SIKA is one of the world’s leading producers of chemical building product systems and industrial sealants and adhesives. The Swiss-based corporation sees itself as the partner of planners, building contractors, their clients, and production companies around the globe. Its activities focus on the needs of local markets, with particular importance attached to strong regional structures and highly qualified employees.
Whether in the field of roof waterproofing systems, concrete additives, the protection and repair of concrete, sealing systems, industrial flooring systems, corrosion inhibition, the protection of environmental water, static reinforcement or sealants and adhesives for the construction sector and industrial production – SIKA, thanks not least of all to its decades of experience, is a byword for safety, reliability and quality.
The SIKA story starts with the electrification of the St. Gotthard railway tunnel in Switzerland. The company, founded by Kaspar Winkler in Zurich in 1910, supplied waterproof mortar to prevent the ingress of water from the overlying rock strata into the tunnel. The discovery of this market niche brought SIKA its international breakthrough in building-material chemistry, with integrated system solutions forming the primary basis for subsequent development. Product diversification in the early 1980s then resulted in SIKA also entering the industrial adhesives sector. The Industry and Construction division now make up the company’s two major presences in specialty chemicals (see info box). In 2008, SIKA employed more than 12 000 staff around the world, achieving an annual turnover of 4.624 billion Swiss francs.
In Germany, the history of the present-day SIKA Deutschland GmbH can be traced back to the Paul Lechler company, founded one hundred and thirty years ago, in 1879; more than one hundred years later, in 1982, came the takeover by SIKA Finanz AG. The year 2002 saw the establishment, in the form of SIKA Holding GmbH, of a holding-company structure in Germany, and the simultaneous setting-up of SIKA Deutschland GmbH as a member of SIKA Holding GmbH, a subsidiary of SIKA AG. SIKA Deutschland, with 1300 employees and an annual turnover of some 610 million €1, is one of the group’s strong-est performers. The major portion of SIKA’s product range originates from six production locations. And SIKA’s German research center - one of seven around the globe – is busy today developing the innovations of tomorrow.
SIKA nowadays has a global presence, in the form of subsidiaries, and its own production facilities, in seventy countries.
The ZKG INTERNATIONAL editorial team spoke in Leimen, Germany, with Philippe Jost, Senior Vice President Business Unit Concrete and Head New Market Development of SIKA Services AG.
Jost: Well, we’ll be celebrating our 100th anniversary in 2010. It all started with Kaspar Winkler, a Swiss entrepreneur, supplying granite from Ticino to Zurich. When the St. Gotthard rail tunnel was built, he invented, more or less in his own backyard, a chemical additive that could be used to make a waterproof mortar for sealing of tunnels against water, and which would set in a matter of only seconds. It was important to stop water entering through the walls of the tunnel. This product – SIKA 1 – then sold well not only in Switzerland but for tunnel projects all over the world. Nowadays, of course, SIKA has a global presence, with its production locations and customer centers.
Jost: We essentially cover four sectors: the Concrete Business Unit, developing and producing chemical additives for concrete, the Contractors Business Unit, supplying products for builders, ranging from roofing membranes, flooring systems, and repair mortars, up to and including adhesives and sealants. Then there’s the Distribution Business Unit, which is responsible for the building chemical products you see in your local DIY center, and our Industry Business Unit, which makes adhesives and sealing materials, for example, for the automotive industry. For around three years now, we’ve been developing dry mortar, cement and gypsum products in the Business Unit Concrete – this expansion was a fairly obvious one, because many of our concrete customers also produce cements.
Jost: There is still a majority family shareholding in SIKA shares, and this family is also still decisively represented in the company’s affairs. Even though we’re now a group with around 12 000 employees, the “SIKA spirit” has nonetheless been maintained. Contacts with our colleagues abroad are also very good – it’s more than just a job, and many people stay with SIKA throughout their lives – there’s still a strong family company feeling.
The group’s growth has largely been the result of our own developments. We have acquired other companies, but they were then assimilated extremely quickly. SIKA now has seventy national subsidiaries, and these are organized on a matrix basis, people network a great deal, exchanging ideas and experience.
Jost: As I‘ve said, SIKA people tend, on average, to stay with our group for very long periods. The business-unit managers do not change every couple of years, so we all know each other personally, which is a very important factor! We get to know each other at group meetings, and we then pick up the phone to clear up questions and problems.
Jost: More than 50 % of our turnover nowadays comes from Europe. Future focus regions include countries such as China, India, Brazil and the Middle East. In 2006, for example, SIKA consolidated the Middle East, eastern and southern Africa, and India, into a new sales territory, known as IMEA, for “India, Middle East and Africa”. By 2008, this region was achieving growth of above 30 %. In the Business Unit Concrete‘s sector, it‘s also important to remember that gross cement production is not the only indicator of potential demand for additives – China, for example, is only just starting to use grinding aids for cement production, while Spain, on the other hand, is one of the largest markets for both grinding aids and concrete additives. In other words, you also need to know exactly how cement, and also concrete is made in any particular country.
Jost: Direct contact with the customer! We aim to stand out from the competition not only with our products, but with our service, as well. Direct contacts tell us how our products are used, and that knowledge is fed back into product development. We have a good balance at SIKA – around 50 % of new product developments are actually kicked off by our customers. We don‘t sell just products, we sell solutions. The purchase price of our products is, maybe, a little higher, but they are more economical in use, because smaller quantities are required - given correct use, of course. That, I hardly need to say, is one of the first messages we have to get across to potential customers!
Jost: In the fifties and sixties, SIKA 1 was used as a waterproofing admixture. Later, we developed PLASTIMENT, a product which enhances concrete strength and performance – it was even used in the construction of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Jost: Yes, that’s very true, the Industry Division was added in the eighties, and adhesives were developed for new sectors. The PCE plasticizers followed in the nineties and, in addition, the products were increasingly made from the basic chemicals by ourselves. Nowadays, we make all our products from the basic ingredients. Other new developments are additives for production of drywall and plasterboards and, above all, our recently developed grinding aids for cement production.
Jost: Well, we are noticing it, of course – but we’re active around the globe. We’re recording positive growth rates in India, the Middle East and Latin America, and these are tending to balance out the shrinkage in other markets. As a company, we‘ve been bracing ourselves for a two-digit fall in turnover but, I do have to say, it has not been very noticeable up to now. There are other markets that are continuing to grow, as well, such as China and Indonesia. The big question, of course, is how the situation will develop in the next few years.
Jost: We attach great importance to social and ethical responsibility. There‘s a lot of talk about climate change and CO2 emissions, and we‘re thinking all the time about how we can help our customers to solve these problems. Until around two years ago, increase of production rates had top priority, but now people put more emphasis on energy- and input-materials efficiency, and regenerable and renewable materials as well. We are the pioneers in this field in Europe - more and more sustainable products are being used now, even if their quality is not always the best, and this is where SIKA can help, by optimizing processes, and supplying additives, to help the customer get a good end product with constant and consistent properties. And, last, but certainly not least, grinding aids also cut energy consumption.