Materials Recycling World interviews Nick Pollard
Article first appeared in the June 2017 edition of Materials Recycling World.
Little stands still in the world of waste management and the history of Cory bears testament to that. The roots go back to a merger of eight coal companies in 1896 and an emphasis on using the river Thames for transport. That reliance continues, but changes to the company have consolidated both the business model and the focus on waste management – and particularly energy from waste (EfW).
Company names have come and gone, and it was in 1990 that the modern manifestation of Cory Environmental was brought about. Now, though, it is known as Cory Riverside Energy, with a singular emphasis on ferrying London’s waste by barges to the large EfW plant at Belvedere in Kent, overseen by Nick Pollard, the chief executive recruited by chairman Jonson Cox at the end of 2015.
Pollard was brought in to shake things up. Within the past year, Cory’s municipal business has been sold to Biffa, the brokerage side went to Reconomy and 13 landfills sites were bought by Armour Holdings Group in a sale which evoked strong interest. Pollard coyly reveals there were between five and 10 suitors and was delighted at the final deal. Although Armour is an insurance specialist, he says it is a first-class home.
Pollard said he knew what Cory’s board expected of him when he arrived, but it took the first couple of months to assess what would generate an efficient business by simplifying the structure and selling the unwanted parts.
“The core parts, where we are today, is the London operation. It’s the ability to take waste from our transfer stations up the Thames, bring it on our barges and our lighters, and treat it here at Belvedere,” he said.
“Most of the past 18 months was taken up with untangling the constituent parts of the business and the companies within it, and ensuring they were in great shape for somebody else to take on, with very clear, bounded, business propositions.”
Pollard is also proud that colleagues operating Belvedere were not distracted by the transformation: “While we were doing that last year, the team running the business certainly didn’t take their eyes off the ball. We posted a record year in terms of throughput, revenues and profits. They’ve done a great job.”
Cory is Pollard’s first position in the waste sector after significant roles in infrastructure and construction, including time as the UK chief of Balfour Beatty, following an honours degree in civil engineering. He is convinced there is a strong fit because civil engineers appreciate how capital-intensive assets such as EfW plants work and how they are maintained and developed.
“Waste management has changed massively during the course of the past decade or two. You look at what we do now, and it’s not actually about waste – it’s about taking materials and using them to either recover energy or recycle them. Fundamentally, not to waste them.”
Even so, I wonder if construction is a more mature industry, with fewer technological challenges than the ‘younger’ waste. The EfW sector, for example, has had high-profile failures in the Tees Valley and Lancashire in recent years.
There are two key elements, he maintains: the technology has to be right for the job you are asking it to do, and those building and creating the infrastructure have to understand how to run it reliably. Robust processes and tolerant technology are essential in order to handle seasonal fluctuations, material changes, chemical composition and economic pressures, among other variables.
I look at the facility that I’ve inherited here and it delights my heart. When I walk around, I see a really well-designed, well-laid out plant that is using technology that’s capable of operating at the scale of three-quarters of a million tonnes of processing a year and is proven.