Marián Tkáč - Plant Manager Nová Baňa, Slovakia

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Marian Tkac, Knauf Insulation Slovenia, Nova Bana

Marián has been plant manager at our Nová Baňa Rock Mineral Wool site in Slovakia since 2009. The plant produces 100,000 tonnes of insulation every year and is located at the heart of our Eastern Europe region which stretches from Estonia to the borders of Turkey. Nová Baňa has a long tradition of insulation production with the first fibres produced in the 1950s.

How do the people at Nová Baňa want to be perceived? They want to be seen as a plant which is reliable. Whatever the issue or whatever help is needed, Nová Baňa is a plant you can rely on.
Marián Tkáč, Plant Manager Nová Baňa, Slovakia

What were you doing before working for Knauf Insulation?

I worked in cement production for around 15 years in different locations for big companies.

What do you enjoy most about being a plant manager?

I like to spend time with the team, motivate them. I like to see them achieve something they never believed they could achieve. I like to see results. I like to see the development of people, how they build their careers and lives, this is the biggest reward to me. Because, you know, career and money and all these technological achievements — I call this kind of fame ‘straw’ or ‘dry grass’ — they are somewhere out there in the middle of the field. What stays is the footprint you bring to the minds, heads and hearts of your team members.

How did 2020 transform the site?

I need to go back in time first. At the end of 2015 I recorded the best year ever, in terms of volumes and results. The next year was better. Then 2017 was better again. Then 2018 came and we achieved record volumes —105,000 tonnes of production. And on Line One we achieved 8,000 operating hours, which was a Rock Mineral Wool record. Then 2019 was also a good year. So, after this period we started 2020… and there was this COVID-19 shock.

How did it impact the plant?

What helped a great deal was that the Slovak government reacted strongly and quickly. Immediately all schools were closed, universities, students sent home, you know, masks were obligatory, no theatres, no cinema, no sport, nothing. It was a kind of blackout. However, we were kept in operation even when there was a specific rule applied and people were asked to stay home, not to visit relatives and so on.

You continued going to the plant.

I came every day to the plant along with my team. I felt that for our colleagues it was important they see that management was here. And Nová Baňa was continuously producing without stopping. Today we are fully within budget, in terms of volumes. So if you look at our figures, you would not have seen any sign of COVID. Sales even went up after the first wave.

What were the key challenges?

We were working in masks, keeping apart from each other, there was disinfectant at all stations and regular cleaning of the plant and from a distance everything was functioning, but from a psychological point of view it was demanding. There were also borders being closed, outbound and inbound logistics to be resolved, materials to arrive, stock to be executed… and we didn’t have much time. We were in a stricter phase of measures than, for example, our colleagues in the UK, Belgium, Austria or Czech Republic. We would all have a COVID conversation online and it was like looking at the same painting — say the Mona Lisa — and seeing different colours.

What have you learned from this crisis?

We are extremely strong. We are a very solid company. We are in a very good business and COVID-19 shows we can really organise ourselves to go through difficulties. If I compare us to the automotive industry — Slovakia is world’s largest producer of cars per capita — which closed operations almost immediately, we were like a light in a forest at midnight. People could really see how good it is to work for a company like Knauf Insulation, which is settled, based, stable, independent.

What is your ambition now for the plant?

We are being exposed to new challenges in terms of running the business. Customers are challenging us to deal with their cut-off waste at construction sites, we need also to use a certain percentage of recycled material to fulfill environmental requirements. Furthermore, we need to reduce CO2, reduce energy consumption, move away from using coke towards other fuels. This is an old plant. Parts of the production line have their origin in the 1970s. So, my ambition is simple, to bring new technologies to this plant and bring it to a higher level of efficiency and change this industry for the future.

What has been a major highlight of your career?

Nová Baňa was voted the Best Plant in the Group in 2017 and it was great to come back to the plant and share this achievement with my people. Now today I have a different view on what is a highlight. It’s not the best volume, the best KPIs, the best EBITDA. This is valid for a while. What is much more lasting is the motivation, that footprint in a team I can leave here in Nová Baňa.

What has been a recent example of great teamwork?

In Nová Baňa there were 13 people helping with the commissioning of Illange, France, in 2019 [the start-up of Knauf Insulation’s newest site]. Imagine that you are missing 13 people half a year? Somebody must replace them. Somebody must work instead of them. So, the second half of 2019 at Nová Baňa was extremely challenging, some people were there for weeks, even months. My other manager spent half a year there. But I was proud to hear that our people knew what to do. They knew how to act. They did not hesitate. They simply fixed issues.

How is safety prioritised at your plant?

Repetition is the mother of knowledge. So, drill is a must. However, it’s not enough. You need culture. And this changes slowly over a long time. Changing culture was a big challenge in Nová Baňa. We had to change minds in a way that recognised volumes, consumption, and figures were important — but on top of that, safety is even more important. And that was very difficult. The situation has changed significantly in recent years. There have been more young people coming into the team and plenty of people have retired, so that has helped a lot. Last year we had one Lost Time Accident and the year before, nothing. However, numbers are not enough for me. For me it’s culture, I want to see a daily commitment to safety.

How do you contribute to the community?

We focus on young people and attracting them to our company, to our plant. For example, we support specialist students such as electricians because they may be our employees of the future. We also support local sports and every year we have a Knauf Open Day with events, music, activities and attractions.

To what extent has awareness of your environmental impact increased?

When I came here in 2009 there was not so much sensitivity or sensitiveness about environmental issues. But this has changed. I would say, the pressure from municipality in terms of environment, is much stronger. This goes also for the young generation, which is much more engaged. Young people may come to work at the plant and then when they have finished they may go for some private activity in some environmental non-government organisation. And they will challenge us.

What examples of sustainable good practice are you seeing at the plant?

We have a briquetting facility inside the plant. It means, through the briquetting plant, we use waste which is generated at the line. They put it into the briquettes, and use it back in the cupola ovens, and this is how we achieve zero waste. Of course, we are also legally compliant with all environmental regulations, but we believe we have moral obligation to be a good neighbor.

And a good employer.

At the end of every year in Slovakia, trade unions negotiate for new conditions, requirements, salaries… and what I hear most often during these discussions from union committees is: “Marián, what we are interested in, in fact, overall is stability. We want to feel safe with our families, with our lives. We live here. We believe in this company. We like to see our lives economically safe. So, we hope to work for the company which has a future.”

This is something your plant provides.

We have to think further than just volumes and costs, consumption and key performance indicators and efficiencies. These are all important but we also have to think about the human impact we make. When I ask our operators, what would they like to hear if Nová Baňa is mentioned in a discussion? They reply they want Nová Baňa to be perceived as a plant which is reliable. Whatever issue, problem or help is needed, Nová Baňa is a plant you can rely on.


Plant Managers Knauf Insulation
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