It is no secret that 2020 was a year that was impacted in a very special way by the Covid-19 pandemic. From the very beginning of the crisis, the priority at John Cockerill has been to protect our people while continuing to serve our customers. Today, we have the satisfaction of having ended this challenging year stronger than we started it. Our model, based on the broad diversity of our customer industries, our geographical locations, and our technologies, has once again proven its relevance. once again demonstrated its relevance. Our performance in 2020 also demonstrates our resilience and pour capacity for adaptation while continuing to contribute to a more sustainable world.
Agility and maintained results
The Covid-19 health crisis impacted us from as early as January 2020, with the appearance of the virus in China. It has gradually affected all of our activities around the world. Faced with this unprecedented and unpredictable situation, our teams have collectively demonstrated remarkable agility in protecting our employees, in order to continue to serve our customers in optimally safe health conditions and to participate, in our own way, in the fight against the spread of the epidemic.
The efforts made to deal with this situation have been considerable. Several crisis cells have been set up. A health cell was tasked with the deployment of preventive measures to allow Group employees to continue working in complete safety, and business cells were responsible for coordinating business continuity. It should be noted here that, in this unusual context, John Cockerill achieved an excellent safety performance, with a frequency rate of 2.03 and a severity rate of 0.072. A solidarity cell was set up under the leadership of the John Cockerill Foundation to coordinate all spontaneous initiatives to combat the pandemic. Finally, in the field, our teams spared no effort to execute contracts as well as possible and to obtain new orders. Despite having to juggle with travel restrictions, quarantine periods and the supply disruptions linked to the closure of certain subcontractors, the teams have nevertheless demonstrated their adaptability and creativity in their quest to satisfy our customers and meet our obligations. We also pulled out all the stops to preserve the interests and financial health of John Cockerill. Finally, we have taken advantage of the relative slowdown in activity to accelerate the digitization of our operating methods and conduct an in-depth analysis of our overheads. These fundamental actions are contributing to a lasting improvement in our operational efficiency.
In the end, and thanks to the agility of the organization and the effectiveness of the measures taken, John Cockerill’s level of activity has broadly held up. Our model, based on the broad diversity of our customer industries, our geographical locations and our technologies, has proven its relevance. The Group achieved an EBITDA of €54.3 million in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the 2020 order intake has followed the general economic slowdown, with a 20% decline compared to 2019. Nevertheless, our order book recovered in the fourth quarter, and the outlook identified for 2021 leads us to expect order intake in line with previous years.
A stronger position
Responding to the needs of our time is the mission we have set ourselves. All over the world, our solutions have contributed to facilitating access to renewable energy, preserving natural resources, producing sustainably, developing greener mobility, or fighting insecurity in 2020. In this report, we invite you to discover a selection of the emblematic projects of 2020, of which we are particularly proud.
John Cockerill invested heavily in the energy transition and the decarbonization of human activities in 2020. It has put the necessary organization in place to accelerate the development of its activities in renewable energies, and in particular in green hydrogen, solar energy, and the storage of energy. The choice of materials was also a priority, as was water and waste treatment.
In defense, we continued the perfect execution of our major contracts with, in addition to the production of equipment, the start-up of the “training” and “maintenance” components, which will constitute a source of sustainable and substantial revenue for the years to come. We also continued our development in Africa, with the start-up of major projects and the conclusion of promising partnerships, in particular with the Ivory Coast authorities.
We again accelerated our digitization efforts during the year. Our Industry 4.0 project has seen its resources strengthened, and has made concrete progress, such as the implementation of John’s Cockpit digital platform. Digital solutions dedicated to practical training and simulation have also been developed.
During this turbulent period, a lot of attention was paid to our cash position: finalization of various disputes, re-negotiation of payment plans with certain major customers. and operations to anticipate the collection of receivables led to a significant improvement in the Group’s net cash position in 2020.
Fueled by this rapid expansion of our portfolio of services and technologies, we also mapped out the contours of the Cockerill Capital sustainable investment fund in 2020, dedicated to financing industrial or collective infrastructure projects using energy production technologies that will make a positive contribution to decarbonization or environmental preservation.
Without waiting for the end of the Covid crisis,and together with well-known public partners, we launched our incubator and accelerator Industrya in June, an investment fund dedicated to the support and development of start-ups and scale-ups. Industrya complements our internal innovation system and allows us to support the creativity of these ambitious entrepreneurs.
From an activity report to a mission report
John Cockerill took another important step in 2020: its Board of Directors mandated one of the members of its Executive Committee to strengthen its approach to Corporate Social Responsibility. The launch of a structured approach, which is essential for a group whose mission is to respond to the needs of its time, has kicked off the development of a new type of annual report. Alongside our financial report, which details our results and performance in the form of financial indicators, this mission report has a new purpose: to describe how, year after year, John Cockerill contributes to a more sustainable world by taking each of our stakeholders into account: our talents, our customers, our partners and suppliers, our shareholders, the local communities in which we operate, and the planet.
While our commitment to sustainability is not new, we have decided to take a further step towards greater formality and transparency We want to complement our governance with extra-financial indicators that will help us measure our social responsibility and, in particular, our contribution to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This first extra-financial report will be available next year.
Confidence in tomorrow
At the end of this very special year 2020, we are confident about the future of John Cockerill. Our strategy is particularly suited to the post-Covid world, whether it be in terms of energy transition, the preservation of natural resources, sustainable production, soft mobility or the fight against insecurity. Our cash flow is healthy, our governance has been adjusted to better fit our managerial challenges, and our staff is fully motivated.
Alongside our enterprising and committed teams, and involving all our stakeholders, we intend to continue our action to contribute to a more sustainable world.
Bernard Serin – Chairman of the Board
Jean-Luc Maurange – Managing Director