"Innovation is not just a matter for the CEO"
When Joseph Puzo was hired by Volvo in 1980 to manage a business of approximately 100 employees that manufactured small-scale standard cables, the engineer had no idea he would turn the company into a leader in the interconnection market.
Building a long-lasting business
Joseph Puzo bought the company's shares in 1985 with the intention of making it a lasting business. "This meant building a long-term strategy, conducting ourselves ethically, producing quality and, of course, innovating." He knew this would be easier to achieve in a family business, where there was a pressing need to plan for business succession. As it happened, his eldest daughter Christelle joined the company. In 1985, the need for innovation became quickly evident. "The '70s were the boom years for cables due to the spread of the telephone in households and the distribution of brand new nuclear power plants. But when these programmes ended in the mid-'80s, new ideas were needed to keep the company's doors from closing. That's when I thought of using Gore-Tex to create cables that could resist high temperatures. Because it was patented, I sought out a university that worked on this type of process. This was the case in Montpellier, so I hired some students. Several months later, we filed a patent for Celloflon. That was the beginning of my R&D department. Since then, I've kept on working the same way: for each client request, I seek out a university that works on the process and I hire students whom I train."
€12 million for R&D
This technique allowed him to move upmarket and in 1990 he landed a contract to manufacture cabling for the Ariane 5 rocket. This was followed by projects for satellites, helicopters and, more recently, Airbus. "Our innovations make it possible to reduce weight and increase reliability. And when the 2009 crisis began, despite a decline in orders, I was determined not to let R&D spending go down." This spending currently totals 10% of the company's revenue, or approximately €12 million. "We also allocate 10% of the payroll to continuing education for employees." To get his employees involved in innovation, Joseph Puzo goes even further: "Innovation is not just a matter for the CEO. To get everyone involved, for the past 30 years we've been organising seminars to discuss what clients are looking for, what needs to be developed, and so on. These seminars are then presented in the subsidiaries in France and abroad." The company celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.