By John Revill
ZURICH (Reuters) - LafargeHolcim, the world's largest cement maker, will close its head offices in Paris and Zurich, eliminating 200 jobs as part of a cost-cutting drive.
Chief Executive Jan Jenisch said the cuts, announced by the Franco-Swiss company on Friday, were part of a plan to simplify the company's structure and improve performance.
"This painful but necessary simplification step is key to creating a leaner, faster and more competitive LafargeHolcim," he said in a statement.
LafargeHolcim, which employs 80,000 people globally, is at the start of a new strategy under Jenisch following the company's underperformance in recent years.
Closing the Paris office, which was first reported by Reuters on Thursday, could spark opposition in France, where the merger of France's Lafarge with Switzerland's Holcim in 2015 was promoted as a merger of equals. The economy ministry in Paris did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
A French unionist said that while the announcement came as no surprise following regular staff cuts in recent years, the move laid bare where the balance of power lay in the company.
"This makes it quite clear that it is the Swiss who hold the reins of power," Sylvain Moreno of the hard-left CGT union told Reuters.
Under the plan, the group will move its operations in Zurich to its site in Holderbank, in Switzerland, where LafargeHolcim's predecessor company Holcim opened its first cement plant in 1912.
Other functions would be shifted to a new corporate office in the Swiss town of Zug, LafargeHolcim said in a statement.
MORE LOCALISED STRATEGY
According to the plan, 107 jobs in the Zurich area and Holderbank will be cut, and 97 in Paris will go. No other sites in France will be affected, the company said.
The cuts are part of a 400 million Swiss franc ($403 million) cost-reduction programme announced by the group in March when it said it would close its Singapore and Miami offices by the middle of this year.
LafargeHolcim has lost 27 percent since the merger was completed in 2015, trailing a 32 percent gain by the Stoxx Euro 600 construction & materials index.
Earnings have disappointed and the company has also been embroiled in a scandal after it admitted paying armed groups to keep a cement factory running in war-ravaged Syria.
The affair, which is being investigated by legal authorities in France, triggered the departure of CEO Eric Olsen and his replacement by Jenisch last year. Olsen denies any wrongdoing.
The company said on Friday that it was on track to hit the 400 million franc savings goal by the first quarter of 2019, adding the closure of the Miami and Singapore offices had been completed.
Bernd Pomrehn, an analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich, said the office closures fit with Jenisch's more localised strategy.
"Jan Jenisch is now again giving the regions more responsibilities, which requires less overhead in Zurich and Paris," he said.
($1 = 0.9918 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: May 26, 2018 00:05:54 IST