If we had to single out just one highlight of the year 2019 for our Group, it would have to be the return to the identity of John Cockerill. This was more than a symbolic gesture, and truly constituted a founding act that confirms our uniqueness, our ambition and our mission.
As John Cockerill was preparing to end the fiscal year 2019 and to publish its activity report, the Covid-19 health crisis shook up the priorities of the entire company. As we left behind 2019, we were forced to leave the path traced by our strategic analyses and action plans and – like so many others, we were plunged into another reality: that of ensuring the health of all our employees and our loved ones, while also preserving the health of John Cockerill. During this rather strange period, our daily lives consisted of managing day-to-day, adapting to the evolution of the pandemic and making decisions regarding the continuity of the business. We strengthened our adaptive capacities, we learned to react collectively to this crisis of a new order, and, above all, we began to realize that the world would no longer be the same afterwards.
Given this special context, the retrospective exercise of the activity report may seem very superficial. It could well be, if it didn’t also give us the opportunity to provide information about our actions in the light of what we know today. This is also how we came to realize that, throughout 2019, John Cockerill carried out concrete, innovative, promising and daring actions that were already likely to meet the new needs of our time.
Health & Safety
Among our main accomplishments in 2019, we’d first like to point out our health and safety performance. For many years, and well before the Covid-19 crisis, the health and safety of our employees has been our absolute priority. Our accident frequency (2.28) and severity (0.09) rates exceed the 2014 record. Beyond the figures, we are especially pleased that health and safety issues remain a daily priority for our managers and employees, and that the principle of shared vigilance is deeply rooted in their habits and behavior.
World first in the energy transition
Other successes marked the year 2019 in some key areas, which the events of the first half of 2020 made even more important.
In terms of energy transition and sustainable development, the teams of John Cockerill have developed many innovative initiatives. For example, and as a world-first, we have launched a solar power plant in China that operates 24 hours a day using molten salt technology. In terms of soft mobility, we have finalized the construction of the Cuenca tram (Ecuador), continued the assembly of locomotives on behalf of CFCO (Congo) and carried out modernization for VNF (France), one of the most impressive river locks in Northern Europe.
In 2019, John Cockerill also took a crucial step into another market of the future: that of green hydrogen. By creating Cockerill Jingli Hydrogen together with a well-known Chinese player, we are now able to design and install the largest electrolyzers in the world. At the same time, we have taken the position of No. 1 worldwide in the development of a new, 100% green mobility sector.
In the field of energy storage, the MiRIS® pilot plant installed at the General Headquarters of the Group continued to ramp up its power with the development of an intelligent energy management system (EMS) and the commissioning of a new type of battery.
Still on the energy front, John Cockerill continued its support of EDF in 2019, in order to develop the performance and safety of its nuclear power plants. This was particularly the case at Cattenom, Chooz and Tricastin (France).
Fighting against insecurity
The beginning of the year 2020 highlighted the essential importance of security: the security of populations on the one hand, and the security of the supply of goods and services on the other. John Cockerill understands this need, and has taken it into account for many years, in particular by continuing its development in the defense field.
In 2019, we continued the remarkable execution of the largest land defense contract ever awarded to a company. The teams achieved an exceptional production rate in 2019. Shipments could not be made at the same rate, however, and we therefore closed the year with a large inventory, putting pressure on the Group’s cash position.
We have also positioned ourselves in a new activity, that of securing sensitive civil and military sites. To this end, we have launched John Cockerill Fortress and started marketing its solutions against malicious drones.
Preserving natural resources
Some projects are gaining momentum among our portfolio of environmental solutions: whether in the collection and distribution of water in Kenya, air treatment in Morocco, or the biological elimination of drug residues in hospital effluents (MEDIX®, Belgium). The strong growth of NESA® solutions for heat treatment and for the recovery of various materials, such as activated carbon, should also be noted.
A group of citizens
These few examples of structural advances implemented in 2019 are sources of pride, both for us and for our technical and commercial teams. We would also like to highlight another of a different nature here. A citizen-oriented project implemented under the aegis of the John Cockerill Foundation: the creation, installation and then the donation to the Walloon Region of L’Arc Majeur by Bernar Venet, a monumental work of art, the largest made from CorTen steel in the world, installed on either side of a Belgian motorway. This project was not only a work of art, but also a technical challenge and a human adventure, and gave us the opportunity to honor regional know-how and technological audacity.
2019 was just as intense from an operational point of view. Managing a portfolio of projects, some of which relate to innovation and others to mature products, while ensuring the gradual renewal of historic activities, requires agility and vigilance. Internally, time and resources have been mobilized for plans to return to profitability, the implementation of new forms of organization and a substantial wave of digitization.
Globally, John Cockerill ended 2019 with a turnover of 1.256 billion Euros, close to that in the year 2018. While innovating and investing in the renewal of our activities, we were also able to generate a respectable operating profit of € 36 million, which is certainly down compared to the previous year, but of a sufficient scale to face the first months of 2020 in the best conditions.
Determination and passion
With a few months of hindsight and while going through the global Covid-19 crisis, we are taking the full measure of the important strategic milestones achieved in 2019 to prepare the John Cockerill of tomorrow.
These achievements testify to our vitality, our ability to achieve great things, and our willingness to dare. In a word, to our entrepreneurial DNA. We are proud of what our teams have achieved in 2019. We are proud of our agility in adapting our responses to your needs and to profound and constant change. We know our strengths, our assets. They allow us to approach the future with confidence, enthusiasm, determination and passion. In order to support you, our partners and our stakeholders, in your future projects, and to remain by your side as catalysts of opportunities.
Bernard Serin – President
Jean-Luc Maurange – CEO