A Legacy of Innovation
With a history of over 130 years, Corum Group takes pride in its people. CEO Mikhail Potapov examines supporting Ukraine’s mining sector and the constant pursuit of improvement
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
“If you trace our company history over the entire period, you will easily notice that the key feature of our development is the process of continuous changes and improvements.”
In a highly competitive and often challenging sector, such as mining and construction, few companies can lay claim to over a century of operation. Yet for Mikhail Potapov, CEO of leading equipment manufacturer and constructor of mine projects, Corum Group, a competitive heritage is part of the territory.
“Corum Group is devoted to traditions and confidence in our future. We value and respect our history. Everything that was created by previous generations has formed a solid foundation for a new stage in our company history,” he adds.
Primarily serving the Ukrainian markets, for the past 130 years, Corum Group has refined its expertise within machine-building and mine construction, primarily supporting the mining industry with underground mining services, turn-key service support, mine construction, horizontal tunnelling and EPC contracting.
Corum Group’s signature products entail equipment for underground longwall coal and potassium mining, including powered roof supports, shearers, and armoured face conveyors with stage loaders. The longwall complex (LC) system outlined above, combined with tunnelling equipment accounts for 80 percent of the company’s machine-building segment sales.
“In addition, we manufacture a wide range of ancillary infrastructure equipment that is suitable for most underground production facilities (not just coal mines). These are hoisting machines, main ventilation fans, transformer substations, mine transport, etc,” Potapov explains.
Complimentary to this division, mine construction services form Corum Group’s secondary business segment.
“Corum Minespecialbuild is a team of professionals with vast experience in vertical and inclined shafts construction, as well as horizontal tunnelling works.”
The company itself forms part of DTEK Energy, the operating company responsible for coal mining and power generation in the structure of the DTEK holding, which in turn exists within the vast Ukrainian investment company, SCM.
PEOPLE AT THE CORE
Such longevity in the sector truly lends a competitive advantage when it comes to manufacturing expertise, fostering talent and processes that have been refined over the years.
“We manufacture all equipment at our own production sites, which have a colossal experience from a historical point of view,” he comments. Adjacent to these production sites, the company implement service and repair facilities alongside consignment warehouses in their clients’ regions for maximum support.
Although the company’s production plants were designed in Ukraine, alongside the Ukrainian mines where the majority of Corum Group’s new product designs are implemented, its footprint is expansive.
“We are not only limited to working in local markets. We also build relationships with clients in foreign markets where longwall mining is implemented – primarily CIS and EU countries where we have official distributors and equipment supply references,” Potapov tells us.
“Most recently, Turkey was added to this list in July 2021.”
Above all, Corum Group are an enterprise that works with people, for people. This not only encompasses the company’s staff – a workforce of approximately 4,500 employees - but also Corum Group’s wide-reaching network of partners, clients, and those employed within the industries who truly benefit from the efficacy of its manufactured solutions.
“A focus on the customer is one of our values, as the basis for building honest, open and trusting relationships with clients.” Dedicated sales teams are trained in relationship building specifically for this purpose, ensuring clear and consistent communication between the company and its customers.
Turning to talk of partner relations, Potapov credits the instrumental role that the SCM enterprise play in driving operations for the group.
“Trusting relationships with SCM businesses undoubtedly help us in our work,” he comments.
“For example, Metinvest is the main metal supplier for our production, DTEK is one of the largest consumers of our equipment, while First Ukrainian International Bank (FIUB) provides additional financing if necessary.”
Building a robust and stable infrastructure of relationships that enables Corum Group to ultimately deliver in fulfilling their obligations is paramount to the company’s success and is a notion of loyalty that is instilled amongst all employees.
“A broken promise hurts the most,” Potapov surmises. “That’s why we require strictly fulfilling all obligations to our customers.”
Expanding on the topic of Corum Group’s employee relations, it transpires that personnel motivation and training are essential factors in empowering such a dynamic and vast workforce.
“We always highlight the contribution of employees to the company’s achievements.”
Representing the largest share of Corum Group’s workforce, workshop employees benefit from a mentoring system whereby the most efficient and experienced employees are assigned mentor status and are acknowledged as experts in their team whilst fulfilling the responsibility of transferring critical skills and knowledge to newcomers, with a wage to reflect this.
“Our second initiative in this area is an individual quality mark. If an employee has confirmed his high qualifications as a professional, all parts that he manufactures in future are marked with an individual sign,” Potapov tells us.
“Such parts are exempted from a number of further tests and immediately go to the next production stage. Of course, in this way we assign part of the responsibility for product quality to the employee, but this is also a great honour and recognition of employee’s merits – the company shows that it fully trusts him.”
On a more humanistic level, Potapov himself highlights the intimately social aspect of the work Corum Group do.
“Miners risk their lives everyday producing various minerals. Our equipment helps them to do this with high efficiency and in a safe way. It is a great honour and responsibility to be a part of such an important process because our equipment not only assists production but ensures safer work for miners.”
Despite the company’s esteemed legacy, Corum Group refuses to rest on its laurels, continually innovating in pursuit of greater quality, safety, and efficiency, on behalf of its prized customers. Indeed, it was this constant challenge of heightened ambition that first attracted Potapov to the industry, prior to joining Corum Group 10 years ago. During his tenure, first as CFO, then as CEO, he has witnessed the company’s adaptation.
“Each decade of our history has been accompanied by product changes and improvements, and product modernisation,” Potapov observes. “All these changes were made for clients and at their request.”
This product development can be observed through the company history: Corum Group’s Druzhkivka plant originated as a steel plant that produced rails, while the Kharkiv plant was originally known as ‘Miner’s Light’, due to the facility’s production of underground lamps.
Nowadays, the company uses modern technical solutions not only in manufacturing, but in services also. One such innovative example includes the construction of the ‘Southern Ventilation Shaft No.2’ for the Zaporozhye Iron Ore Plant which is currently in active stage. “This is a unique project making use of soil freezing technology that is being implemented for the first time in the past few decades – similar systems have not been implemented in Ukraine since the 1990s,” he tells us.
As a turn-key supplier, the company revolves every division around this project realisation: mine-construction division performs sinking, plants supply hoisting equipment and tubing for reinforcement, service department supervise equipment installation.
“With such attitude our company seeks to maximise the benefits of the Zaporozhye Iron Ore Plant and reduce construction costs. In return, we increase our own equipment cross-sales, master a new promising casting product (tubing), which we will subsequently offer to the market. It is an optimal deal between two partners in a win-win spirit.” comments Mikhail.
The company’s investment strategy reflects this prioritisation of innovation, evidenced by the implementation of an ambitious development strategy for 2030, answering the need that all industries currently face to take a stance regarding environmental sustainability.
“This implies both the digitalisation of our current equipment fleet operation monitoring and the purchase of new machines and production lines at each of the seven key production areas. For example, we will replace part of the welding machines fleet, and in some areas we will introduce fully automated robotic welding,” Potapov informs us.
Aside from this, the company continues to modernise operations with new equipment for their production plants.
“There are three production areas where the potential is significantly higher than the internal Corum Group needs for mining equipment production – casting, forge and power hydraulics.
“The modernised facilities will allow us to switch to the manufacture of finished products and their sale to customers directly from the workshop,” Potapov explains.
“In total, we plan to invest $32.5 million in the partial modernisation of production by 2025.”
Despite bringing to markets new products, demanded aside of thermal coal mining, the company has begun negotiations with distant countries where they have identified potential.
“Leading world markets, like North America and Australia, are abandoned by local mining equipment manufacturers, which rapidly closes this business direction under pressure of the green agenda. But in the next 30 years mines will still need equipment to keep them running. With our local partner, Entech Holdings, we intend to offer the best price/quality ratio for mines production continuation, applying our creativity and individual approach.”
Creativity is the very cornerstone of this relentless pursuit for excellence, thereby strengthening the company’s position whilst influencing relationships with key clients.
“Our creativity manifests itself at every stage – negotiation, design, production and supply. This is the foundation of our continuous improvement culture.”
Drawing to a close, Potapov highlights the contribution of the company’s sale system to the success of projects and systematic profit gain for the company, returning to the all-important people-centred company culture that is integral to Corum Group.
“We have laid an individual approach and a win-win culture at the heart of our relationships with key clients. In fact, this means that almost every client’s request is processed in detail and the proposal is prepared in a way to bring the client maximum benefit and solve problems – to increase production in difficult mining and geological conditions, to ensure unification with the existing equipment fleet, to increase its efficiency or maintainability.”
As for customer relations, Corum is not only limited with salespeople in negotiations. Different staff from heads of manufacturing enterprises to product designers are trained in modern sales and relationship building practices. By so doing, the company communicates with client representatives – each person at his own level, in order to get a big picture of how customer sees Corum and its products, to take into account any desires of key clients and turn them into equipment renovation.
“The effectiveness of this approach is confirmed by the growth of our Net Promotion Score (NPS). For many years we kept it at 42 percent level, but at the end of 2020 we reached 53 percent. And in 2022 we plan to raise it to 60 percent. All this is possible thanks to the ability to listen to customers and change ourselves in accordance with their wishes,” concludes Potapov.
With a renewed, concerted focus on sustainable development, Corum Group guarantee a secure future for their unique business model, showcasing a people-centric approach to continual improvement whilst serving the essential needs of the world’s mines.