François Tesch (Foyer Group): Sharing Experiences

Foyer Group celebrates its 100th anniversary. An interview with François Tesch, Chairman of the Board of Directors who has been active in the company for 40 years after some years in the United States. 

  

What lessons have you learned from a century of activity? 

Groupe Foyer is celebrating its 100th anniversary. However, I joined in 1983 so I can only share 40 years of experience, the rest being testimonials and memories. I don't have any lessons to give, because every situation is different. On a personal level, three main instances have influenced me: First, my American experience. After attending a business school in the United States, I worked there for six years. It was there I learned to question everything, to turn over every stone, and to put a figure on everything, all the while integrating a great deal of rigor into the management. This does not take anything away from the more intuitive European methods, but this experience clearly influenced my career. Then, one of the key moments of my thirty years here was, in a way, the sale of Foyer Belgium in 1990. We had only 2% of the Belgian market and the proceeds of that sale allowed us to reinvest with Gaston Schwertzer and André Elvinger in BIL-Participations, which became Luxempart. Today, this second pillar of the Group represents almost half of its assets. Finally, I believe that difficult moments have positively influenced the culture of our Group. Such a moment took place in 1999, when Foyer bought back the shares of Guardian Royal Exchange, a shareholder of Foyer Finance, without which we would have become part of a large French group. The greatest danger comes when everything is going well and we believe that life is easy. 

" The greatest danger comes when everything is going well and we believe that life is easy" 

  

How do you manage to establish a strong corporate culture? 

This is done on three distinct levels. Firstly, the fundamentals: Surrounding ourselves with competent people who love what they do, knowing our strengths and weaknesses without believing we are omniscient, and focusing on projects where we can be among the leaders. On a second level, the corporate culture is shared with a very open approach. I hate political games. I say things the way I feel and I expect the same from my colleagues. Marc Lauer and John Penning, respectively in charge of insurance and Luxempart, are leading by example in this area, and I think all our teams are aligned with this effective approach. Transparency and excellence pull everyone up. We also organize programs to share our culture with all our teams. I am thinking in particular of the "ELAN" program, which has considerably increased autonomy and problem-solving capacity at all levels. And finally, I think that in a family company, corporate culture is closely linked to good governance. We had the rigor of a listed company before we were listed, and our success is due to the quality of the people on our boards. We attract experts with diverse skills, rather than just family members.  

 

"I hate political games." 

  

How do you see Foyer Group in 10 years?

I think it will still be an important financial group. The insurance business will certainly evolve. Digitization will improve services and reduce costs, but the big change to come is in database operations. We have more and more granular tools to respond to today's risks thanks to a better insight into the past. Innovation forms part of our values and strategy. We may have fewer resources than some large international groups, but we have created our own "Innovation Hub"; we are close to “insurtechs” - through our partnerships with the LHoFT, the House of Startups, or Plug & Play - and we will not hesitate to invest if opportunities arise. I am an optimist. I believe in the future of Europe. As long as we innovate and keep an entrepreneurial spirit, our future is secure.