FLSmidth – Solid Leadership

FLSmidth, the global provider of technology, equipment, and services to the cement and mining industries, continues to lead the way towards zero emissions.

“Mission Zero is our sustainability ambition, enabling cement and mining customers to move towards zero emissions, 100% fuel substitution and zero waste by 2030,” says Deon De Kock, President of FLSmidth for Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and South Asia. “Mission Zero is our unique value proposition – we look at water preservation, reducing water usage and carbon emissions as well as alternative energy and fuel sources, in order to reduce the impact on the environment. Our mission is to provide sustainable productivity solutions.”

Over more than 135 years, the Danish-listed multi-national with headquarters in Copenhagen has sold equipment, technology and services to the cement and mining industries. The group has a truly global footing, employing some 10,200 people in more than 60 countries worldwide.

“Our business is to provide our customers with increased productivity, premium quality, reduced total cost of ownership and sustainable, digital solutions. We assist clients to mine and process minerals and to produce cement with as little impact on the environment as possible,” says Mr De Kock.

“The combination of the sustainability focus, advanced technology and digitalisation is one of our competitive advantages. This makes us unique to drive the green agenda. Many companies have the ambition, but they don’t have the technology and the expertise which we have.”

He points out that Covid-19 has further accelerated the use of the technology to the full, enabling businesses to be agile, resilient and to mobilise their people, something that companies learned very quickly during the pandemic. Changes have been accomplished not just in terms of internal communication but also in terms of handling customer relationships.

“In a way, the pandemic has highlighted the advantages of our technology as well as our ability to support clients’ sites remotely, including remote commissioning of plants and all other forms of remote support, via our digital platforms. We were able to mobilise very quickly to adapt to the new reality of remote work, as well as customer support and that is something to be proud of.”

Stronger together

Mr De Kock joined FLSmidth in 2016 as Vice President, Minerals Division for Sub-Saharan Africa. Two years later he became President for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and in 2021 his area of responsibility has been expanded to include South Asia.

Managing the three culturally very different regions is not a problem for Mr De Kock who, coming from the South African multi-cultural environment, is used to being sensitive to people’s different backgrounds.

“The diversity of the area I manage is a strength: focusing on unlocking the value, respecting people, identifying their different abilities and leading by example is the basis – then all of a sudden it becomes a lot of fun, and the differences become an advantage.”

Describing how he manages to promote that advantage and to get the best out of his people, he says: “I stick to five basic principles my parents taught me and that work wherever you go, regardless of the culture and regardless of country. I refer to them as the “Rules of the Game” which are: smile and be friendly, say please and thank you, greet people properly, be respectful to all people, have fun and work hard. With these rules, you are going to be OK in any country, in any culture.”

He explains that he has tried to instil these principles throughout his region, promoting 360-degree relationships, free communication between departments, engagement at all levels and demanding respect for everyone in this multi-cultural environment.

“When I started in my role, people were reluctant to engage in boundary-less behaviour. I encouraged them to change the status quo and that is what I continue to expect from my leadership team and managers. Joint accountability has always been on top of my agenda – the business is not about the Leader or the MD himself. It is always about a team, and results are always achieved in a joint effort.”

Driving for Performance

Reflecting on how good leadership inspires people to achieve a better performance, he says: “I have worked for all sorts of people and can honestly say that I have had leaders who were credit makers rather than credit takers, and those were the people I thoroughly enjoyed working for. It is so important to empower all team members and acknowledge their efforts. I recognise and appreciate the fact that my achievements and the company’s success depend on the team.”

“One piece of advice that I would give to any young manager is that it is better to be respected than be liked. As a leader, you have to take tough decisions and have a standpoint; if you are respected, you will get the results no matter if people like you or not. In addition, a leader needs to be authentic, otherwise, consistency cannot be ensured.”

Mr De Kock affirms that when recruiting new team members, he looks for character and attitude, for people with resilience and fighting spirit, hungry for results, agile and able to adapt quickly and who can learn by doing.

“Of course, finding such people, particularly for the higher levels of an organisation, is not easy. To prepare a talent pipeline and potential pool of future employees, we offer scholarships and internships, and run an apprenticeship programme.”

In concluding, he reflects that recognising his responsibility towards employees and all stakeholders in FLSmidth, creating a productive work environment and high-performance culture, where employees are appreciated and empowered to produce great results, is what a true leader should aim for.

“I believe as a leader; you have a higher purpose. For me personally, this means to serve my team members, to protect the livelihoods of all the people that are assigned to me by driving customer satisfaction and profitable growth for FLSmidth. That is my number one task, a simple and clear focus, that gets me out of bed every morning with a purpose!”

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