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Channel hopping

Cyrille, you have been in charge of Onyxs UK operations for two years. How has the company developed in that time?

I think Onyx has improved very much in the past two years. We have doubled our profit margin in that time. Most of this success is down to renewing contracts at improved rates due to good performances. We have also seen our four main contracts mature. We are now in a position where the investment is paying off and we are seeing the rewards.

What prompted you to leave a career in French broadcasting to come to a waste-management company in England?

The opportunity came up to join Onyxs parent company Veolia and it appealed because it was in the UK and I wanted to travel. I wanted to learn about a different sector and way of doing business and to see the world outside France. I think it is very interesting to open your mind in that way. The UK appealed because it is very different yet it is not too far away and the language is easier to learn than Chinese or Russian.

No arguments there. So how have you found living and working in London, compared with Paris?

Doing business is generally much easier in the UK than in France. There are many more constraints in France for example you cannot reduce your headcount without a two-year process. The UK is paradise for enterprise. Environmental laws here are much more in favour of companies. And I have enjoyed the opportunity to discover another culture. Living in London is very nice but very costly.

How do the two countries waste-management industries vary?

French waste-management has been more driven by regulation and is more advanced in that way. But then it does not have such strong competition. There is tough competition in the UK, which means smaller companies can often win tenders by offering a lower price for collections as they have fewer overheads. The UK is more concerned with protecting companies, while France has higher environmental standards. The UK is more advanced in terms of privatising public services, but it does not want to raise costs too much so it is more reliant on holes in the ground.

How has Julys ban on co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste affected Onyx?

For the time being it has not affected us. We had lots of orders to dispose of hazardous waste in the first six months of the year but since the ban we have not seen much hazardous waste. We are not sure where it is all going. But were ready to move on treatment facilities and hope that in 2005 the hazardous-waste treatment market will pick up. The Minosus salt mine in Cheshire should be ready to take hazardous waste by July, when the Waste Acceptance Criteria come into effect. We are also looking to treat contaminated soil, fly ash and filter cakes.

You also sit on the board of the Environmental Services Association (ESA). What are the main challenges you face there?

There are many topics we need to discuss with the Government, including hazardous waste, financial provision and the implementation of various directives. The planning system is also still causing us a lot of problems. The ESA is a very important voice for the industry. And we also need to ensure our relationship with the Environment Agency works effectively.

And what are the challenges for Onyx over the next two years?

We would like to win two major integrated waste-management contracts in the next two years. We also want to become a strong hazardous waste player. And I want to bring the UK operations to the forefront of waste-management within Veolia. At the moment the UK comes third behind France and the US. But the UK is growing more rapidly and we want to keep that momentum.

Finally what does the future hold for you? Any plans to return to France?

There are lots of parameters for the future but I do not intend to leave England in the near future. I am enjoying myself here. u

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