk communities, as well as at-risk youth, and other projects that look to improve the infrastructure of communities; that help raise their level of awareness, health, wellness, and recreation.”
Some of those projects have included: a significant training program for over 1,000 community members in areas such as steelwork, masonry, and crane operation, whose participants received internationally recognized certification; a scholarship program to assist children who would not have otherwise been able to afford their education; and a women’s entrepreneurship program. This past summer, Carib Cement opened 300 meters of concrete roadway in the David’s Hill Community which supplies on of Jamaica’s favorite exports – Blue Mountain Coffee. It also recently upgraded the Donmair Sporting Complex, and helped build a community center at Cooreville Gardens.
“At the base of everything,” says Lowe in summation, “we definitely intend to be a profitable company and one that persons are proud to be a part of – be it employees, stakeholders, as well as shareholders.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Caribbean Cement Company
WHAT: Largest cement manufacturer in Jamaica
WHERE: Kingston, Jamaica