Pascal Clerc, actual General Director at CBE Group, looks back on his 15-year career within the company. An engineer from the Arts et Métiers school, he joined CBE in 2005. The small SME had already proven its worth by winning the Channel Tunnel segment moulds contract, and was seeking to structure itself in order to unleash its potential.
Since when have you been working for CBE ?
I've been working for CBE since november 2005, I arrived after Didier Lefebvre took over the company that year. We were located in La Riche at that time. The aim of my arrival was to give the company a second wind, to structure the team for later developments, and to consolidate the expertise and knowledge of CBE.
I started out as Operations Director ; when I arrived, about thirty people already worked there, twenty of which in offices. Workshops were scattered, bungalows were positioned outside as room was needed. We rapidly refocused the entire production process at l'Ile Bouchard. There was a strong production load at the time, and we were capable of increasing our capacity quite quickly. But other functions, such as logistics, were really difficult to handle. Everyone needed to be hands-on in order to help. This was really a time when CBE had to take a step forward. We moved to Saint-Avertin in 2007, and I became General Director quickly after that.
What is your role within the company ?
I'm still General Director, more particularly in charge of all technical aspects. My job sheet has evolved over the years, at the same pace as the company. It is a job which requires a lot of thought, but you also need to implicate yourself, to be a full-fledged actor within the team. Dealing with technical aspects means dealing with bid management, studies, purchasing, logistics, customer services... All this while keeping in mind that the company needs to grow, and that you must take the right decisions.
You arrived in 2005 at CBE : do clients from then and clients now differ a lot ? Do they ask the same questions ?
There are always two types of clients, with a wide range of knowledge : it goes from the company or group which has never produced any segment, to those who have been using them for a long time, and who have been able to pass on their experience within their own company. These even sometimes take the lead in technical evolutions.
CBE always needs to adapt to these various types of clients, to continue to be a creative force regarding new production techniques while offering the best solutions to our clients. This flexibility is the reason why clients come to us.
There is however a notable change in project management, with the reinforcement of contracts : everything used to be based on experience, but it is not the case anymore. It can be a hindrance, because you lose sight of operational tasks by doing things this way, but it is also a way of being more rigourous in our client/service provider relationship. It also allows to anticipate risks. In any case, evolution is here, whether you like it or not, and we need to adapt.
As CBE Technical Director, what are the innovations which marked you the most in the last 15 years ?
I would say evolutions as much as innovations. Even if it wasn't spectacular, we always improved our products. Some people may have the impression that things haven't changed in 25 years, but it would be wrong to say so. As soon as I arrived in 2005, we launched 3D for design & mould control... We innovated on many small technical issues.
The first automated plant for breakwaters was significant to me, in 2014 ; we had teething problems, it was a worldwide first. The first robots were also really important, we thought about them for a long time. Beginnings were harsh, but we managed to create an efficient solution. Often, when you innovate, you need to take into account what the client wants, as he's the one who will allow us to do some testing on his project. Digitalization was also of real importance to me, with traceability : the path is now open, and we need to go in that direction.
For you, what is the landmark event within the company ?
The creation of the Yangling plant, in China. I joined CBE to live an industrial and human adventure, and I've been served. There was a potential that we could imagine, but with no precise idea of what we wanted to do.
In 2006, we heard of several projects in China : we felt that there was some business to do there, that the tunnel market was budding. And there were no local competitors ! A stronger presence on the chinese market was discussed early on, but we needed to find a way of organizing ourselves. It was a real adventure, without any reference we could relate to, we had to imagine everything. We did have a chinese partner at the beginning, and opened a bureau in Beijing. We manufactured at the same time in China at this partner's plant, and in France. We prepared the machined sides in France and sent them in China. Retrospectively, it is crazy to think that it was only 15 years ago.
Our need for autonomy rapidly declared itself, and we managed to establish ourselves in China as a French company, without any chinese capital. It was a fantastic human adventure : thinking of tons of ideas but having to work with a completely different mentality. Sharing two cultures was quite a shock, but so rich for all of us. It was thrilling, just as anything that happens in our field of work and at CBE in general.