Revol Porcelain produces culinary porcelain products, from teacups and saucers to casserole dishes and pizza plates. The company was founded in 1789 – the year of the French Revolution – in Saint-Uze, Drôme, and survived all the challenges over the intervening 225 years to become the flourishing company it is today. Its reach now extends well beyond the borders of France into the international market.
Last year the transfer of leadership from Bertrand Passot to his son, Olivier, took place, but only after much preparation and anticipation. Olivier, who joined the family business in 1999, was given increasing responsibilities over the ensuing 14 years so as to properly prepare him for the eventual, full handover. When that time finally came, a big celebration with champagne and speeches was given to mark the occasion and also impress in the minds of all employees that the heir-apparent was now chief!
Bertrand Passot ran the company for 35 years, and now Olivier aims to continue the legacy of successful management. He will be an eleventh-generation manager – no small feat for any company. In 1999, with an eye on retirement, Bertrand invited Olivier to join the business and bring his previous business experience to the role of export manager for the American market.
Then, after Olivier been in the company for a few years, father and son started to prepare a succession roadmap which they would travel over a period of five years and would serve to clarify the way forward in terms of business roles, distribution of power, and the actual eventual handover. They invited entrepreneur friends to join them in the planning discussions, which were held regularly.
“They listened to us,” says Olivier. “They brought calm to our discussions and played the referee on sensitive subjects.” Olivier admits that during the years of ‘cohabitation’ he and his father would sometimes have strong differences of opinion, but he adds that there was never a power struggle.
“We always operated according to a kind of ‘gentleman’s agreement’, and disagreements were always cast aside in order to avoid uncomfortable situations within the business. There is nothing worse for a company than a father and son who clash prominently in meetings!”
Near the end, with the handover imminent, Bertrand started a staged withdrawal of his participation in the company. “He gradually reduced any and all involvement in operational activities,” says Olivier. “He began to stagger the days when he would make an appearance at work.” It was decided that Bertrand would remain a member of the steering committee for five years, but would have neither hierarchical nor operational function.
Olivier is now in full control of Revol Porcelain. When asked about his own succession plans, he says that his “secret dream” is to hand the company over to his children, but he will wait and see. For now, he is happy to talk with them about it, but stresses that he’s not interested in trying to proselytise or pressure them into taking over the business.
At any rate, for the next several years it will be Olivier at the helm of Revol Porcelain and the company looks set to succeed after such a carefully considered and thoroughly enacted succession plan.
“La transmission longuement préparée de Revol Porcelaine” was originally published on Les Echos on 11 December 2013.