60 Profiles of Alsatian Entrepreneurs

The daily newspaper "Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace" has been running a series, for over a year, on the talented men and women who are making Alsace shine in France and around the world. These Alsatian entrepreneurs, and their teams, are creating wealth and employment in the area. Discover their passions for their trades, their businesses, and, of course, for Alsace...

 

Stephan Jenn

Stephan Jenn is the man goes running with Laurent Lanfranchi, and gives him good advice on how to develop his business. He is the president of NovAliX Pharma, the research company that has a legitimate contract with the chemist Alain Wagner. A young, innovative businessis a phrase often used to describe the 125-strong (soon to be 145) company, that went from a turnover of less than 80,000 euros in 2003, to 6 million euros in 2010.

 

Industry is my passion. European manufacturing is my most cherished idea, says the husband and father of three. The thirty-three year old has gained a wide variety of experience since his youth. Born in Strasbourg, and raised in Mulhouse in a bilingual Alsation/German household, Stephan Jenn is almost naturally trilingual. After his graduation from Rouen business school in 1991, he created a research company. Ten years later, he completed his studies in management of Health Economics in Pennsylvania University, Philadelphia.

 

In the intervening time, Stephan Jenn served in the French navy in Marseille, for nearly eighteen months, working as an aide-de-camp, and insuring communication with the US navy, and NATO. It was a valuable experience that allowed him to get to know Americans, and that remains in his mind. After his return to civil life, he worked for Mazars & Guérard in Paris, then in Frankfurt. During the early 2000's he worked in Philadelphia, for eTechtransfer, then in Heidelberg he worked at Graffinity Pharmaceuticals, serving two different pharmaceutical research companies. He forged strong links with Graffinity Pharmaceuticals, and eight years later, as the head of NovAliX, bought it back.

 

The fact that Stephan Jenn has remained the head of a company that Alain Wagner provides scientific fuel for since 2002 is not a sign of a lull in activity, but is proof of its development. The boss of NovAliX is now keen to serve his home territory, Alsace, and is passionate about becoming one of those building its economic future.

 

Large health businesses are increasing their research and development, without necessarily arriving at their aims. This isn't because they are incompetent, but because it is a lot harder now than it used to be. The market is a lot more demanding, all health systems are bankrupt, businesses' revenues are declining...I come from an economically analytical background, and this change doesn't surprise me: the large companies have become integrators that buy the best...to control costs. That makes room for businesses like ours.

 

Strong in the this belief, Stephan Jenn is undertaking audacious projects in Strasbourg's scientific scene. Their aim is clear: to promote, and make the area's expertise in medical chemistry durable. At the moment, there is no industrial tradition of academic excellence in the Strasbourg area. I want to change that, and put NovAliX in history books.

 

It's perhaps a little grand, but Stephan Jenn, his associates, and his teams, have fully proved that they can expand a small research company, and start up that has gone down a faultless path has every good reason for thinking that it can increase its business.

Philippe Haegelé

Neither his training, nor the first stage of his career would make you think that Philippe Haegelé could become the head of a business. Yet today the ex-manager is completely passionate, and in 2006 in Saint-Etienne he signed the takeover of CTTM in association with Régis Gebel, the son of the transferor.

 

In less than four years, this 43 year-old father of three sons, town councillor in Plaine, and active member of the Centre for Young Leaders, has managed to concentrate his time.

 

My father was a doctor, and my mother was a nurse, I'm the only one in my family that turned out badly, he says, adding if I really wanted to earn a living, I would have remained an employee in a large company. He worked for a 18 years at Socomec, then at Steelcase.

 

Philipe Haegelé got to know the owner of CTTM when he was still a manager at Steelcase. Jacques Gebel repeatedly approached him. They saw each other, and had dinner together. We used to spend a lot of time talking about one thing or another. Then, for five minutes at the end, we would talk about business. We got the measure of each other. Then I prepared the takeover file for three or four months, it went very quickly. I made my decision in June 2006, he remembers.

 

At Steelcase, there was certainly a sense of the big picture, and aspirations of growth. There was, among others, the director of Metal Forming Center, who created Rosheim.

 

This buying back is going to popularise the group HGH (Haegelé Gebel Holding) with a strengthened turnover of 10 million euros, from 3.8 million euros. Our aim is to achieve a 20 or 25 million turnover in two years. His group is based in two places in Alsace; Duttlenheim, and Rosheim.

 

But why does he want such a fast rate of growth? With CTTM, we knew we were a bit too small. We needed a strategy that would satisfy the more demanding clients. Our large clients are reducing the number of their suppliers, and we need to adapt. Our machines are costly, there are overheads.

 

Philippe Haegelé also grants time to the social side of things: You must give meaning to the employees, they need to understand what we're doing.

 

We can be competitive, profitable and create employment in France. We are trying to promote careers in industry, in order to maintain business in France.

Nicolas Lintz

Nicolas Lintz, 43, president of Sovec Entreprises board of directors in Geispolsheim, was perhaps not destined to become the head of a company of some 250 people, including its subsidiaries. This electric technician is not from a dynasty of managers, yet he certainly has substance, and proved that in earning the trust of the family that owns the business.

 

A specialist in installing electricity, strong and weak currents, automation and maintenance, Sovec is a discreet business. However, it has been gathering prestigious clients for thirty-three years all over Alsace. And all this whilst manoeuvring in a difficult economic climate. Nicolas Lintz is preparing to move Sovec Entreprises to a new site in Hindisheim, to the south of Strasbourg.

 

In Geispolsheim, where the company is currently based, once you're over the threshold, your eye is drawn to the solemn portrait in a heavy frame. It is of Roland Reeb, the creator of Sovec in 1975, and prematurely deceased in 2002 at the age of 63. Roland Reeb was self-educated, and started at the bottom of the chain. He was paternalistic, and we have kept on this frame of mind. I was lucky to gain his trust, he was a good man.

 

Nicolas Lintz joined Sovec in 1992 as a simple lecturer. Over time, Roland Reeb's business has experienced progression that has seen it take over SEA, a company that builds electric wardrobes. After Roland Reeb's death, his family have favoured continuity, and retained Gualtiero Floreani as the president of the board of directors until 2008, when he was succeeded by Nicolas Lintz. Dominique Reeb, Roland's son, has assumed the position of president of the supervisory board, although he is in fact a security co-ordinator.

 

Geographically, the group limits its business to Alsace-Lorraine, with agencies in Mulhouse and in Forbach. Within this perimeter, the group had business orders of 37 million euros in 2009, up from 2008, in spite of the crisis. Their share of revenues dropped from 45% to 20%. If the economic crisis has slowed down the company's development plan; the young manager is activating diversification in weak-current networks, security and home automation, and energy efficiency. These are areas where demand is strongest, and where Sovec has a good track record, for example it was responsible for security in the new civil hospital in Strasbourg. He doesn't believe the small size of the company is a handicap: on a local level, we have the same averages as a national business.

 

The boss of Sovec is making his own way, away from the social circles of other leaders: I don't know if associating with these circles is of any major importance. My first concern is managerial and organisational. I want people to feel good in business, because it's on them that everything depends.

Christian Brevard: The Straight-Talker

With his wide smile, a look like he is contemplating a joke, and a twinkle in his eye, Christian Brevard is a Southerner who has had great success in the north. Better still, he has had success in the north of Alsace, in Wissembourg, the area of Alsace that he came to love, and will leave in 2011 having accomplished what he set out to achieve. He is also the president of the Bruker executive board, and has never missed a single meeting of this business committee that consists of 380 people. He believes that innovation in business should never be limited to technology.

 

Born in the west of Algeria in 1944, Christian Brevard received his engineer's qualification at the National Superior School of Chemistry of Strasbourg in 1966. He prepared for his doctorate, that he received in 1971, under the supervision of Jean-Marie Lehn, the future Nobel Prize winner. His career at CNRS was short-lived, and in 1975 he joined Bruker, where he very quickly reached a high level of responsibility.

 

In Wissembourg, Brunker has obviously built an icon of economic development. Its leaders protested about the weak and hazardous winter roads; its remoteness from higher education; and the weakening practice of German. The business is now solidly established in the area: it's a venture that has succeeded well. Founded in 1960 by a physicist, the group has seen much growth in its half a century of existence, and now consists of 4000 people.

 

Bruker's French manager believes that it is more difficult nowadays to establish a high profile than previously. The head of the Association of the heads of businesses in Wissembourg, Bervard has fought determinedly against centralisation in Strasbourg, and has promoted the creation of a Franco-German engineering school in this border area.

 

The researcher come businessman is leading several lives, having assumed the presidency of the Popular Bank of Strasbourg, and several other official positions. The academic side of things is not outdone, and Christian Brevard is looking after the line of business at CNRS and rejoined the Academy of Technologies in 2004.

 

Used to travelling all over the world, to Asia and the United States of America, Christian Brevard doesn't hide his admiration for the American entrepreneurial model. But most of all, he is inviting his contemporaries, the company's employees, politicians, or journalists who he's meeting to open up to the world. And this concerns everyone: Innovation is everywhere...We must favour innovation to get Alsace out of a rut, he said five years ago. Christian Brevard forgot how to hold his tongue a long time ago. It doesn't win him any fans, but his intellectual honesty, and rejection of conservatism command respect.

Astrid Boos: Solar and Solidarity

The founder and main associate of an accountancy office with 250 clients; chairwoman of the steering and motoring fund in Caisse d'Epargne, Alsace; chairwoman of the Berthel : Oberhausbergen nursing and retirement home; and most recently chairwoman of Caisse d'Epargne foundation for solidarity on a national level, after having created a similar institution in Alsace – the Rhineland Foundation. Which leads us to the question: how on earth does she do it?

 

I'm very well organised in all areas, at home as well, Astrid Boos admits with a half-smile. Very quickly she explains her economic surroundings, and the striking number of responsibilities she bears: I live for my business. I cannot do otherwise economically. And it's also my responsibility to loyal clients and my true passions. It's my second family... She is proud of her daughter, Sophie, who has joined her as an associate. She's as mad about it as I am!

 

Astrid Boos gives off an energy, takes her share of the burden, and helps people through things, something which is rare in the predatory world that surrounds us. At 57, from a modest farming background, and one of the first women in a rather masculine career (something which is now changing), she is the head of a well-known business. I've always had a lot of luck, as all my clients have succeeded and grown. I'm very demanding about the quality of work we do, while at the same time, I forgive mistakes.

 

For us, it was essential to be economically independent. I fought to be an accountant...And then I wanted to set up my business with a small clientele. At the time, everyone advised me not to do it. Astrid Boos is not a woman who lets herself be told what to do. However she listens attentively to everyone, particularly her husband, Robert Adjedj, the former head of the SERS who she married in 2000.

 

The president of the Caisse d'Epargne d'Alsace since 2005, Astrid Boos does not live like a celebrity: she does not fear the limelight, nor does she search for it.

 

Her appointment to the nursing and retirement home in Berthel, which has 243 beds and over 200 employees, is more recent. Encouraged by the director of the regional agency of hospitalisation, Astrid Boos threw herself into the project, that will see the number of beds increased to 333, and the addition of an oncology care unit, by January 2012. The 200 employees are happy about the project because it is their own. It was also my weekend work for two years...

 

Beyond the projects and initiatives that shape her life, Astrid Boos is relentlessly questioning her own society, and the collective choices she participates in. Her brief immersion in local politics, over twenty years ago, was not for nothing in her search for meaning:

 

The major crisis that we are experiencing is not over. We have not found full-employment...Globalisation went through it, but I believe that people are returning to proximity, and the quality of social contact. The moment has come for a real challenge. Other values are going to respond to it, most notably work values.

 

She also judges that a country like France must make use of its natural resources including agriculture, something she knows a lot about. She anxiously comes up with a rather surprising expression for a woman of her kind: We must now start disturbing people.

Ivan Steyert: Continuous Re-inventing

Ivan Stevert has just succeeded his father, Bernard, as the board chairman of Socomec in Benfeld. The grandson of the company's founder, 44, intends to make himself more than just a name in the family business. His favourite expression is business is continuously reinventing itself. It's certainly true, even in a business of 2500 people, that seem inseparable from the Alsation landscape.

 

Invan Stevert joined Socomec in 1995, and has been an administrator since 2005. He is known for his prudent neutrality. In addition the personnel retain 12% of the capital, and the board consists of no less than three administrators that are not family, but from the school of businesses in Alsace.

 

A group like Socomec cannot be entrusted to a person whose only stipulation is affiliation with the family. I have been lucky to be an associate for fifteen years...We have had the good fortune of having an efficient and competent general management, with excellent results, affirms Ivan Steyert.

 

Socomec, that is close to having a debt of zero, dedicates 8% of its turnover to research and development, and re-invests 80% of its profits. We have a policy of distributing dividends very reasonably. We plan for the medium and long term, thanks to our family structure. The crisis was obviously very worrying for a company that was used to growth in double-figures, and it caused sales to drop by 5.6% in 2009. Even though it was a lot better than the average trend, the management adapted their products and promoted the maintaining of employment.

 

Intelligent networks, solar equipment, and wind farms need managing, regulating and cutting: Sococet knows how to respond to this, and will soon be the third industrial pillar in the group. We haven't waited for it to be all the rage to invest in sustainable development. We are at the heart of energy. It's a buoyant market: 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity in the world, explains Ivan Steyert. I have big ambitions that we'll do even better...

 

In his eyes, human skills are strategic: despite the crisis, the company recruited 160 people in 2009, and it has strong opinions about what is needed in business today. It believes that France does not make enough engineers, and even envisages creating a training institute within the company itself. We recommend a logic tutorial in order to promote the transmission of knowledge. We are going to activate a strategy with the polytechnics. We must have an organised strategy, says Ivan Steyert, who has used his influence to create the post of director of human resources, currently occupied by a woman.

 

We are highlighting equal opportunities, and the opening of atypical profiles. It's diversity that enriches a business. In the same way, we are integrating with local culture wherever we are, for example Tunisia, India, and China.

 

Of his father, Ivan writes that he made Socomec an innovative and human international company. His son is re-inventing this project, wanting it to be just as responsible, open and committed.

The Schmitter Crew

      Christian Schmitter, 45, is the PDG of Croiseurope. But he introduces himself as a simple spokesman for his three brothers and sister, and refuses to pose for a photograph without them. Eventually; he poses for a photograph with Anne-Marie, 43, Phillipe, 53, Patrick, 55, and naturally the pater familias, and founder of Alsace Croisières, Gerard Schmitter, 75, who, in 1999, passed on his business not to one of his children, but to all of them.

 

     I have no more merit than my brothers and sister. All four of us take the important decisions unanimously. On the other hand, spouses don’t get a say in the matter. Each of us has a precise area of responsibilities and does not encroach on the others. That’s what allows us to function equally and without conflict. We share the advantages and disadvantages, Christian explains smiling.

 

     The adventure began in 1976, when Gérard Schmitter was a restaurant owner in Plobsheim. Never without an idea, he had already invested in several projects, including the first amusement park in Lorraine. The first boat was sold in 1982. A generation later, the shipowner controles a fleet of 26 ships including the boat that crosses the Adriatic and the Red Sea.

 

     A new boat is being built that will be launched in 2012, and another in 2013. There is also a project to build a premium hotel complex with 120-150 bedrooms at the company’s river station. They will be able to welcome tourists sailing the Rhine. The total of this program accounts for 50 million euros of investments over 3 years, and will create 150 jobs.

 

     Few people realise that Croiseurope has become an important employer with 900 permanent posts, and up to 1000 in high season, of which 150 are based in Strasbourg.

 

     In 2010 we transported almost 200,000 passengers, 70%of whom were francophones…

 

     We are behind other European markets. There is still an enormous amount to do in France in other destinations in Europe, and in the rest of the world, indicates the group’s spokesperson.

 

     Our concept is a restaurant-hotel, perfectly conceived, with francophone staff, with a price that is 30% below our competition. How is this possible? We are an integrated group, we design our own products, we have our boats built in Belgium by craftsmen from Alsace…We control everything.

 

     And what about expanding the adventure out to sea? We want to keep our core business strong: the river. A sea-ship costs 3.5 times the price of a riverboat. We are prudent.

Laurent Lanfranchi : Historian, Traveller, Boss

Laurent Lanfranchi is the creator of a tour operator that specialises in cultural tours of Europe’s historic cities, a young company, with a young manager. He is 37, and the creator, and main associate of Terra Nobilis in Strasbourg, a four year old company. The company’s turnover has already surpassed a million euros, 20% up on last year. With 25 destinations, and between 800 and 1000 tours each year, Terra Nobilis employs just seven peopl

 

     Not a typical entrepreneur, Laurent Lanfranchi is a specialist in ancient history, Roman civilisation, and the Slavonic world. He studied at Jean-Moulin university in Lyon and at the Sorbonne. His philosophy can be summed up in the phrase somebody who travels without meeting people does not travel. They move around.

 

     The company was launched in 2006. We had a gentle beginning for eighteen months. Activity tripled in 2008. Then we went through a bad patch between November 2008 and March 2009. People were petrified. It’s interesting to watch fear at work. Terra Nobilis ended up finishing 2009 with a 20% growth, a pattern that was similar last year after certain events such as the Greek crisis.

 

     Terra Nobilis was created in Strasbourg because its owner, after two years working for the French leader in this field, recognised an increased demand in the east of France. He was new to all the competition, and in a specific niche different to Lyon, Toulouse or Nantes. Moreover his wife, a conservative, was posted in Alsace.

 

     I believe deeply in technology, not at all in those who travel on the cheap, to a chalet without heating for example, he laughs. His tours are not Spartan, and he distrusts a market that is depraved or naïve. Regulations work by moving performance far away from sustainable development.

 

     Lanfranchi is extending his tours to the Slavonic world, which is close to his heart. In particular, he is branching out to Russia and Saint Petersburg. It’s not always easy to say you’re from Alsace…Russians have not forgotten that it was a native of Soultz, d’Anthès, who killed Pushkin in a duel, murmurs the head of Terra Nobilis. However, this will not dampen his plans: I have a tendency to follow through my intentions. We are so small, our destiny is in our own hands.

 

Quentin, Mathias, and Grégory: Students and Creators

 

     Quentin Courrier, 22, Grégory Hérin, 24, and Mathias Montvernay, 22 , are friends and associates. The first is from Savoy, the second is from Provençe, and the third is from Reunion Island. They all study engineering at the European school of chemistry, polymers, and materials (ECPM) in Strasbourg.

 

     They have invented a product that purifies water in small, and less fresh, quantities. The name of the business they will create; at an estimated cost of 100,000 euros, is Biodesiv.

 

     They thought of the idea after the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in Haiti in January 2010. We wondered, seeing these images, how crazy it was to not be able to treat water in a simple way. It made us think of a simple and easy-to-use product, explains Grégory Hérin. Our market includes trekkers, travellers, non-governmental humanitarian organisations, and civil security, Mathias Montvernay adds.

 

   Practically, the trio’s product is a black powder. Mixed with water, is able to trap parasites, viruses and bacteria by absorption. The water is decontaminated in a few seconds, and it does not leave traces, a taste or odours.

 

     According to their calculations, the product will cost twenty cents per litre of treated water. It’s not a simple product, states Quentin Courrier it’s advanced technology. Mathias Montvernay adds and it’s also eco-friendly.

 

     Certainly, humanity does not expect them to solve the world’s problems regarding water purification. The use of all kinds of filters is already widespread, and if there is a new product on the market one must explain how it works, and convince people to buy it. In light of this, the three chemists have joined forces with two students at the management school, Christopher Ball and Eilidh Dillon, in order to improve their marketing strategy.

 

     The three young entrepreneurs are all set to go. "We begin production in September. The product will be launched in 2012 and I think that our turnover will be above a million euros in two or three years", states Quentin Courrier optimistically.

Franck Ohrel : The Digital Midas Touch

     Creator and President of Actweb in Strasbourg, Franck Ohrel has constructed a very personal approach to numerical creativity. His company survived the digital burst, and developed because of its originality.

 

     What company in Alsace with less than forty employees could claim among its clients Orange, Bouygues, Kronenbourg, and the Council of Europe?

 

      Actweb, created in 1999 by Franck Ohrel, defines itself as an independent digital agency. Its founder remembers one hot day in July, with five employees as mad as me. We drank champagne in Bermuda shorts in the tiny flat that was our office.

 

     Today; Actweb has 35 members of staff, in three establishments in Strasbourg, Paris and La Baule. It has just brought in a capital of 300,000 euros and funds of 1.7 million euros. However, do not count on Franck Ohrel divulging much financial information, although he admits a growth, both organic and through acquisition.

 

     I am very, very careful. I want to bring people in long term. I could pay myself a fortune…but I don’t, he murmurs. The success of Actweb is down to people, nothing more.

 

     We are a brand of digitizers. On one hand, we act as consultants and experts. We help our clients to make their strategies. On the other hand, we fulfil all the technical and graphic developments and put them online. Our aim is to achieve the best possible ROI (return on investment) for our clients.

 

     Franck Ohrel began his career in a Japanese group, an experience that he valued. He admits having the following Japanese proverb as his catchphrase: dust that gathers forms a mountain.

 

     According to Franck Ohrel, the secrets of having a good website are as follows: Intelligent and fluid ergonomics and navigation. This requires aesthetic success, as only high-end graphics can create desire and commitment. Finally textual content is fundamentally important as ‘content is king’.

Alain Letzelter : A Sense of Place

The engineer Alain Letzelter, 52, kicked off his career in the research department of De Dietrich in 1981, before quickly taking on the responsibility of IT development. With Peugeot, Die Dietrich was, at the time, the only Alsation business to have invested not only in design, but computer-aided design, he observes.

 

Long before the business announced the transfer of its premises to GEC-Alsthom in 1988, Alain Letzelter had the intuition to add a licence in economic sciences to his qualification from the National School of Arts and Professions, 1980. I really needed to gain a more global vision that what was then offered to trainee engineers. At the time, those types of schools weren't really bothered by management. Today they are closer to real life, he says.

 

During the eighties and nineties, his career progressed normally in industrial research, and he was always at the core of big projects, including the development of the TGV. Reichshoffen has always been present in innovation. The quality of innovation characterises the people who make up this business.

 

The business' premises are vast, with long assembly halls, sandstone architecture, and the clock on the management building. Yet workers, technicians, and engineers all work side by side. Here, Reichshoffen has developed a world renowned crash test, and a testing system for passive safety that is unique in Europe.

 

The locomotive, carriage, and rail car builders must face sudden blows in order flow. Between two big orders, we must demonstrate flexibility towards different types of products, and different markets in the world. In 2009, Reichstoffen had good commercial takings, with the order of a series of 142 trains called versatile holders, that would form a series of 1000 trains going to French destinations.

 

In Alain Letzelter's eyes, being on time and maintaining a high level of quality, requires quality team work...it really is true. I compare it to team sports. You can have the best experts in the world, but if people don't work together...

 

Team sport is an excellent school for life. We want young people to benefit, and for everyone to benefit, including academically. Young people need to be guided a little...and any sport can contribute to that.

 

His current leader considers that the integration of Reichstoffen into Alstom twelve years ago was an opportunity. At the time, the transfer had been preceded by a social plan of 190 losses...The group left all its chances at Reichshoffen and the site demonstrated that it was capable of the challenge. Everyone was aware that we didn't have the critical size.

 

A worldwide group, Alstolm Transports requires a lot of mobility of its leading managers, and those at Reichshoffen are not exempt from the rule. He has had to go to Barcelona, Birmingham,, Salzgitter, Belfort, and even to the US where he participated in the reorganisation of a subsidiary. Yet he never abandons his seat at Reichshoffen, which forces him to travel more. He acknowledges that it isn't something that is common in this environment. But for him, stability is more than just a priority, it's essential.

 

Christian Ruppert

     On the 4th of April, Christian Ruppert’s company celebrated 60 years of existence, 40 years of which have been dedicated to exploring the world of advertising., since his entrance into the IUT. The creator and boss of Grafiti Prospective has created around 100 direct jobs in the businesses that he has founded and managed, in domains as eclectic as advertising, IT services, and producing shows.

 

     Christian Ruppert is a real native of Strasbourg, a Steckelburjer . His grandfather came from Kassel, and crossed the Rhine with the Prussian army, where he found himself, as others did, caught in the net of an Alsation. This double German/French ancestry has influenced Christian Ruppert.

 

     I don’t know if they’re good genes but you mustn’t deny them, in any case, being a place of passage is great for Alsace. I always campaign for the promotion of German and Alsatian. German is also an access to employment, and it’s the most spoken language in Europe. It’s a culture, and a significant part of our heritage.

 

     In the Alsatian world of communications, Christian Ruppert has become an almost notorious figure, for founding, along with his peers, The Union of Communications Advice in Alsace. In addition to this, he is a husband, a father of two, and a grandfather of three.

 

     At age 22, I created my business with all the enthusiasm of youth! Nevertheless, I was a child of May ’68…For 6 months we only touched a quarter of our salary, we needed 2 years to earn a proper salary.

 

     Christian Ruppert has had his feet on the ground for a long time. He created Grafiti, in association with Louis Bolufer, without money ,without  inheritance, without a network, without anything.

 

     To manage people and business well is the key to success. There, sometimes, I would like to stop…I am certainly less efficient in this area than I was a few years ago. But creation is a passion, you don’t stop. I always participate in this work and for now, I still feel very useful. My clients will tell me when I am less efficient. Of Grafiti Prospective’s clients, 35% are in the public sector, and 65% are in the private sector.

 

     Christian Ruppert willingly admits that advertising is not, and has never been, an exact science. The boss of Grafiti has made his own signature: ‘pertinence and impertinence’. First of all, we have to understand the market, and make a big effort to listen. And then we have to be creative, whilst paying attention to detail, explains Ruppert. My work is my passion…I don’t do it to become rich.

 

     The Grafiti group has grown. Since 1974, there have only been four instances when we have made a loss, the crisis of 2000, 2003, 1993, and 2009. We have 400,000 euros of capital stock, it’s essential for our business.

Isabelle Heumann

 Isabelle Heumann blends the innovation of unleavened bread with the family business in Soultz-sous-Fôrets. The young woman draws all her energy and values from a turbulent past.

                

     The bakery in Soultz-sous-Fôrets in the 1960’s and 70’s was aware that large-scale distribution in its early stages carried the risk of heavy expense. It was then that the production of unleavened bread en mass began, and it was soon to become the company’s speciality. Although it remained a modest company, with only 25 employees, Paul Heumann was one of only four producers in a niche market.

 

     Tucked away in Clermont-Ferrand, Berthe and Paul Heumann, Isabelle’s grandparents, survived the war, rebuilding everything afterwards, and went into unleavened bread in 1950. Whenever I’m having any difficulties, I come up here and look at this picture of my grandfather. It gives me strength. Isabelle Heumann explains.

 

     Born in 1973, Isabelle is the first in her family not to be a qualified butcher, instead she studied applied foreign languages. He linguistic expertise finally became useful, when, after being told how much the Italians appreciate being spoken to in their native language, she had great success in Italy.

 

     The Soultz company send their products to twenty five different countries, across five continents, but Italy and Germany are the two biggest importers.

 

     The varied skill-set of its members has breathed new life into the company’s SME. Isabelle; who personally insures the presence of the brand in innumerable fairs and festivals of organic produce, is a real bright spark. She has bravely begun mixing the traditional recipe (wheat and water), with apple and beetroot (100% organic, naturally).

 

     However, the family continues to respect its roots and make part of their products according to strict kosher rules, which acts as a certificate of quality, and is appreciated by many of their clients.

 

     What are values consist of is sharing. We put a lot of energy into it. Our company is small, but is managed like a large one. There is no hierarchy, we succeed by being multi-skilled, Isabelle states, who gives English and Italian classes to her employees, and makes sure the administrative team is trilingual.

 

     A strong believer in natural products and in respecting the planet, Isabelle dedicates her time to teaching young people about business. They’re our future colleagues she states, adding innovation is inevitable. We will be making one of man’s most ancient breads tomorrow.

 


Erwan Hildenbrand

     The chief of HIG HES (Hildenbrand investment group, Hildenbrand Électricité Services) that notably operates under the commercial brand NaturWatt that has installed its headquarters in one of the small available European spaces, the tertiary zone of activity that has rapidly grown north of Strasbourg.

 

     Erwan Hildenbrand casts his eye half-overwhelmed, half-mocking over the falsely-built countryside that surrounds him. All these buildings stick out as far as energy is concerned. We cannot continue to build like this…

 

     The chief of HIG is positive. He has recognised the enormous potential of photovoltaic equipment on all kinds of buildings, whether they are office buildings, agricultural buildings, or homes.

 

     Erwan Hildenbrand does not come from an entrepreneurial background, but he acknowledges the influence of his godfather, the industrialist Jean-Jacques Strub. It was Strub who gave him employment in 2000 when he wanted to return to Alsace. Hildenbrand, who did not throw himself quickly into photovoltaic energy, modestly presents how he arrived at it as a series of opportunities.

 

     In 2004, he became an electricity installer for industrial and domestic buildings in a small business that equipped around 80 houses a year. One day…somebody asked me if I knew how to do photovoltaic energy. I responded quickly with the help of a German partner. After that, more contracts and growth followed quickly. Today the group boasts 100,000m2 of installed solar-panels, and is among the top ten players in France.

 

     Erwan Hildenbrand now has plans to extend his business on a national scale, with the opening of secondary establishments in France. Our brand NaturWatt is going to become important in the north of France, he predicts.

 

     It’s a rapid growth but without losing profitability. Erwan is capable of having a medium and long-term vision; and of doing what is necessary to achieve his aim, notes Bernard Claude.

 

     The Alsation business is now ready to boost its growth by buying back.

 

     On the horizon of 2025-2030, with the evolution of climactic rules, we are going to pass from a financial market into a real economic energy market It’s an evolution that is touching all countries, Germany is a step ahead. For me, photovoltaic energy represents the future but there will be fewer players in 2020…Those who succeed will be those that will have remained reactive.

 


Pierre Schmidt : the Brand and the Man

Pierre Schmidt knew how to turn the family delicatessen into a business employing 700 people. He grew up in Strasbourg, where he attended Saint-Etienne college, and sat a scientific baccalauréat at school. He received his butcher’s/delicatessen CAP in Rouen.

 

     Pierre Schmidt went into the family business, where he moved away from the centre of town, creating a modern factory in Weyersheim to the north of Strasbourg. At the time the Pierre Schmidt delicatessen remained a relatively modest business, but its head decided not to stop there. In 1996 he took over Charcutiers d’Alsace, in 1999 he bought Roger Roposte and finally in 2008 took over Stoeffler, and its factory in Obernai.

 

     Now the group has announced a 150 million euro turnover for 30;000 tonnes of processed meat every year. It has 700 employees on a permanent salary, and 800 in high season. The brand Pierre Schmidt represents 47% of sales, 50% for Stoeffler, and 3% for Maison Adam.

Stoeffler belonged to a financial group, it was not the same kind of business at all. We made this rapprochement out of respect for people. All the jobs were kept on. Elsewhere, from the start of our development, I have never let anyone go, he emphasizes.

 

     As for the general management of the company, he has assigned a woman, Laurence Cahen, to look after marketing development. The executive committee is mixed; four men, four women. Quotas exasperate me. I find that it’s even a little vexing for women.

 

     Pierre Schmidt is satisfied with the route he has taken, believing he has achieved all the goals he set himself as a young man. He hopes that his son and daughter will take over, but says that it is not a good thing to force your children into something.

 

     How can one characterise a strategy of thirty years of accelerated growth? I have always been careful; I have always ran operations with a lot of deliberation…dynamic but prudent. When it costs more than it brings in, we don’t do it, that’s all, he explains.

 

     The manager has possessed an intuition rather rare in the SME since 1985. He relies on a small group of managers that he has instilled a team spirit in, and in whom he has complete trust. I knew how to delegate well, it’s true that it’s an advantage. I know how important hindsight is, and it’s good for the group. I take Mittelstand as an example who is the strength of Germany, he describes.

 

     Today the group Pierre Schmidt appears to be well-armed. We are number one for sauerkraut, for tartes flambées, in self-service delicatessens, and for traditional sausages: bringing Schmidt and Stoeffler together made a lot of sense. One must innovate, always be on top. We have another model for these groups, we have the advantage of reactivity, with a family spirit. We are always completely ready to compete.

 

Pierre Schmidt sums up his frame of mind in one phrase: we are the smallest of the big, and the biggest of the small.



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