After several years of Argos ownership, Davey Bickford became one of the fastest growing industrial companies in France, focussed on its historical pyrotechnics specialty, with yearly growth rates between 20 and 30%.
Our headache was to ensure we had globally enough highly skilled, technical people, factory space and machinery to meet the demand. Actually, to serve the market shares that we were continuously winning worldwide from the giants in this industry.
Frankly, this was not given from the start.
Before Argos came on board in 2007, Harlé Bickford was a 150 years old family conglomerate. 80 million euros in sales, many businesses, many companies, many issues. Most of the resources had been invested in an unfortunate automotive subcontracting diversification. I really don’t know what the business would have become without Argos.
With Argos on board, a first phase, the group has been simplified, non-core businesses divested, many issues solved, such as totally cleaning the deep ground pollution on the industrial site.
At the same time the company invested yearly massively (more than its cash flows ! – it was not at all a typical Leveraged Buy Out model) in a new technology of electronic detonators, which are much safer and accurate that traditional ones. We pushed high technology with growing success.
You really had to believe in the ability of this very old business to mutate into a tech-driven company. When after four years the technology matured, fast growth materialised, and did not stop since; after eight years Argos has been replaced by a dynamic challenger in the explosive industry as main shareholder, and the growth continues.
Throughout my career, I’ve always been really interested in technology and teams’ dynamics. What drives me is the enthusiasm I can feel around me, and what I can do to nurture that enthusiasm. My personal aim is to build on these team dynamics to grow and develop the businesses, as much through business development thanks to the right marketing and product and as through efficiency.
I joined the team end of 2010 because of my managerial and industry experiences, I had the required perspective and expertise. My first goal was to coordinate the team worldwide and the structure of the global organisation.
Louis (Godron) and Karel (Kroupa) are very entrepreneurial – they’re not just financiers. Louis, who was my main interlocutor, saw there was something to be done with the business and he and his partners were prepared to take that journey..
I think that’s part of the many reasons why we got along so well. Louis really understood what we were discussing about technology.
I knew he and his team would help us and that they would be there to support us. We have had real mutual respect.
We had our ritual Friday 4pm call, initially scheduled for 20 minutes, but which soon lasted one hour. Well, they liked to ask questions, … and we liked to have those informal discussions, where new ideas would emerge.
Whether in France or internationally, when a business has a real potential to develop, Argos can see the potential to create value and support even aggressive plans. Louis and indeed all of the Argos team listen to you, and support you.
They also have a really strong ethical approach. They aren’t a private equity firm seeking to gain value at all costs – the human aspect is essential with them. Actually, is there a contradiction between the two purposes ?