"We believe in the industry," an interview with Cyrille Chevrillon
"Cyrille Chevrillon, how do you define your role as an investor?
Cyrille Chevrillon: The point that I think is essential in the culture of our group is its origin and familial character. This gives us roots and culture, not only ours but also that of the companies in which we invest. We thus develop a vision quite different from that of other private equity firms, which are focusing more on dividends than on building a medium- to long-term project. We already benefit from a certain seniority in this business; we know that business cycles exist, that the companies are likely to go through periods of crisis and that we need to enable them to go through such cycles by strengthening them and equipping them with durable and solid projects. We are not focusing on the short term. We have seen too many companies change shareholders several times without gaining any real benefits.
How do you choose the companies in which you want to invest?
CC: We have adopted an approach that I think is quite innovative and which consists first in identifying the underlying trends in the economy, in the technologies and the in society. We then observe which are the companies and management teams that seem to have anticipated these trends and with whom we want to play a leading role.
CC: In printing, for example, we did not follow the advice of those who had anticipated the death of the book in favor of tablets. Consequently, we built the world's leading book printing company. We have learned the consequences of the rise of the number of women in the workplace by investing in Picard Surgelés, which we believe provides a response to consumers who increasingly have less time to prepare meals at home. Regarding the rum industry, we noticed that this market was growing around the world and we identified a strong growth potential in France. Finally, in one of our recent investments – Interflora – we take advantage not only of the boom in e-commerce, but also of the spirit of resilience in times of crisis, which continues to spur us to offer a bouquet of flowers to people who are dear to us in spite of financial hardships. I would add that my mindset is that of often going against the dominant ideas... Our motto could well be "we believe in the industry," despite it being fashionable to consider that it is in great danger. The noise of the machinery, the technical challenges as well as the logistics fascinate us.
Relations between investors and management teams are not always simple. How do you approach your work with the management of the companies in which you invest?
CC: We never adopt a hostile attitude toward management. As we are most of the time in the position of majority shareholder, we oversee the supervisory board or the board of directors of companies in which we have a majority stake. Nonetheless, we always build the project development with the management, to whom we often give the opportunity to become shareholders of their business. We believe in the virtues of empowering leadership teams, as it usually gives remarkable results.
What triggers the decision to separate yourself from a company in which you are a shareholder?
CC: When we feel that the company has reached maturity, that it needs managers rather than developers. We are developers, and we want to stay in this logic."