Solomon Baumgartner-Aviles, CEO and chairman of Lafarge Egypt: Each week, my Morning / WFH Routine looks at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Solomon Baumgartner-Aviles, CEO and chairman of Lafarge Egypt (LinkedIn). Edited excerpts from our conversation:
My name is Solomon Baumgartner, I'm a multinational. I say that because I come from a mixed background — my mother is African, my father is Swiss and I spent my early childhood in Saudi Arabia. I'm an engineer by background and my passion is for people. I've been working now for 20 years on international assignments across five continents with Lafarge.
I see myself as a facilitator and a coach. Being a facilitator during a pandemic means guiding people, developing routines and helping facilitate performance. As a coach your objective is to keep everyone focused, aligned and communicating.
Lafarge Egypt has been WFH since March. As things loosened up a little we left it up to our office staff to decide whether they would like to go back to the office, but in November we went back to full WFH. Personally, I find it very important to be with people, so I make it a point to still be physically present whenever I can. I can't ask people to expose themselves while I'm safe at home. We have roughly 1.1k site workers and 400-600 people at our offices. The manufacturing site, where most people are employed, is a 24/7 operation where WFH is really not an option.
I arrived two days before the lockdown. In the first month on the job I was faced with my first major decision to send everybody home. Creating relationships through Zoom and Teams really wasn't all that easy. As efficient as they can be they're often not the most effective in establishing relationships. I micromanaged way more than I would've liked at the very beginning, but it was necessary to instill these daily routines and establish a strategy together.
We were able to go on Zoom from day one. Our remote working network was already capable of supporting the WFH shift pretty effortlessly, which was a huge advantage and even allowed us to connect with the families of our employees. It was really stressful for everyone at the beginning but when we ran a company-wide survey on work arrangements we found that most people favored a partial WFH scheme. We were at our most efficient and effective when people were choosing what worked best for them.
I'm an industrial guy by background so I get up pretty early. I start my day at around 5:00 am. I do emails and read Enterprise from home when it's still nice and calm. Once admin work is done, I get breakfast ready with my family. I have two boys, a nine year-old and a three year-old. I drop my older son off at school at 7:15 am and stop by Starbucks before heading into the office.
Starbucks in the morning is crucial for me: It's the first indicator of business and helps me gauge how the day is going to go. At 9:00 am I have individual meetings with leadership and twice a week we meet as a team for performance checks and health and safety reviews. Usually in the afternoons I try to be on site or have client meetings—which have mostly been on Duo during the pandemic. My final hours are spent looking at the day's numbers and gathering the right questions to ask my team the following morning. I'm home by around 8:00 pm to have dinner with my family and normally start winding down by 9:00 pm when I get to spend some time with my wife before getting a good night's rest.
I take Arabic classes in the mornings three times a week. But I have to say, it's more difficult than I anticipated. My first language was actually Arabic, since I spent my early childhood in Saudi Arabia, and I imagined it would be buried inside somewhere. I've also taken up boxing since moving to Egypt. It's an agile and versatile sport — well-suited for the times we're in.
Making sure you're doing well at your job without burning yourself out is essential. I've had a tendency to be consumed by my work, but I've learned you need to be more mindful of what you're doing and how you do things. So, as Eckhart Tolle said: "Wherever you are, be there totally.” I try to apply this principle to life at large. In particular when I'm with my family I need to remind myself to be there totally. It makes no sense to be with them but be thinking about work, this way nothing really gets accomplished.
The pandemic has confirmed to me that we must face problems together. Collaboration during covid has been necessary at an institutional level and a global scale. What stood out to me in 2020 is the difference it made to know that we were not alone; that we were facing challenges together and found solutions to shared problems together.
I try to stay engaged with public life in Egypt and help out during covid. Social responsibility is huge for us at Lafarge. We've reached more than 150k people through our outreach programs that distribute medical safety equipment, food and other necessities to those in need.