Laurent Fiard, Visiativ: “ESG criteria value companies and should not restrict them”

How do you see Visiativ’s 35th anniversary?

Visiativ’s history is above all human, it is also a history of association, which in fact is 50/50, something rare in our sector. Originally, Christian Donzel (co-founder of Visiativ, recently retired, editor’s note) started in 1987, the French subsidiary activity of a Swiss CAD software publishing company, and I joined a few months later. We lived 10 years, respectively, as manager and commercial director. Then in 1997 we had the opportunity to buy the company, via MBO (Management by out, or the purchase of a company by its executives Ed). We rebuilt a project and revisited a strategy in start-up mode. We quickly positioned ourselves on topics of optimization and automation of business processes, specifically for industrial SMEs. From an early age, we wanted to innovate at the service of business competitiveness. In 2014, with a turnover of 50 million euros, we are accelerating our development with our IPO. An approach that allowed us to reach levels of 100 and then 200 M€.

You define yourself as a service company that impacts your customers’ value propositions. Explain to us.

For each client, we are in a dynamic of reactivity and proximity. In other words, we are actively listening to innovate and increase our own value proposition, meeting the value proposition of our customers. We’re not just there to sell and install products. The objective is to support the transformation of companies, based on three pillars: advising and engaging the customer and connecting them to their own customers. Our goal is to industrialize processes for as many people as possible.

You also insist on defending the values ​​of transparency and governance, why?

The ESG or CSR dynamic should be at the heart of every manager’s strategy. Having met a large number of entrepreneurs, I can tell you that they all have the heart and courage to make a positive contribution to these issues. Highlighting these requirements so that we can value them and not suffer them as a constraint is a great opportunity for companies. In a world of revolutionary innovations and major climate change, these criteria make it possible to better value and distinguish companies. Transparency is trust. This is also the meaning of the employee shareholding program that we have just implemented.

You are completing your strategic roadmap called the “Catalyst Plan”. And then ?

Visiativ’s trajectory is now on track, and our Catalyst strategic plan is effectively nearing completion, with significant investments in innovation and international deployment. With Bertrand Sicot, our general manager, we gave the executive committee momentum a few months ago to embark on a new roadmap. This new plan will lead us to a project of profitable growth and increasingly international. We want to be seen as a consulting and software company, capable of innovating, supporting and connecting. We are therefore positioning ourselves in the complete value chain, with the launch of transformation tools and platforms based on our technological architecture called “Agora”.

In this perspective of profitable growth, do you also announce zero net debt by 2023?

When we launched the Catalyst plan in 2020, we wanted to express the fact that we were producing profitable growth. In concrete terms, since our IPO, we have achieved double-digit growth each year, gaining 1 point of EBITDA each time.

In other words, our growth also contributes to the financial results. In 2023, we will therefore be from scratch in a debt-free way, self-financing our investment projects. We have rebuilt the foundations that will allow us to resume an even stronger growth dynamic based on innovation and external growth.

Your key dates

1988: Association with Christian Donzel

2014: Visiativ IPO

2017: Re-election as President of Medef Lyon-Rhône

2020: Launch of the Catalyst plan

Visiativ a company rooted in its territory but global; is this the correct definition?

We are very attached to our territory and I remain convinced that great winning companies create winning territories. The dynamics of ecosystems means that they must be linked to an innovative territory. The sustainability of a company of tomorrow depends on the international. We are already established in four zones: Benelux, United States, Switzerland and United Kingdom. And we started a presence in Canada, Morocco, Brazil and Germany. We are implementing through external growth by acquiring companies that already have capital from clients and that are integrators of products from Dassault Systèmes, our partner. We then set out our global value proposition strategy deployed by Visiativ. Our objective was to reach 30% of the turnover internationally, we have already exceeded that. Without a strong and revisited brand, it is more complicated to develop internationally.

“The sustainability of companies is currently at stake”

Why did you enter into a strategic partnership with the Minalogic cluster?

Like Minalogic, Visiativ is strongly committed to the territory. The competitiveness cluster is essential to federate a collective in the areas of innovation, financing and the implementation of collaborative projects. So many aspects to which Visiativ can also bring all its expertise and know-how. This partnership is a real opportunity to accelerate business transformation and innovation.

The challenges for companies are numerous in a very difficult economic context…

We came out of a Covid crisis that allowed us to accelerate certain transformations: digital, industrial sovereignty, short circuits, ecodesign, circular economy… Entrepreneurs were courageous and operated a tremendous collective dynamic. Then, the war in Ukraine highlights even more the problems of the cost of raw materials and energy, which are at the heart of companies’ competitiveness, because they are at the center of their profit and loss accounts. The sustainability of companies is therefore at stake and I remain concerned about the situation.

The theme of stagflation is therefore significant. The growth we had hoped for did not come as inflation galloped. How can companies continue to innovate? What means will we give ourselves to continue investing? Because it’s in those stormy moments that you have to be able to reinvent yourself. It will take a lot of courage and optimism.

The entrepreneur today must manage the environmental challenge, the digital challenge, the lack of skills and, indeed, the will to work. Without forgetting the problems of competitiveness or taxation.

It is the entrepreneur’s challenge to take these problems and turn them into enthusiasm.

Interview by Julien Thibert

Between us

Your morning ritual : I wake up very early, do an hour of sport before starting the day

your readings : books on business strategies!

your inspirations : all entrepreneurs and the collective

Your rejuvenating place : Oisans in winter and Camargue in summer

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