OLEON

Malaysia 2019 | INDUSTRY & HIGH TECHNOLOGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to James de Caluwe, Managing Director of Oleon.

James de Caluwe
BIOGRAPHY
James de Caluwe has been in Asia for 19 years. Upon completing his academic career as an MSc. in engineering in agriculture and his PhD research work at the Laboratory of Aquaculture (University of Ghent), he moved to Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Laos. In 2007, he started the industrial activity of Oleon in Malaysia with two greenfield oleochemical factories currently employing around 150 people. He took the initiative in the conversion of Oleon’s Malaysian sales office to an Operational Headquarter (OHQ) and the establishment of the offices in China, mainland and FTZ. Currently, he holds the position of Global Supply Chain director.

What was the vision behind opening plants in Malaysia, Oleon's first outside Europe?

The history of Oleon in Malaysia goes back to the 1980s when the company was still named Oleofina and part of the Belgian FINA group. The Malaysian palm industry was developing at that time, and that sparked our interest in Malaysia. After some years in Malaysia, we left the country and moved our offices to Singapore. After we became Oleon and independent in 2001, we relocated our commercial office again to Malaysia. In 2007 the plan was adopted to increase our global footprint by establishing a production unit close to the source of tropical vegetable oils. I joined the company that year to develop this plan operationally. We scanned the region to look for the most suitable location and in particular assessed Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. We ruled out Indonesia due to its logistical challenges. Singapore was the second option, and although it has excellent logistics, it strongly depends on other countries to import base oleo-chemicals. Besides, acquiring land was not possible unless as a short-term lease. Finally, we decided to establish our production in Malaysia because of its good logistics, the fact that we can secure raw materials from within the country, and our history there. Nearly 95% of our production is exported.

Do you have any plans to add additional capacities moving forward?

In 2014, there was a huge drive for investments in the oleochemical industry in Indonesia, as the country was following the same path that Malaysia took earlier in developing oleochemical activities. Indonesia was granting a lot of resources that boosted investments in the region. This resulted in a saturated market and regional growth rates that are more or less mature. We keep investing in our Malaysian plants each year to keep them efficient and able to respond to market demands, but do not foresee full-fledged capacity increases in the upcoming years.