“A company is above all a human adventure.” If he is a lover of the sea, Pierre Marol chose to be the captain of an industrial ship, riding the waves of automation.
The 67-year-old man is the President of the Alstef Group. The company, based in Boigny-sur-Bionne, designs and integrates large pallet handling and storage systems for intralogistics, as well as transport, sorting and baggage control solutions for transport.
Within “one or two years”, Pierre Marol will hand over his command to Nicolas Breton, CEO since 2020. Already, the sexagenarian is slowly taking off. “He is the operational head. I reduced my working time”, explains who ensures a smooth transition:
“The transmission is a challenge for all entrepreneurs. You have to accept and prepare for it. I’m glad I did. A stroke of luck: it is successful. But I wanted to give myself the chance to lose, even if it meant starting all over again.”
There is no doubt, for Pierre Marol, of letting his boat sink, the one who has it methodically built for so many years. The trained engineer, originally from Vichy (Allier), began his career at the Naval Construction Research Institute in Paris. There he developed software designed to study the vibrations of shipyards and submarines in the Atlantic.
“I wanted to be my own boss”
Two years later, tired of developing code, Auvergnat joined EMH, a subsidiary of Spie batignolles, designing mooring systems for offshore platforms. Then, in 1986, came the oil shock. “The price of a barrel has dropped. Deep sea investments have become too expensive, more profitable enough. Everything stopped overnight”, recalls the president of Alstef.
Pierre Marol then redirected his career, wishing to “come out of a field that was very specialized” and somewhat “traumatized” by the sudden cessation of his previous activity. He joins the PSA, at the factory in Aulnay-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis), as head of methods. The engineer discovers the industrial world, the problems of mass production, automation… and the automobile, at the time “the most advanced sector in terms of robotization”.
At the beginning of 1991, Pierre Marol was 35 years old and had the soul of an entrepreneur:
“I had a plan to be my own boss. I didn’t know how, but I knew it wouldn’t be by staying in a group like PSA.”
The ambitious arrives in the Loiret. He joined Compagnie Générale de Productique (CGP), based in Saint-Jean-de-Braye, a subsidiary of Alstom, “an SME within a large group, in a sector that interested me”. Going up the stairs, he is site director in 1996.
A new name and new challenges for the Alstef group, in Boigny-sur-Bionne (September 2020)
“Head in the stars and feet on the ground”
In 2000, Alstom sold its business and another British business – specializing in the transport of luggage – to an English investor. CGP becomes Alstef and Pierre Marol is named CEO of the French website. “A big challenge”, especially since “at the beginning of Alstom, we weren’t in a dazzling shape”. He developed the “baggage” activity with, in particular, a large project at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
Pierre Marol bought Alstef in 2006. Photo Anne-Laure Le Jan
Six years later, when the investor sold, Pierre Marol was ready to buy the company, which he knew inside out. he is interested in steer your boat with your servants.
“I took 50.1% of the capital, the minimum imposed by the banks to grant us a loan; the board, 24.9%; and the employees, 25%. I established a rule: whoever leaves the company sells their shares. I wanted a project common. I wanted success and risk to be shared.“
From 100 employees in 2006 to 800 in 2021
Pierre Marol’s strength is certainly having developed the Alstef Group for export thanks to the airport. “The founding event of its history is the Montreal airport project in 2007, which allowed us to open our first subsidiary in Canada. Since then, we have been present in twelve countries outside France”, underlines the president, proudly announcing some figures: “The company has gone from 20 million euros in turnover in 2006 to 160 million in 2021 ; from 100 employees to 800.”
A success that Pierre Marol – who was also president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Center-Val de Loire from June 2019 to December 2021 – explains in several ways:
“Without being an expert in each discipline, you have to understand the work you do. You have to enjoy collective work and human relationships. You have to have your head in the stars and your feet on the ground, so as not to be trapped by a lack of money. We’ve been through several crises without ever losing money. You have to maintain the relationship with your customers. It’s a trust contract. Some of them have been with us for forty years.”
His successor, Nicolas Breton, praises “a visionary entrepreneurwho developed his company over time and had the intelligence to work on a medium-long-term transition.” So that the Alstef Group maintains its cruising speed.
The Alstef Group was created in 2018, with three operating units: Alstef Automation, in Boigny; BA Systèmes, in Ille-et-Vilaine and Glidepath, New Zealand. Today, Pierre Marol holds 24% of the Alstef Group’s capital ; Jean-Luc Thomé, co-founder of the Alstef Group, who headed BA Systèmes, 17%; Nicolas Breton, Managing Director, 1%; “Future French Champion”, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar and BPI France, 32%; managers, 14% and employees, 12%.
Alstef, a Boigny-sur-Bionne group, will equip the 2D terminal in Roissy (February 2021)