SSI bosses unveil long-term vision for Teesside plant

SSI chief Cornelius Louwrens says 2015 could mark a turnaround in the steelmaker's fortunes

SSI UK Business Director and Chief Operations Officer Cornelius Louwrens
SSI UK Business Director and Chief Operations Officer Cornelius Louwrens

Bosses at SSI UK have taken on an extra 200 workers as part of their ‘long-term vision’.

The firm suffered massive losses (£193.5m) for 2013 and depressed world steel prices will mean a tough start to 2015 while carbon tax levels remain a “big, big problem” according to chief operating officer Cornelius Louwrens.

But almost three years since Sahaviriya Steel Industries relit Redcar’s blast furnace and reignited hope for thousands of Teesside workers, the Thai-owned business has reached a 7m tonne production record - and is confident a long-term investment plan will happen.

The company reached positive before-tax earnings last June, but estimates the earliest it will achieve a net profit is the end of this year.

South African-born Mr Louwrens, who came to SSI seven years ago and took the top job last January, said: “We would have loved to get to a point last year where we were net positive, but you have to step back.

“The whole of the steel world is in meltdown - yet if you look at the trend for 2013-14 we are showing an incredible improvement.

“For a long time, this plant lacked an owner with a long-term vision. There’s a long-term plan to invest - and it will happen.

“The numbers aren’t great, but the trend shows we can get where we want to be. I think 2015 will be a better year than 2014.”

The company has grown its 1,800-strong workforce by 200 and recruited 21 apprentices and six graduates this year alone - and there are plans to take on similar numbers every year, Mr Louwrens said.

“We were too lean, and it didn’t make business sense. We’ll always squeeze and be aggressive, but we are also building the future by bringing in new blood.”

SSI UK invested heavily in its PCI plant to ramp up production, and a dynamic management team is in place - but plans for a third caster are now “not viable”, Mr Louwrens admitted.

“We are cash-strapped,” he said, “but it also means that we spot the opportunities - and there are many more.

“There is some investment from our parent. Some businesses that have lots of cash are desperately looking for great ideas; we are the opposite. We have ideas that could pay back in months, not years.

“But short-term, 2015 is about making what we already have work.

“Suppliers have been tolerant with us regarding payments. And this would be impossible without the creativity, passion and hard work of our team; they keep on finding new, innovative and creative ways to work.

“We are also grateful to the local community which is very supportive of us. To have an integrated steel plant that comes back to life, and is a success - it’s unique.”

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