People and Leaders

Interview with Corbion CEO, Olivier Rigaud

The new Corbion CEO Olivier Rigaud will present his vision early next year, and will reveal a tip of the veil in this interview. Sustainability will play a major role: "We will quit some business areas".

You started at Corbion in August. What did you know about this company?

‘I know the international ingredients industry quite well. I have been working in that industry for many years. I previously worked at Naturex in France, which specializes in plant extracts for the food industry.

Before that, when I worked at food company Tate & Lyle, I regularly came to the Netherlands. It is a small world, so I knew Corbion fairly well.

I knew the story, the history, the legacy side of the old CSM, which once started as a sugar producer: Centrale Suiker Maatschappij. Then it was a traditional company.

In recent years it has been transformed into a high value biotech- company that is active in many fields – algae, lactic acids, bioplastics. Corbion is actually a relatively new company. But I knew where I ended up. ”

Why did you choose Corbion?

“Especially because of the sustainability aspect of the company. The starting points are very similar to my own values. That appealed to me. I immediately thought these guys have a real good story.

There are plenty of companies that profess sustainability and social engagement with their mouths, but they really do it. I think it is very important that we play an active role, not wait.

The second aspect that attracted me is the growth potential of the company. I immediately saw all sorts of chances and opportunities to take Corbion to the next level. Major investments are coming.

That is very exciting. If you work for a company, it’s best to work for a growth company . ”

Sustainability is important for this company. For example, I saw the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) hanging on the wall. Can you tell me what are your ambitions in that regard?

“Ultimately we want to become fully circular. Everything must be reused. Our ambition is to grow to 100 percent sustainable electricity in 2030.

A good example is our algae factory in Orindiúva in Brazil, which is fully integrated with the sugar factory of agribusiness and food company Bunge, and where the electricity comes entirely from the burning of residual product from the sugar factory.

In Thailand, our lactic acid plant and the bioplastics plant of our joint venture Total Corbion PLA are located at the same location and fully integrated.

We achieve synergies there through joint processing of waste water into biogas, which serves as a substitute for natural gas. V

ery nice news is that we have succeeded in developing a new technology for lactic acid production. That is now almost possible without residual waste, an international breakthrough.

That is state of the art technology that we will soon use in our new lactic acid plant. ”

What have been the business rationale for working on sustainability?

‘Operating in a sustainable manner is no longer optional. It is a condition to continue to participate, to grow, to make a profit. It is a condition for survival, I am convinced of that.

That is why we attract a lot of talent. People want to work with us because of our principles. These are all positive consequences of choosing sustainability.

Another positive consequence is that you will always have to keep innovating. Businesswise it is important for us to be the first, because that way you create a head start. ‘

What is Corbion leading the way?

‘I just mentioned the example of the production of lactic acid, without by-products and in particular without gypsum as a by-product. But you can also think of our microalgae for example.

They can represent a breakthrough in food production. You can skip part of the food chain later.

For example, algae, a source of omega-3, can be fed directly to farmed fish as food. Now they are still fed with wild fish. Algae form their natural food.

You need 1.4 tons of wild fish to produce 1 ton of farmed fish. In addition, that wild fish can also be full of all kinds of harmful substances; these are of course not in our algae.

You can also make edible oil from algae. We could partly replace palm oil. That can prevent part of the deforestation by palm oil companies. And now I’m only talking about algae. We have a lot of this kindbig bets .

Other companies will take years and years to develop or copy this technology. ”

Corbion has brought its business operations in line with the SDGs of the United Nations. Why?

“The SDGs have ensured that we have been able to integrate sustainability even better into our business philosophy. It is important to put some focus.

It makes no sense to make them all equally important. We have opted for goal two, fighting hunger, and for goal 12, responsible consumption and production.

We are very keen on extending the shelf life of food products and we look very deeply at our production process, including the safety of our own staff. Security in an organization is perhaps the best marker that there is.

You can pretend that you care about the planet, but what does that mean if you don’t even care for your own people? I also believe in fair production, with fair prices for farmers. If they can no longer live off their products, then you are doing something wrong.

I am willing to give part of the cost savings that we achieve back to the chain. The time of real capitalism, of making a profit at all costs, is over.

An important extra step is that we also work with science-based targets to ensure that we do what is necessary to achieve the goals from the Paris agreement. We are among the first 300 companies worldwide whose goals have been approved.

We are very proud of that. ”

Are you personally also charged for the SDGs?

‘Two people at our top have linked sustainability targets to their rewards: the CFO and myself, and we will certainly expand that quickly. The actions of the top must be in line with the values ​​of the company. ”

What is the impact of those sustainable development goals on the operation?

“It has a big impact. The great thing is that making choices becomes easier. When we evaluate or prioritize projects, we include the SDGs. We will choose faster for projects that have a positive impact and that contribute to the realization of the SDGs. ”

Are there also things that Corbion would rather not do in the future?

“We are currently reviewing our strategy. We look at our complete portfolio and will have to decide for all components whether they fit in with our long-term strategy.

I find it difficult to say something specific about this now. It is a 12-week exercise and we have just started.

At the beginning of 2020 we will come out with our renewed strategy. But presumably … no not presumably, I am sure we will have to make a number of choices.

We may not be active in some areas in the future. Of course I already have a few ideas about that. ”

Can you tell us a little more about that?

‘We really have to carry out that exercise with an open mind. It may have consequences for some people and I can’t say anything about it as long as that process runs, because I want that process to run in a professional manner.

But I said to the team: we have no holy houses, we hold everything up to the light. ”

Are you saying that with a view to the long term?

‘Of course. We finally spent 15 years working on this new factory in Thailand.

We are going to make money there – only now. If someone had told us at the start of the process that it would take 15 years, we might never have done it. But now we are extremely happy with it.

We succeeded thanks to our predecessors who believed in it. Look, the new value propositions are always extremely difficult. You have to take a lot of hurdles to get anywhere.

I sometimes say: sometimes it is better not to be the number 1, sometimes it is better to be the number 2. ”

You said that large investments are coming. What do you mean?

“The most important thing is the construction of a new lactic acid plant, which is desperately needed to meet the demand now that it is increasing rapidly due to the increasing sales of the bioplastic PLA.”

Will this new factory come to Europe?

‘We are fully thinking about that. I do not know yet. We look at Europe, but also at other continents. The fact is that there are currently many unclear factors in Europe.

That is not good for a company like ours. We have had many changes in agricultural policy. It is therefore almost impossible to predict how European sugar prices will develop in the coming years.

That blocks us from making a quick decision. Anyway, if you opt for Europe, you can save on transport costs. ”

Do I hear a reproach towards Brussels and The Hague?

“The industry suffers from a lack of clarity. Visibility and clarity, that’s what we need. Clarity in the area of ​​CO2 taxes, for example. What is going to happen?

Are we seen as Corbion as a chemical industry? How are they going to calculate that? Are they going to measure on the chimney or are they looking at the entire chain? That is an essential difference for us.

That is very important to know before we invest hundreds of millions. I cannot afford to spend so much money and then just wait and see what happens. ”

What do you see as your main challenge?

“Do you know what the big dilemma is with Corbion? We have too many options. That is a luxury problem. Many companies are a one trick ponywith just one product, we do so much here.

One moment we are talking about fish feed, moments later about food safety, about food preservation, about bioplastics or even about biomedical materials .

We are not a huge company, we cannot jump on every train. One of the reasons that our growth has fallen short of expectations this year is that we are dealing with too many things.

That also became clear to me during my onboarding and my journey around the world. We have too many projects running.

So early next year we will make choices. And then I want to enter the implementation mode quickly. A CEO has it easy. He only has to say: this is it boys, the focus is here. ”


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Olivier Rigaud (Corbion) Does Not Spare Any Holy Houses When It Comes to Sustainability


  • Good interview. I like the disruptive tone. He’s not going to be a grandpa CEO, but he looks like a dynamic CEO who has a clear vision.
  • Corbion is Dutch and they partner with a French energy company Total (Total Corbion) to produce PLA. It’s wise to take a French CEO for two reasons (1) they need that partnership to work, a cultural element. (2) They need to get close to Total to create options: develop a new JV with Total, sell Total -Corbion to Total, sell the whole company to Total …creating options … why do you think they take a French CEO otherwise?



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