Focus on Leadership: Sergio Narváez Garza, a leader of Mexico’s Grupo Lamosa, discusses the current state of the tile business – March 2023
Interview by Kemp Harr
Sergio Narváez Garza is the CEO ceramics division for Grupo Lamosa, where he has worked since 2000. Garza attended Monterrey Technological Institute, studying mechanical engineering and then getting his master’s in business administration at the same institution.
Grupo Lamosa was founded in 1890 as a brick factory in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. The company added floor and wall tile to its offerings in 1933, becoming the first commercial manufacturer of ceramic tiles industrially in Mexico, and diversified into tile adhesives in 1957.
Grupo Lamosa acquired porcelain manufacturers Porcelainite, based in Mexico, in 2007; Cerámica San Lorenzo, based in South America, in 2016; Eurocerámica, based in Colombia, in 2020; and Grupo Roca’s ceramic tile division, based in Spain, in 2021. Today, the company has consolidated revenues of more than $1.5 billion annually with nine production centers in Mexico, ten in South America (Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil) and one in Spain, as well as five distribution centers in the U.S.
Q: What led you to focus your studies on engineering and your career in the ceramic tile industry?
A: It was a matter of destiny, I suppose. After finishing my engineering studies and comparing job offers, I decided on a company in the ceramic industry, and it was not a mistake! I learned the technical side of the business, its processes, and the sheer magic that comes with the combination of fashion, design, technology and innovation.
Q: Tell us about how you ended up working for Lamosa.
A: After seven years in the manufacturing side of the ceramic industry, I completed my MBA, and this allowed me to accelerate my development in areas such as strategic planning, finance and sales in different industrial companies. Ultimately, I gained the experience to have full P&L responsibility for a business.
At the start of the year 2000, I was invited by the current CEO and president of the board of Grupo Lamosa to lead its ceramics division.
Q: Who were your mentors, and what did they teach you?
A: I have three people whom I consider my mentors-all of them were executives and my bosses. The most important things I learned from them are discipline, to love what you do, never to settle for current results, and negotiation skills.
Q: What character traits help you in your leadership role at Lamosa?
A: The most important character traits in leadership are the ability to carry great responsibility, vision, never settling for current results, an attitude of teamwork and a great respect for people.
Q: What challenges does the ceramic tile market face in its quest for continued growth?
A: I believe that there are mainly two: eliminating products that do not comply with quality norms and, thereby, negatively affect the image of the ceramic industry, and the optimization of installation skills and cost.
Q: What is the best way to position the advantages of tile over PVC-based alternatives?
A: As an industry, we must emphasize the functional advantages of tile over plastic-based materials and continue reinforcing the huge advantage that tile has over other flooring products in terms of lifecycle.
Q: How can the ceramic tile industry work together to increase the per capita usage of tile in the U.S.? Why is it so much higher in other parts of the world, such as Europe and South America?
A: Flooring preferences in different countries are mainly driven by cultural traits. I am hopeful that by providing U.S. consumers with honest information, they will base their buying decisions upon variables such as health, safety and sustainability, where ceramic tile is clearly superior. Our job as industry leaders is to drive this message and communicate our advantages.
Q: Over the years, Lamosa has exited the sanitary market, built a strong adhesives division and entered the polystyrene business. How does the company decide which businesses to exit and which to add?
A: Grupo Lamosa wants to participate in categories where it has relative strengths, scale and growth opportunity. We also look to invest in businesses related to construction materials where we can create value.
Q: What is the best solution for overcoming the shortage of skilled installers in the tile industry?
A: We must continue to focus on their training, working with the National Tile Contractors Association and professionalize the installation of tile.
Q: How will the European producers stay competitive in light of their higher costs for energy?
A: Obviously efficient energy consumption is becoming a major issue in Europe and will be for the coming years. This will accelerate the development of alternative technologies, which will be good for the industry everywhere. But Europe will have to stay on the edge of product innovation and differentiation.
Q: Here in the U.S., tile is sold through home centers, specialty big box retailers like Floor & Décor, distributors and independent retailers. Which channel will grow the fastest in the future and why?
A: Each channel has its own drivers, and they have the potential to all grow, since they service a diverse range of consumers with different needs. It is going to be very interesting to see how these channels can adapt and embrace the different tile formats, such as slabs. Whoever best understands these new products will grow fastest.
Q: What makes the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) so effective in supporting the industry’s growth?
A: The TCNA is a very professional association with real technical and communication skills and they represent the entire industry, not just the suppliers.
Q: What is the best strategy to ensure that tile doesn’t become a commodity that is purchased solely on price?
A: Product innovation and differentiation, including products like 2cm pavers, slabs and slim products. It is really exciting to see everything going on right now in terms of product innovation.
Q: What do you do for fun when you aren’t focused on work?
A: I enjoy the outdoors a lot. I also like to travel and practice sports such as running, golf and tennis.
Q: How do you balance your personal life with the demands of a professional career?
A: I firmly believe that in order to be a successful professional, you must have a good work and life balance, dedicating enough quality time to your job, your family and yourself.
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