During his traditional New Year’s speech to employees, Wijers admitted that 2009 was an extremely tough year, but added that AkzoNobel’s quick and decisive response to the downturn had enabled the company to maintain its competitiveness.
“We faced a unique challenge, but we toughed it out,” he said. “We proved our ability to adapt to the new reality and we have put ourselves in a strong position to take full advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves.”
Looking back on a year punctuated by “very difficult decisions which resulted in unavoidable job losses”, Wijers put particular emphasis on the company’s operational effectiveness. Driven by a successful focus on customers, costs and cash, this skilful management of the various businesses was handled alongside other key strategic activities, such as the acceleration of the ICI integration. The CEO also highlighted the continued investments which have been made to support the company’s commitment to sustainable growth.
“As well as making significant funds available in the field of innovation and R&D, we also invested heavily in capital expenditures such as plants, sites and equipment and made acquisitions across our portfolio. So even though we were in the middle of a deep economic crisis, we continued to invest in the future of our great company.
“However, it’s important to realize that the world we knew pre-2008 will not come back in a hurry, because the economy and the world itself has structurally changed. We will therefore need to maintain our focus on customers, costs and cash and adopt different agendas for low and high growth areas. In the low growth regions of North America and Europe it will be essential to fight cost inflation, while in emerging markets such as Asia and Brazil we will be bolder and invest in profitable growth.”
Acknowledging the valuable contribution made by employees around the world, Wijers went on to stress the importance of sustainability and further safety improvements to the company’s continued success. He also singled out the start-up of AkzoNobel’s new multi-site in China as one of 2009’s key developments.
“The Ningbo site is a shining example of our commitment to sustainable growth in emerging markets,” he said. “The start of production at the new chelates facility was a major milestone and I am already looking forward to the formal opening, which is expected to take place towards the end of this year once the new ethylene amines facility is on stream.”