This week, Sonepar Chairman Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette gave a virtual interview with Jean-Pierre Letartre of Comité Grand Lille, on the subject of, 'Family-Owned Companies in the Face of a Crisis'.


This week, Sonepar Chairman Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette gave a virtual interview with Jean-Pierre Letartre of Comité Grand Lille, on the subject of, 'Family-Owned Companies in the Face of a Crisis'.

The interview began on a light-hearted note as Jean-Pierre asked Marie-Christine how she has been adapting to the confinement period. She noted, "Although it was a shock in the beginning, one thing I've been able to do which I haven't really had the time for previously, is cook! I've had the good fortune of having some members of my family confined with me, and I've found that cooking calms me and helps to focus my mind, so despite all else I have become a very good cook!"

As the conversation progressed onto how Sonepar has adapted to the COVID-19 crisis, Marie-Christine stated, "Sonepar is a global presence, and when the virus first broke out in China, our associates there were incredibly proactive in establishing safety measures across the APAC region, and when Europe began to be affected by the virus, China was there for them by sharing protocols they put in place, to ensure the safety of as many associates as possible."

Speaking on how the General Management has steered the company through the pandemic, Marie-Christine explained how a Crisis Committee was set up and stated, "The General Management led by CEO Philippe Delpech immediately recognized that we were facing a global crisis and he defined clear structured guidelines for the entire group:  to ensure that there would be orders for sanitary protection equipment for all associates on a global scale." She continued, "Philippe also had weekly calls with each country President, to know how their countries and opcos were coping and adapting to the crisis."

Jean-Pierre then asked if the combination of Sonepar being a family shareholding company, combined with a decentralized management, helped the company to endure the crisis. Marie-Christine responded, "The shareholders of the company have reacted with sympathy and concern for the situation, asking if there was more they could do to help. That is the true worth of a family-owned company." Marie-Christine added that the company is beginning to go back to normal as she reassuringly stated, "We have been able to recuperate 90% of our activity within the last half of May compared to last year."

Moving on, the conversation turned to digitalization, where Marie-Christine stated, "We seriously ramped up the digitalization of our company within the last three years, through implementing advanced internal and supply chain processes. Regarding this crisis, it's thanks to this digitalization that we have been able to maintain contact with our customers through remote assistance and have seen a huge increase in the rate of orders placed digitally."

Jean-Pierre asked Marie-Christine what Sonepar can take from this experience and she replied, "From Sonepar's perspective, our decentralized business model should not be changed but reaffirmed, as the global guidelines followed by local management have proven to provide the agility required to whether any storm." On what she would say to an entrepreneur watching their interview, and the lessons that can be learned from this crisis she said "In the weeks to come, we need to gather feedback from our associates on what they have learned from their customers, to improve our relationships, and create more business opportunities." She continued "I've always believed that one has to listen to our associates and to our customers, as both weaknesses and strengths can always be improved, therefore we need to observe and listen."

Lastly, Sonepar Chairman Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette spoke proudly of Sonepar as she said, "No-one could prepare for the rapid spread of the virus, but everyone has collaborated together admirably, and demonstrated the agility and proactivity for which Sonepar is well known."

To listen to the full interview in French, click here.


About the Comité Grand Lille

The Comité Grand Lille is a Think Tank that was created in 1993. It gathers over 300 members from the greater Lille area as well as l'Ile de France, who are pioneers in their fields and who are open to sharing their successes with others with the common goal of collaborating together to see Lille emerge as a vibrant metropolis of the future. The Committee meet every two months at an informal assembly and have been behind some major initiatives, such as Lille's bid for the Olympic Games, and campaigning for Lille to become the European Capital of Culture in 2004.

In April the Committee President, Jean-Pierre Letartre, decided to create the podcast 'Les Cafés de l'Après' in the midst of this crisis, and use it to hear from leading experts whether they be scientists, entrepreneurs, sociologists, politicians etc., on how their field is adapting to the crisis, and how they envisage the post COVID-19 world.

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