Entrepreneurs Forever 2014 | Version française

Philippe Poulachon

CEO and founder of Byzance and Bellota-Bellota

He wants to share his ‘’gustatory emotion’’ with the whole world.

« I love the improbability of things, such as opening a Spanish concept in Hong-Kong with a French beef bourguignon. » Whereas some people are caught up in the quest for sense in their life, Philippe Poulachon is carried away by his five senses, from Beaujolais wine to ‘’Bellota’’ hams which make him joyful and successful.

As an Epicurean, he dreamed of his future in a village in the South of France, between untamed nature and Mediterranean balminess. In a family with a taste for fine wines, he developed ‘’nose and palate’’, at the same time as the geography of the terroirs. Wishing to reconcile work with pleasure, he began in 1986 as Export Manager for Georges Duboeuf, the ‘’creator-designer’’ of Beaujolais. « With his nose over a glass, he taught me everything: generosity, the close relationship with top gastronomy, how to market gourmet products, staging, loyalty, excessive professionalism... »

When I met Chef Ferran Adria, of ElBulli, in Barcelona, I felt I had discovered a gastronome from outer space.
He had invented the Linux system of cookery. For me, transmission is more of a Linux system than software that you have to buy: it conjures up for me that joyful and fertile sharing of knowledge, where there is no jealousy or fear of losing anything.

At a professional trade fair, he met Caviar House, the world leader in the importation of wild caviar. He created the French subsidiary and became the biggest provider in the professional sector in France. « It was my first entrepreneurial experience, without the risk of being a shareholder. The risk was mostly that my independent nature would end up turning into a disturbance! »

Our uncontrollable hedonist confided his difficulty in finding good Italian ham to a Chef friend of his, who extolled the merits of Spanish raw ham. He flew off ‘’en el acto’’ for Madrid. « I was about as welcome as a swarm of bees at a picnic, but I tasted the ham, and... it was to die for! It was love at first taste. »
He founded Byzance in 1995, to supply his ex-customers with caviar, smoked salmon and the famous ‘’bellota’’ ham – from pigs fed with oak acorns for 17 months and refined for five years – which only a year previously it had been impossible to export .

At a time when he was the only one to believe in the product, he learned Spanish and stepped up his pilgrimages to sniff out suppliers good enough for his projects.

He remembered all his old lectures in strategy when, in 1998, an international convention imposed quotas on wild sturgeon. « I had foreseen the veto, which would mean a switch to farmed products. It was essential to diversify. Spanish ham could well become a luxury product, whilst products like caviar, salmon, and foie gras would become more commonplace. »

Philippe Poulachon opened a boutique-restaurant in the heart of Paris. « The product was monstrously expensive, monstrously fatty, and, at the time, totally unknown. I didn't know anything about retail, but the reception for this monomaniac shop was exceptional. »

The concept took shape, making Bellota-Bellota a brand and a universe, with its own manifesto of gustatory emotion. « The chef is the product. We created a school of carving and a plate to present the petals of ham at the right temperature. »

Today the brand has eight sales outlets (three in Hong-Kong and one... in Lyon!), where other flavours with a Spanish heritage are presented side by side with the ham. « I recreated for my customers the original emotion I felt; I can see it in the other person's face; I reap what I have given. »

For Philippe Poulachon, common sense indicated that he should take his dream even further. « We had the means to do a whole show, realising the potential of the group from New-York to Tokyo, because the future of luxury goods is also (and maybe especially) in food products. »

He's learning: with his friends, Pierre Hermé, the macaroon virtuoso, and Bruno Bonnell, serial entrepreneur and EMLYON Chairman, and neighbour at his cottage in the Cévennes.

EM Lyon: Grande Ecole 1984
Translation : Carole Bausor, ILTC
Date de parution : 12/09/14