Lafarge India, the Indian arm of French cement producer Lafarge SA, has elevated Ujjwal Batria as chief executive officer (CEO) of the company effective June 22, 2015, according to a press release.
Batria will take over the responsibility from Martin Kriegner, who has been named as area manager for Central Europe of LafargeHolcim.
The development comes at a time when Lafarge is merging with Swiss peer Holcim in a multi-billion dollar global deal, which will create the world’s top cement company.
The Indian anti-trust authority Competition Commission of India (CCI) had already approved the Indian leg of the proposed $44 billion merger between Lafarge SA and Holcim, in April.
The approval came with certain riders, including divestment of two cement plants—Lafarge's Jojobera plant in Jharkhand and the company's integrated unit at Sonadih in Chhattisgarh—to eliminate competition concerns. These two units together have a capacity of 5.15 million tonnes per annum.
Holcim's business in India is run through ACC and Ambuja Cements. It is not clear what would be Batria's role in the merged entity. Since ACC and Ambuja Cements are public listed firms Lafarge's Indian unit may continue to operate separately, at least to begin with.
An email sent to Lafarge India seeking further details on the development did not elicit any response immediately.
Prior to his appointment as CEO of Lafarge India, Batria was managing director of the company and was managing its cement business. Besides cements, the firm also has aggregates and ready mix concrete businesses. Batria has been with Lafarge for 16 years. He had joined the company in 1999 and has served on different position across functions since then.
Lafarge entered India in 1999 with the acquisition of Tata Steel’s cement plant in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Later it acquired the plant of Raymond Industries in Chhattisgarh and snapped L&T's concrete business. It also expanded its operations through a green-field plant in Rajasthan.
In May 2013, Baring PE Asia had invested €200 million ($256 million or Rs 1,410 crore then) for the small stake in Lafarge India through fresh issue of securities, in a special situation deal. The deal was one of the rare instances where a multi-national firm divested a minority stake in India operations to a private equity firm to fund its growth.
Lafarge, one of the world’s largest cement manufacturers, was at that time looking to cut its €12.2 billion debt, caused by acquiring the Middle Eastern cement maker Orascom in 2007. The French multi-national has been shedding non-core assets to bring the focus on its key cement and concrete business.
Early this month, Lafarge signed an agreement to buy back 14 per cent stake in its Indian arm from Baring PE Asia for €270 million ($303.3 million or Rs 1,950 crore).
Currently, Lafarge India has six cement plants across Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Haryana and West Bengal. The total cement production capacity is around 11 MT as of September 2014.