Entrepreneurs Forever 2014 | Version française

Sylvie Guinard

CEO of Thimonnier

She has just bought an industrial SME from her family.

For the past few months, Sylvie Guinard's radiant smile has been regularly appearing in the media. This young mother — who dreamed of being an astronaut — has found her lucky star, and bought Thimonnier & Co, founded over 150 years ago. « I often say, especially to girls: don't be afraid of industry. There's a big difference between the stimulating reality that I'm experiencing, and the perception that young people have of industry. »

Space exploration made a big impression on her, and Sylvie Guinard studied engineering at ESTACA (Ecole supérieure des Techniques Aéronautiques et de Construction Automobile). In 1996, during her internship at the CNES (National Centre for Space Studies), she took part in the first launchings of Ariane 5. « I love that world of people who are passionately interested in what they were doing, where even the failures are experienced, analysed, and overcome by the group.»

That experience sent the young graduate into orbit with one of the component suppliers of Ariane 5, a subsidiary of the future Safran group. As a Sales Engineer in this SME, working in many different fields, from the Leclerc tank to trams, she approached industry like a vast field of opportunities.

I am grateful for the family shareholders who accepted to sell me their shares.
They considered that operation to be like a trade sale, even if I am a family member. In a certain way, that makes me feel freer. It's my job to know where to draw the line between the changes that I think are necessary and my loyalty to what my grandfather transmitted to me.

A professional move for her husband made her trajectory deviate towards Lyon. But with her job applications being repeatedly rejected - too young, overqualified -, Sylvie Guinard decided to create her job herself. Her grand- father Louis Doyen caught her in mid-flight to discuss the family company, an SME whose origins date back to the invention of the sewing machine in 1830. « You're a girl, I never thought of you taking over, but if you want to run a company, that's different », he admitted.

Louis Doyen, inventor of high-frequency PVC welding, was the holder of several patents in the field of packaging. He ruled — by his charisma and technological intuitions — over a company of over 100 employees, with, at the time, sales of €13 million in the design and manufacture of flexible packaging for hygiene, health, and the food industry. « I hadn't been brought up to worship the family business; even though my father, my uncles and cousins all worked there » states Sylvie Guinard.

She reserved the right to answer later, first taking two precautions: to follow an MBA at EMLYON, and to make sure that she would last a little longer than the flight of a comet. In September 2002, assisted by her grand-father, she tackled a first revolution; giving priority to the profitable activities, before aiming her telescope at the methods of the R&D office, to introduce budget and production deadline mindsets.

But in 2006, back from her 2nd maternity leave, Sylvie Guinard discovered that the company was on the edge of the eclipse: sales dropped by 50%, no cash, a lay-off plan, family disputes... It was in fact the opportunity to change the atmosphere and to get back to basics. Within seven years, Thimonnier had once again become a company in growth mode, profitable and highly international, whilst continuing to design and produce in France.

Appointed CEO in 2009, Sylvie Guinard had the company assessed in 2011 and in 2013, went for the big-bang: she applied to buy out all the 12 family shareholders. To ensure she had a legitimate case, she sounded out her teams, who replied: « We have a lot of esteem for your grandfather; if he thought that you would be up to it, end of discussion ». Since then, even if she is not an astronaut, she lives in a state of weightlessness! « Being a shareholder changes a lot of things in my mind. I am blown away by what I did; it gives me wings! »

EM Lyon: MBA 2002
Translation : Carole Bausor, ILTC
Date de parution : 12/09/14