François bertreau

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What a difference a year makes. Groupe Norbert Dentressangle will be celebrating the first anniversary of the acquisition of Christian Salvesen this month, a move which saw the company double in size and expand its scope of activities throughout Europe significantly.

The group broadened its range of transport and logistics services to include pallet distribution and chilled and frozen logistics, and now operates 8,500 tractor units, 9,300 trailers and four million square metres of warehouse space.

To mark the beginning of the new era and to lead the company through the next stage of its development the group’s supervisory board, on the suggestion of chairman Norbert Dentressangle, appointed François Bertreau chief executive earlier this year, replacing Jean-Claude Michel who had held the position since 1998.

Bertreau first joined the company a decade ago as director of the newly created logistics division and has been a member of the executive board since 2002. In his time at the company he has driven the growth of the logistics arm of the business, increasing revenue from 145 million euros in 1998 to 1.3 billion euros in 2007, on a proforma basis.

He continues to manage the division in his new role, alongside his additional responsibilities as CEO.

“By experience and personal mindset, I strongly believe two things are key when managing a company – empowerment and fairness. I want to be surrounded by empowered people, ie people able to take initiative and bear responsibility. It is boring and inefficient to work with mere underlings.

“Applying this subsidiarity principle has two very important consequences: the organisation is leaner and more efficient, and life of your people at work is improved – they are offered a more challenging and rewarding job.”

He adds: “That’s why I am fully comfortable with the values we promote at Groupe Norbert Dentressangle. Entrepreneurial spirit, unity, commitment and excellence are in direct link with my beliefs in empowerment and fairness.”

According to Bertreau, as the two family-run businesses have been built on such similar values, the merger has been “seamless”. All operations now run under the Dentressangle name and so far around ten per cent of Salvesen trucks have been converted to the ND livery. However, the company expects it will be a further four years before the entire fleet is changed.

Financially, the acquisition seems to have proved profitable too, with sales up 81 per cent for the first nine months of 2008. Sales for the logistics division grew by 113 per cent and accounted for 43 per cent of total revenue, while sales for the transport division grew by 63 per cent overall, and by 5.7 per cent in the historic consolidation scope.

However, Bertreau says the group saw a slowdown in September and it expects full-year performance will be hindered by the current economic situation in the final quarter. This is also expected to slow efforts to improve the performance of former Salvesen business units and in particular the turnaround of the UK transport business which is in the process of being restructured.

“For sure, the present state of the economy makes my task more complicated. But by chance transport and logistics services have a crucial role in the European economy.”

He says the integration of Salvesen has positioned the group well in Europe in terms of size and geographical coverage, and as Norbert Dentressangle still holds 68 per cent of the group’s shares he is “not under the short-term pressure of the stock exchange and the share price evolution”.

“The state of the economy is very important, but cash is not the main force for us. In a situation like this if a company doesn’t die then it gets stronger. The next few months will be tough, but the strong will survive and the weak will fall.”

The group will be celebrating another anniversary next year as 2009 marks 30 years since the company began.

Bertreau concludes: “Groupe Norbert Dentressangle is now a true European group, the fourth in size in Europe and my short-term challenge is ‘overperforming’ the European transport and logistics sector. But this is not the end of the story. The ambition is now to build a group able to serve its clients worldwide. My goal is to globalise the group, working with people happy to be there.”

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