On paper the question seems incongruous. The first information provided indicates that, on the contrary, the new group will create synergies (read staff reductions) which will increase its competitiveness. Duly noted. However, is it relevant that the world's two leading cement makers - by far - are merging simply in order to become the super leader in their industry?
Is it relevant that a cement maker be number one in the world when the industry itself instils a certain degree of "coherency" in competitors given that it is currently impossible to ship ready cement very far?
Is it relevant that a Franco-Belgian company (Lafarge was born of a merger with the Belgian company Coppée) make a marriage of "equals" that will lead it to locating its head office in Switzerland while waiting to relocate its top management there?
Is it relevant that Lafarge's employees and clients see their group double in size?
Will they benefit from the merger? Beyond a certain size, it's difficult to build affectio societatis: employees increasingly see themselves as "numbers". Has a mega merger ever been carried out in their interest or that of customers?
Let's be real. This type of operation feeds management's Ego, shareholder value and...incidentally, the wallets of intermediaries - investment bankers, lawyers, etc. - responsible for ensuring its success. Let's not delude ourselves: that’s its primary "purpose". For companies with dispersed capital, it's also a way to definitively take cover from all predators, given their size. These ambitions will probably be fulfilled. But is it really reasonable to seek such total domination of one's industry? Giants often have feet of clay.
Is it reason enough to create a group that will be very difficult to manage? Wouldn't it be better for shareholders to ask for more information about the benefits for employees and customers and, more to the point, about the commissions that will be paid to intermediaries and banks to complete the operation?
Germany has put supervisory boards in place on which employees are very well represented. This has prevented this type of cross-border operation to date... France is playing the market and internationalisation game, even though the decision-making centres of its greatest companies may leave the country.
What will we tell our grand-children in a few years if our best companies are no longer French?
Olivier de Guerre
Chairman, PhiTrust Active Investors