Sonepar emerged from a drive to diversification on the part of two families that had been in partnership for a century.
The year 1867 saw the formation of a partnership between a farmer’s son, Henri Coisne, and a Belgian merchant, Léopold Lambert. Together, they decided to found a weaving company in northern France. The succeeding generations demonstrated the solidity of the understanding between the two families and their penchant for daring entrepreneurship.
The founding of Sonepar
In 1960, eleven partners descended from the Coisne and Lambert families founded the Société de Négoce et de Participation to manage the families’ holdings, acquired for purposes of diversification, in businesses outside the textile industry.
In 1968, Henri Coisne, who joined the family business in 1962 after a career in the air force, was given the assignment of expanding Sonepar and investing in a buoyant sector with good long-term growth prospects.
The move into the electricity industry
Contacts with electrical equipment manufacturers confirmed that there was a growth niche in distribution of such equipment. “This sector had not yet been structured, and neither the banks nor other investors considered it very attractive”, relates Henri Coisne.
The conquest of France (1969-1982)
In early 1969, with the acquisition of Comptoir d’Électricité Franco-Belge, the family-owned group set out to establish a position in the electrical industry. The negotiations over the Comptoir d’Electricité Franco-Belge deal lasted eighteen months. “That time was not wasted; it was necessary in order to reach terms that were acceptable to both buyer and seller”, explains Henri Coisne.
In Sonepar’s institutional culture, time is a crucial factor. Good work is work that holds up over the long term. “What counts is what lasts... to last we need to adapt...” proclaims the motto of the Coisne and Lambert families.
In the 1970s, the group acquired a number of French companies that would become the regional bases for its national coverage:
- Comptoir Lyonnais d’Electricité (CLE) in 1973 (South-Eastern France),
- Sanelec in 1974 (North-East),
- Groupe Marcel Tabur (GMT) in 1977 (West).
Later on, its coverage of France was enhanced by the entry of CGED, the country’s leading firm in the field.
Forthright human values
Trust in people, respect for the culture of each individual, the right to make mistakes; these were the watchwords of Sonepar’s management from the outset. This philosophy is conducive to creativity and vigor, releasing the energy of each individual. Sonepar seeks to maintain this state of mind every single day, since the enthusiasm and motivation of its associates gives Sonepar an edge every single day.
The conquest of Europe (1982-1998)
In early 1982, OTRA NV, the holding company that controlled Technische Unie and Otto Kuhmann, respectively the leading Dutch and German companies, came up for sale owing to the difficulties of its well-known shareholder, OGEM Group. Sonepar had known its managers for many years and undertook to buy the company. The acquisition of OTRA NV gave Sonepar the opportunity to establish itself outside France for the first time, taking up a prominent position on the German and Dutch markets. Through this acquisition, Sonepar immediately doubled in size and took on a European dimension. Other European countries were to follow: Spain, Italy, Belgium, Russia, the Nordic countries, Finland, Poland, Czech Republic and Romania.
International expansion (from 1998)
As early as 1984, Sonepar entered the Canadian market with the acquisition of Lumen in Quebec. In 1998, it gained a foothold in the United States, which has since then made a substantial contribution to the Group’s growth. Since 2000, Sonepar has made further investments in Asia (Hong Kong) and Latin America (Mexico, Brazil and Argentina).
In 2004, Sonepar celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary. Several of the companies that have joined the Group are over fifty years old, and some more than a century.
Sonepar Distribution becomes Sonepar
In 2000, the family-owned holding company Sonepar decided to transfer the use of its name to its electrical equipment distributor subsidiary Sonepar Distribution, in acknowledgement of the importance this business had acquired and the recognition earned by Sonepar in the industry. The holding company was renamed Colam Entreprendre.
Sonepar: The World's Number One
In 2008, by integrating substantial Hagemeyer assets, the Group strengthens its presence in 35 countries.
Chaired by Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette since 1998, Sonepar is now a global player in a sector that it helped to structure - electrical equipment wholesaling. Sonepar group still believes as strongly as ever in its founding values and reaffirms them every day: initiative, trust in people, motivation of associates, the conviction that both ambitious plans and worthwhile achievements are matters for the long term and respect for each individual.
In 2012, Corys Electrical based in New Zealand joins Sonepar. In 2013, Sonepar entered the Vietnamese, South Korean and Panamian markets.
In 2014, the companies IESA (Costa Rica) and Melexa (Colombia) joined Sonepar, marking a new stage in the construction of a Latin American network made up of local market leaders.
In September 2014, Sonepar enters the UK with Routeco, and in Peru and Chile in 2015.
In 2016, the Group now operates in a total of 44 different countries with 239 operating companies.