Henry Sy, Jr. forays into cement business

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Big Boss Cement, Inc. Administrative Head Ishmael D. Ordonez, PhD (L) and President Gilbert S. Cruz lead the official launch of a start-up behind a pioneering manufacturing technology capable of producing an environment-friendly cement. -- KRISTA ANGELA M. MONTEALEGRE

By Krista A. M. Montealegre,
National Correspondent

COMPETITION in the cement industry is heating up with the entry of a start-up backed by the son of the country’s richest man Henry T. Sy, Sr., promising a revolutionary manufacturing process that will produce the world’s “strongest and greenest” cement.

Chaired by Mr. Henry “Big Boy” T. Sy, Jr., Big Boss Cement, Inc. (BBCI) is building a facility in Porac, Pampanga with an output of 1.5 million bags of cement per month, BBCI President Engr. Gilbert S. Cruz said in a briefing in Makati City on Thursday. It will start commercial operations in March.

BBCI is the latest player in the industry, which has recently attracted Eagle Cement, Inc. of San Miguel Corp. Chief Operating Officer Ramon S. Ang. DMCI Holdings, Inc. of the Consunji family is another company exploring an entry in the cement business.

BBCI believes there is room for another player in the industry dominated by foreign players, with cement demand seen growing to 25 million metric tons (MT) this year and 40 million MT in the next five years, as the government embarks on the “golden age of infrastructure.”

BBCI hopes to account for 3% of the market, as existing players can only accommodate 20-22 million MT of current demand, Mr. Cruz said.

He downplayed concerns of a glut in the market, saying that importation has created an “artificial oversupply.”

“There is still huge demand for cement. We should be able to help the country — being a Filipino company — to fill in this demand and instead of relying on imports, we should do it ourselves,” Mr. Cruz said.

As a new player, BBCI has put a premium on research and development to produce environment-friendly products. It is doing away with a nearly a 200-year-old system of mining raw materials such as limestone, clay, shale and sand, and heating them inside a kiln at around 1,500 degrees Celsius.

It has a patent-pending manufacturing process that makes use of readily available raw materials, such as lahar or volcanic debris. It does not require excessive heat to produce its products, thus, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than half.

“This is peculiar and much cheaper to build than the old technology manufacturing process of setting up a kiln. That costs up to P3-5 billion. This one is 50% of the cost,” said Mr. Cruz, who has 30 years of experience in the industry and counts Malaysia’s Petronas Towers and Taiwan’s High Speed Railway Project among his concreting experience.

BBCI plans to expand the facility’s capacity by five times more and will be ready in the next 18 months, Mr. Cruz added, noting that its first three facilities will be located in Luzon.

At the moment, BBCI has a testing facility in Mandaluyong capable of producing 5,000 bags per month.

BBCI is the latest business venture of the younger Sy, which has invested in the cement startup in his personal capacity, Mr. Cruz said.

According to a copy of BBCI’s General Information Sheet filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015, Mr. Sy owns 95% of BBCI, while businessman Anthony L. Almeda is the other key shareholder with a 4.88% stake.

Apart from being the chairman of real estate giant SM Prime Holdings, Inc., Mr. Sy is also president of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), operator of the country’s power transmission monopoly, and a backer of AI Pros, a technology firm based in Silicon Valley that help business process outsourcing firms ride out the impact of automation.

Asked if BBCI will be used in future projects of the SM Prime, Mr. Cruz said: “It will be a board decision.”