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Kazakhstan 2015 | MINING & ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to George Apostolopoulos, General Manager of Atlas Copco, on regional operations, socially responsible mining, and future opportunities.

George Apostolopoulos
BIOGRAPHY
George Apostolopoulos is a Mechanical Engineer with an MBA degree. He started working at Atlas Copco in Greece in 2001 as a Business Manager in the Mining & Construction Technique Business Area. In 2006 he moved to Ghana as General Manager of the local customer center, and in May 2014 he transferred to Kazakhstan as a General Manager of Atlas Copco Central Asia LLP; he is now responsible for the entire Central Asian region.

Considering Atlas Copco's global presence, what is the importance of the region and specifi-cally of Kazakhstan for the company's operations?

This is a very important region for the group, specifically for the mining side of our business. The local Atlas Copco company is among the top 15 customer centers within the Atlas Copco Group. While Kazakhstan is classified as an emerging economy, which is very rich in mineral resources, neighboring Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are countries quite rich in natural resources as well. Atlas Copco opened a representative office in Kazakhstan in the late 1990s. The company was legally established in 2006, and a lot has happened since then. We now employ more than 350 people, out of which 250 are technicians. That's only in Kazakhstan. Our head office is here, although there is no mining around the Almaty region. For that we have three branches strategically located close to our customers in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Karaganda, and Satpayev. We call them service branches as they focus mainly on after-market activities. In Satpayev there is an excellent re-manufacturing center. It is a small, state-of-the-art facility in the middle of nowhere. We have about 10 such centers across the globe. There is a training facility there as well.

What is the nature of Atlas Copco's business in Kazakhstan?

More than 50% of our business in Kazakhstan is after-market services. Mining houses have really cut back on investing in capital equipment and are extremely cautious with their expenditure. We are selling a premium products at a premium price. It depends on the customer, but typically they would all have some maintenance, which is what we aim for. The base metal prices have stayed constant or declined for the last year and a half and the world market is not what it used to be. We are treating different segments of the market differently.

What is Atlas Copco's strategy to deal with the different environments in which it operates?

We always try to be a good corporate citizen, i.e. minimize our impact to the environment, assist the communities where we operate, care for our people, and train them, as we believe they are our future leaders. We never discriminate on nationality and gender and promote local content. In operations, we want to be lean and agile. We would like to get “more out of less" and be able to swiftly adapt our organization to market fluctuations and demand changes.

How does Atlas Copco find synergies between economic growth, environmental stewardship, and socially responsible operations? Can you provide us some examples?

We aim at sustainability and this includes the management of our operations' impact on society and the environment. In Africa, for example, we were spending 0.5% of our revenues on CSR activities. In Kazakhstan, the situation is different, but this does not mean there is no need. Here in Kazakhstan we spent some money last year to set up a garden and a playground in a school. This year we spent a larger amount to pave the whole area. Now there is a road to the school. We do it not only because we have to do it, but also because you have to take care of the community that you operate in. Here you can also support environmental initiatives.

According to the Government's 2020 vision, 30,000km of roads will be upgraded; in that regard, what opportunities are there for Atlas Copco?

Prior to 2011 we had a business area called construction & mining technique. Then, the Group decided to split that business area into two simply because we wanted to focus on construction. In Kazakhstan, for increased focus we have a country manager who is responsible for the construction sector. In many instances mining and construction projects use the same equipment and this allows for synergies. Our equipment use the latest technologies available in the industry as we aim at our customers' sustainable productivity.