NSG's Clemens Miller Shares Strategies for Growing the Building Product Business
August 17, 2011

In April, Japan-based NSG Group promoted Clemens Miller to president of the company's Building Products division. Miller had joined Pilkington in 1992, 14 years before NSG Group would acquire that company. At the time he managed the group's Fire Protection and Solar Energy businesses, before being appointed managing director of Building Products Europe in 2007. Since April 2010, he has been vice president of Commercial and Solar Energy Products. During a recent interview with USGNN.com™, Miller indicated that its niche areas such as solar energy that will be the path toward future growth for NSG Group.

USGNN: How much of NSG Group's glass business is devoted to solar glass production? How do you expect this to grow in the next 5-10 years?

CM: What I can tell is that that share of the glass business has been rapidly growing for several years, and will continue to grow. We expect particularly the photovoltaic (PV) business to grow an average of about 20- to 25-percent per year, and that's far more than any glass business in the world. Therefore you can imagine that we expect it to have a significantly bigger share in the future.

USGNN: I've heard that PV may not be the most efficient solar technology currently. What solar technologies should glass companies looking at the solar market focus on now?

CM: On principle we offer glass for all types of solar energy generated, whether it's concentrators, mirrors, whether it's PV - thin film or crystalline - even to solar thermal applications. But in terms of complexity of the glass offering and, therefore, in terms of value in the glass, thin film PV is by far the most attractive, but at the same time most challenging, segment and that's where we've put our focus.

USGNN: What do you think is today's biggest impediment to the growth of solar energy?

CM: I have to say, the same as it's been for several years; the biggest impediment is uncertainty. We've had a lot of uncertainty about the conditions of investing in solar power. And sill the question of energy mix in countries is very much down to political decisions. We'll continue to have uncertainty in this area. On the other side, we can see that in some countries uncertainties are removed because governments declare clear conditions of solar energy use, and these are the markets where we can see the fastest and most steady growth.

USGNN: Do you expect glass coatings to play an increasing role in glass' role as a green product?

CM: Definitely, because glass coatings have got a unique property to offer to all sorts of technical applications to glass. They allow you to combine transparency with electric conductivity, and these are the key features that promote solar panels. They're also key features requested in other applications, which are outside the architectural use of glass. Therefore we are convinced that all sorts of coatings, particularly the conductive coatings, will play a major role in the future for advanced glass products.

USGNN: What has been your first priority in your new role as president of building products?

CM: I think the biggest challenge we are facing at NSG Group, particularly in the Building Products business of NSG Group, is that the major part of our business historically is traditional building products, let's say architectural business, in developed markets. Traditional architectural business in developed markets is the area which is growing the least at the moment. Therefore, my personal priority is really to change the focus of our building product business in a way that we get a bigger share in markets where glass volumes grow - this means developing markets, South America, China, India - and at the same time, into applications where there is still significant value growth, value-added and more complex glass solutions. Solar, for example, is one element of it.

USGNN: What are your goals for moving the company forward?

CM: At the end of the day, shifting our product mix toward more growth, because NSG Group Building Products hasn't grown a lot in the last few years.

USGNN: NSG Group has had a number of different leaders in a relatively short time. Does that bring any unique challenges with it?

CM: No, I don't believe so. If you refer particularly to the leadership of Building Products, since the acquisition of Pilkington by NSG Group, we've had three presidents of Building Products: first, Stuart Chambers [Chambers stepped down as president/CEO of NSG Group in 2009], then Mark Lyons, who is now chief financial officer of our company, and me. Sounds like a lot, three presidents in five years. What you should know is that the persons I mentioned, we've known each other for more than ten years. We started together in the same European management team in 1998, and therefore what looks like a lot of changes inherently is a lot of organic continuity in people who know each other and know the business.

USGNN: What advice would you give someone just starting in the glass industry?

CM: There are two things that are important. First, for someone wants to start their career in the glass industry, be flexible and be ready to go where markets grow. If someone expects to have a cozy life in North America, in the United Kingdom, in Japan, he'll probably not get far in the glass industry because that's not the part of the world where the biggest dynamic is. And the second thing, whatever you do in the glass industry, think beyond current applications. Think of future uses of glass, not just the classic "windows."

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