One – on – One…with Rainer Blair
January 2nd, 2008

“Environmental responsibility is the right thing to do.”

By Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2008

After serving for 16 years in increasingly senior positions with BASF operations from New Jersey and Michigan to Germany and Argentina, Rainer Blair joined Deerfield Beach, Florida-based MAPEI Americas 18 months ago. As president and CEO of the global manufacturer’s operations in the Western Hemisphere, Blair is striving to further strengthen customer relationships, provide the most innovative products in the industry, and help increase the profitability of the company’s valued tile distribution customers.

The trilingual leader—he speaks German and Spanish as well as English—recently gave TileDealer an exclusive interview. In the following One-on-One, Blair addresses topics extending from his own background to MAPEI Americas’ mission, its products and the company’s passionate commitment to green building.

TileDealer: Tell us a little bit about your background in the tile industry, and how you reached the CEO position at MAPEI Americas.

Blair: I have responsibility for the North American, South American and Caribbean subsidiaries of the MAPEI Group. I joined MAPEI in 2006 and have been working with an incredible team of dedicated people to lead our industry in customer service and innovation. At MAPEI our focus is on four basic offerings that only we can bring to our industry:

The first is global expertise. We can draw from research and development taking place around the world to bring our customers the best solutions to meet their needs locally.

The second is innovation. We devote five percent of our annual revenues to technological development so we can bring our customers continuously improved products.

The third is green commitment. We are committed individually, and as a group, to making sure our products and our facilities exceed expectations so our customers can meet current and future greenbuilding requirements.

The fourth is total solutions. We offer our customers increased business opportunities by providing complete warranted systems from surface preparation to finished floors.

TileDealer: Please talk about MAPEI Americas’ products. What are the best selling products and why?

Blair: MAPEI is a global player working to provide the best global solutions for our customers locally. We have extraordinary local resources and access to a worldwide network that help us define the leading edge of innovation.

Contractors can increase their business opportunities by using our complete systems, starting with surface preparation, where our innovative technology leads the way. As the easiest-to-use underlayment on the market, self-leveling Ultraplan Easy offers quick-turnaround leveling without the need for mechanical surface profiling. Now contractors can make their prep work easier, shorten turnaround times and lower construction costs on the job site. This highly durable underlayment allows light foot traffic after only two to three hours, so tile installers can get on the job without delay.

Crack isolation and sound reduction play increasingly important roles in tile and stone installations, so this year MAPEI has introduced two peel-and-stick membranes to address those issues. Mapeguard™ SM is a 40-mil thick crack isolation membrane with sound-reduction properties that truly delivers 3/8-inch crack isolation between the substrate and the tile. It is an excellent product for both commercial and residential applications, and it complements all of MAPEI’s setting and grouting products. We also added Mapesonic™ SM, a 90-mil thick crack-isolation membrane designed especially for sound reduction, to our product offerings to meet contractors’ needs in the high-rise building construction segment, where there is an expanding need for sound control. Mapesonic dramatically reduces airborne and impact sounds transmitted through floor/ceiling assemblies.

When it comes to waterproofing, contractors are increasingly depending on Mapelastic HPG, MAPEI’s ready-to-use, roller-applied liquid membrane for bathroom showers. Its ability to elongate over 150 percent makes it an excellent protection against movement in the substrate. Mapelastic HPG also contains BioBlock technology to inhibit the growth of odor- and stain-causing mold, mildew and bacteria.

You probably know that we make flexible one-component mortars with spray-dried polymers and superior two-component mortars with liquid polymer additives, but you may not be aware that we actually make our own polymers at our West Chicago plant so that we can tailor our mortars to precisely fit installers’ requirements. This proprietary technology results in best-in-class mortars such as our Kerabond/Keralastic™ System, which guarantees a successful job because of its enhanced bonding characteristics and flexibility over substrates that expand and contract, as well as its ability to be used indoors, outdoors and in submerged locations.

The residential flooring market, like the rest of the residential construction industry right now, needs a boost to get people thinking about remodeling with tile and stone. In 2007 MAPEI expanded its grout color palette to 36 exciting shades, including 14 new designer colors recommended by the Pantone Institute. Dealers and distributors with show rooms will find it easier to assist customers in selecting their grout colors with the MAPEI Grout Color Helper, a hand-held device that automatically selects two contrasting and two complementary grout colors to go with each tile choice.

To respond to diverse customer needs, MAPEI has expanded its resin-based grout offerings this year in two different directions.

We have added Kerapoxy® IEG, an industrial-strength grout to meet the installation requirements of projects such as commercial kitchens, meat processing plants and dairies for powerful, stain-free acid resistance. Kerapoxy IEG develops benchmark commercial chemical resistance in, while providing high-strength mold and mildew resistance.

On the opposite end of the scale, we have introduced Opticolor™ stain-free grout for the residential and light commercial market. Opticolor is the first resin-based grout that is truly easy for contractors to install and clean up. It also offers a big step forward for the homeowner or building operations manager in terms of non-sag vertical application.

Flush horizontal grout joints reduce trip hazards and promote easy cleaning and maintenance. In addition, stain-free Opticolor is formulated with optimum color to keep grout vibrant for the long term; and it comes in all 36 MAPEI colors.

TileDealer: MAPEI Americas has a huge commitment to green building. Tell us why you are one of the driving forces behind the company’s commitment.­

Blair: Environmental responsibility is the right thing to do for the future of our planet and our children. I have a strong personal commitment to the protection of our environment, and I bring that focus to all aspects of our business—from the products we manufacture, to the plants we build and the processes we use in those plants.

TileDealer: Why did you purposely make all your products LEED compliant, when few others in the industry have been as aggressive about this?

Blair: One of MAPEI’s 7 Pillars, upon which we base our strength and our continued growth in the industry, is the commitment to lead in environmental health and safety issues. The widest possible definition of greenbuilding promotes a “less in-less out” philosophy. We work continuously to use less energy in the production of our products and to produce products with less waste and less wastewater.

Our development strategy ensures that we make only VOC*—and HAPS*—compliant products that have a very long life cycle, leading to a greener environment. (* VOC—Volatile Organic Compounds; HAPS—Hazardous Air Polluting Substances)

TileDealer: How hard was this to accomplish?

Blair: We spare no effort or expense to develop environmentally sustainable products which are LEED-compliant. MAPEI has also taken steps to help improve indoor air quality through the introduction of BioBlock™, a technology that helps inhibit the growth of odor- and stain-causing mold, mildew and bacteria in select MAPEI products. Ultralite Mortar™ is a technological innovation from MAPEI that was developed with lightweight technology and uses recycled materials that make it contractor-friendly and easy to use. These developments and innovations are part of MAPEI’s core competencies.

The recent introduction of Dust-Free Technology in Ultraflex 2 mortar has required a considerable investment in equipment, testing and research and development, but we feel that Dust-Free Technology is a significant contribution to a cleaner environment and a cleaner jobsite, offering benefits to installers and to project owners.

We made this investment to insure a rapid penetration of this technology into the market, but we have not passed this cost along to our customers because we feel strongly about the environmental benefits of Dust-Free Technology.

TileDealer: How important is this LEED compliance in other parts of the world that have come earlier to the green building movement?

Blair: LEED compliance is most closely associated with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and has been modified for use by the Canadian Green Building Council (CGBC). Globally, particularly in Europe, and now slowly also in Asia, national regulatory agencies are implementing environmentally oriented building codes. Being a global player, we are leveraging our strengths here in the Americas to provide exceptional environmental products to our customers.

On a global basis the importance of environmental commitment and green building is reflected in the ISO 14001 certification for environmental management of production processes, by which organizations work to minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment. It is the philosophy of the MAPEI Group worldwide to achieve the various national certifications that will ensure environmental health and safety.

TileDealer: How has your leadership in this area impacted competition?

Blair: It is not our intention to create competition in the arena of environmental commitment, but we have raised the bar for all members of our industry.

We hope to share best practices with all segments of our market in order to improve the world we live in today, and the one we will leave to our children tomorrow.

From an architectural specifications point of view and from the point of view of government and civic construction, we see the benefits of providing a full portfolio of LEED-compliant products and systems to meet our customers’ and society’s needs.

And we anticipate continued growth from increasing acceptance of greenbuilding principles in this market segment.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for MAPEI Americas?

Blair: MAPEI is continually leading the technological charge to address changes in the tile and stone marketplace. On an annual basis, MAPEI reinvests five percent of its revenues in Research and Development, and 12 percent of its employees work in R&D.

We continue expanding our manufacturing facilities—from 14 today to several more in the next months—to ensure that we serve our customers most efficiently while minimizing the energy costs of transporting our products. We are addressing the current and future needs of our residential and commercial customers to ensure that we define the technological leadership in our industry. Our extraordinary investments in new plants and training facilities around the Americas will benefit our customers and help increase their business.

The largest investment initiative in MAPEI Americas’ history is underway. MAPEI is on the move, because MAPEI is “Technology You Can Build On.”


Rainer Blair

President and CEO

MAPEI Americas

Reach through Diane Choate: 954-246-8799

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