This is the first interview in a new series dedicated to business leaders in Brittany. The goal? Discover what makes Breton businesses unique and innovative. I will be translating these in English as I go, but you can always find the originals by accessing the French version of my website.
First up is Alexis Mehaignerie, CEO of Abyss Ingrédients, whom I would like to thank for giving me a little of his time. In this interview we discuss New York, the impact of Brexit on his company, what makes Brittany special, and his management philosophy.
About Abyss Ingredients: It is a marine biotechnology company founded in 2004 that has developed a wide range of ingredients for the nutraceutical, cosmetic, food and feed industries.
Claire Trévien: What I first noticed is that the site of Abyss Ingrédients is in English and that 60% of your turnover is international. How did this come about?
Alexis Mehaignerie: It has been like that since the start of Abyss Ingrédients, before my time, I joined Abyss Ingredients as CEO in 2015. Our communications being in English is a question of simplicity, a question of practicality. Today, we could change things and make everything bilingual, because things have evolved, and it is more convenient/ However, our desire is to communicate both within France and internationally, so the site is in English. Additionally, we are a B2B and it is aimed at professionals; industrialists speak English, it does not shock them to have documentation in English.
To put things simply: a third of our turnover is in France, a third in Europe, and a third in the rest of the world.
CT: So that includes the UK I presume?
AM: Yes, it includes the United Kingdom. The next question is about Brexit, right?
CT: Yes! Are you anticipating an impact on your business?
AM: There are two impacts: the impact on raw materials because there are marine origins to our products. In other words, there are fish coming from the UK sea areas. Secondly, we do business with customers in the UK and there could be consequences. It would be a shame, if only for the British.
CT: I saw that you worked in New York. Did you find this international experience an advantage when you returned to France?
AM: It was a four-year experience, a family experience, and so it was very interesting professionally for me, very interesting for the kids and the whole family. Everyone has become bilingual as a result, so that’s great. Also, it was New York, so not the worst place to be an expat, quite the opposite!
There was not too much disconnection with France to the extent that I was sent by my previous French company, so there was contact with France everyday, and trips between France and the United States.
There is a big difference between spending a few days, whether on vacation or for business, and living in a country, in terms of intimacy, knowledge and immerging yourself in the culture… it was great. And Americans, in terms of business and customer service, they are very strong. There is also the very pragmatic “walk forward” aspect with Americans, with good and bad sides, but we were lucky to be in good conditions, so we saw the good side, and it was a very nice experience, absolutely.
CT: How would you describe yourself as a manager today? Has this definition changed quite a bit over the years?
AM: I am not a leader, I am rather a facilitator, a linker, that’s how I would see myself. I soften sharp angles, I make sure that we maximize the qualities of each other to try to achieve results. I’m not very good at dealing with conflict, I do not like it so it’s in that sense that I soften sharp angles to try to see the glass as half full rather than half empty, and in that sense, it works.
Have I evolved over the years? Maybe in the sense of being a better listener, a little more tuned in to people. And, I think I spend less time pretending that I have no doubts.am not a leader, I am rather a facilitator, a linker, that’s how I would see myself. I soften sharp angles: an interview with Alexis Mehaignerie of Abyss Ingrédients Click To Tweet
CT: With your international perspective, I wonder if you have found that there are things, business-wise, that make Brittany different from the rest of France?
AM: I do not know if Brittany is different from the rest of France, but I’m selling Brittany with its assets. Whether those assets are felt or real, I don’t know, but in any case, Brittany is great. First, there is a very strong identity, but it is not folded back on itself; we look out to the sea, beyond our borders.
There is the “glas” of economy in Brittany. “Glas” is a colour between grey-green-blue, which does not exist elsewhere. And at Abyss Ingrédients we subscribe to it, because we are blue in terms of marine biotech and marine resources; we are green because we do this in a sustainable way – we recycle products that aren’t valued today to try to extract ingredients that have huge health benefits. We are green too because our extraction processes are hydraulic with water so no solvents, no chemicals, no residues and things like that; and then all that makes silver, grey; it’s innovation, it’s science, it’s health, and it’s also senior because that is a part of our demographic.
So, I like to believe that we are different in Brittany and that this difference is a real value around the world for our customers. And then in Brittany we have hard-working people, we have entrepreneurs, we have scientists, we have research centres, we have small businesses, we have big companies, we have a great road network, we do not have too much unemployment … I find that in Brittany we are lucky, it is never too hot, it is never too cold, we have an incredible coast, we have beautiful sea fronts regardless of the place, whether it’s in the Abers, Port Louis or Saint-Malo, well, it’s great!
We are really lucky. And I would like to communicate that with Abyss.
CT: I love this answer. So I just have a final question; I saw that you have successfully raised funds recently, congratulations! What does the future hold for Abyss Ingredients?
AM: Raising funds is a lever effect. With a lever, we will go further, higher; both in terms of quality and quantity. Concretely it means: we will accelerate our development. It is not a revolution, it is an evolution that allows us to be ambitious and to have the means of our ambition. Our ambition is to create scientifically proven health solutions that are effective and so this fundraising means we have acquired partners who believe in our adventure and will accompany us financially. Essentially, the idea is to increase the value of the company, if today it is worth x 1000 €. we would like it to be worth much more than that in 5 years.
The next step is to attract the right skills to bring this project to fruition. This means hiring the right scientists to lead innovation, the right sales people to liaise with our customers, hiring the right operational manager, and strengthening links with our industrial partners. This will take place in the next few weeks, and then we aim to please more and more customers.
Thank you very much to Alexis Mehaignerie for this interview.
Are you a manager of a company in Brittany? Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or by LinkedIn if you would like an interview.
Upcoming workshop: define a strategy to visibly develop your business.
March 27 2019, 8h-12h. Quimper. Tickets on sale here.
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