" In Champagne, I was always a Champagne citizen! I am become Belgian with the development of my business. "Paul-Francois Vranken is undoubtedly a Manager of the Year atypical. Middle part of rugby, big mouth on occasion, willingly charmer, pragmatic in business and ambitious , expatriated at the age of 20 years and who has renounced his citizenship at age 40, has finally almost nothing from Belgian except some Liège roots, a company listed in Brussels, a commercial entity and historical ties with Delhaize.
No matters ultimately, him who was called "whatsis", "the other one" or "the Belgian" by the Champenois and over the years simply "Vranken", was able to find a place in the sun in the 33,000 hectares of Champagne vineyards which rules are steeped in tradition. A challenge when coming from the "flatlands", Paul-Francois Vranken illustrates one of the most successful taking over in Champagne, but also one of the fastest in this world full of respectability. He, the "commoner" came from nothing in these little bubbles closed universe to take the place as Viceroy of champagne , 30 years later with his group Vranken-Pommery Monopole (VPM).
Prominent symbol of its success, the Liège native has several addresses on the Olympus of sparkling wine. The first is located 42 Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, his Demoiselle and Charles Lafitte brands home. Lowest, at the 17, the headquarters Heidsieck Monopole. And at Reims (the city of coronations), 5 Place du General Gouraud stands his headquarters: Domain Pommery. Elizabethan style, the beautiful area built in the 19th century under the leadership of Madame Pommery, brings to Paul-François Vranken the gilding befitting his status. And from his throne, he contemplates his small empire of champagne .
The Vranken domain: it is 270 hectares in Champagne , 238 hectares in Portugal for port and 2011 hectares for Listel. An empire that annually sells 21 million bottles of champagne, 2 million bottles of Porto and 50 million bottles of rosé. Only for champagne, his group has the second largest production behind the No. 1 worldwide in luxury LVMH (Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Mercier, Ruinart and Krug) . "we cover nearly 10% of the champagne market for a turnover of approximately EUR 290 million. And if you add my participation in Listel (Editor's note through the family holding HCC), we weigh more than 360 million euros per year, "he says proudly..
The first winemaker in Europe is also leading a small fortune. Although he hates spilling out on numbers, preferring to evoke the champagne as a "magical product, refined, elegant with historic expertise, its assets amount to 210 million euros, the 177th richness of France says the magazine Challenges. If its capital was reduced of 36 million this year due to declines in equity markets - Paul-Francois Vranken owns more than 70% of his company assets - And earned the 46th largest dividend of the Hexagon with 5 million euros.
But beyond these amounts, what is most important, its successes are essentially the result of a long fermentation, spicy at temperature (not) always well controlled.
Bathed in the culture of image and quality product since childhood, the Liegeois has quickly a passion for champagne. And As to his Reims getaways with his uncle, Rene Vranken - at the head of the leading Porsche dealership in Belgium on behalf of D'Ieteren - the "drink of gods" will soon become his obsession. After these escapes happily flooded of bubbles, the dream of belonging to this closed circle is becoming more intense. "As an adult, I did everything to give me the means to belong to this world, " he admits .
The first ambitious Belgian steps are laborious . Some Champagne people have still fun telling a story that happened to him at the beginning. Thus, when the little Liquor troublemaker goes in Champagne Interprofessional Center to open a trading society, he was told he must first acquire a "house" before having the right to get started. While the term describes in this case a company, Paul-Francois Vranken rushes on the first building in ruins and a few acres of land on the limit edge of the champagne area. "That's right, I confused the words" he enjoys himself. But no matter since the industrial reality has relegated this anecdote to second .
Before that, at the age of 23 he began studying law in hopes of becoming a lawyer. To finance the tuition, he went every night in a service station to conduct a few odd jobs. But he soon abandoned the audience to engage in active life. But we are not born with impunity in the country of the bier His career began at the brewer Bass Charrington and as controller. There, for several years in the wine and spirits Paris branch office, he sells the brand champagne De Castellane for Belgium. In two years, he increases sales from zero to 160,000 bottles. How? By leveraging the vast distribution! Implicitly, we can read the whole basis of its future strategy in champagne. And as his pay was linked to performance, it affects 130,000 French francs (19.800 euros). An amount that will allow him to start later in Champagne. He will also keep the personnal profit in mind, as still today to muscle his sales team, nearly a third of annual premiums are linked to the results.
Random wanderings of his night, he meets while Jean Balahu Noiron of the son of a family history of Champagne and a portfolio manager of the brokerage. "This meeting was crucial because I consider the gardener of my ascent, Paul-Francois Vranken recognition. He opened the gates of the Champagne and taught me the rules to follow." Lover of the region, it thereupon ceases to make return trips. "For three years, I am steeped in tradition and have made friends on the side of wine."
Random of his night wanderings, he meets while Jean Balahu Noiron, the son of a historic family of Champagne and portfolio manager of brokerage. "This meeting was crucial because I consider him as the gardener of my ascent", Paul-Francois Vranken admits. He opened the gates of the Champagne and taught me the rules to follow." Lover of the region, P-F. V. makes numerous return trips. "During three years, I steeped in tradition and have made friends on the side of wine." This naturaly impatient is then adapted to the slow pace of the vine.
31 December 1975, decided: the young Liégeois leaves his employer and arrives in Epernay. Paul-Francois Vranken was then only 27 years and sets of French francs earned from Bass. But, respect the habits and customs is one thing, integrating ultra-closed world of champagne is another. "In fact, this world has a reputation for being very tight, but here as elsewhere, the work affirms recognition, " he recalls.
The first ambitious Belgian's steps are laborious. Some Champagne people have still fun telling a story that happened to him at the beginning. Thus, when the little liquor troublemaker goes in Champagne Interprofessional Center to open a trading society, he was told he must first acquire a "house" before having the right to get started. While the term, in this case, describes a company, Paul-Francois Vranken rushes on the first building in ruins and a few acres of land on the limit edge of the champagne area. "That's right, I confused the words" he enjoys himself. But no matter since the industrial reality has relegated this anecdote to background .
As we assemble a wine of Champagne, the recipe of the house Vranken is a mix of well-managed acquisitions and ex nihilo successful creations . In 1976, he started his stock by acquiring 16,000 kilos of grapes. Meanwhile, he bought 3,000 bottles: Vranken cuvée is officially born and quickly resold as corporate gifts. The group of supermarkets Casino also gives him a boost by signing a check directly for 100,000 bottles. A solid foundation that opens all backgrounds.
After the foundations, the Liegeois begins to build the first floor of his building. Well introduced by his friend broker, Paul-Francois Vranken then meets Gaston Burtin, boss of ' Marne and Champagne'. Sponsored for its induction into the Union of Champagne Houses, Paul-Francois Vranken sees therefore the brand he needed to increase his credibility, in the catalog of the Marne and Champagne . "Veuve Monnier vegetating among a hundred marks untapped and his name sounded like sweet music, " he recalls. In 1978, seduced by the audacity of the young Belgian, Gaston Burtin then gives him the mark for one symbolic franc. Since 1934, no foreigners had invested in Champagne!
With Veuve Monnier, the young Belgian part in the assault of mass distribution. He then deploys all his commercial talents toward Leclerc traders, Carrefour, Cora or Delhaize to be in each of the major distributors. It is a revolution because at that time, his noble competitors disdain this circuit, preferring champagne to be a luxury reserved for an elite. Paul-Francois Vranken, does not hesitate to place his noble bottles alongside washing powders. "The supermarket was born in the 1970s, and my champagne house was founded in 1976, I had to adapt to commercial developments, " he justified. However, if this mean of distribution has become inescapable, even for the most famous houses, this approach is then regarded as heretical by the community. the expected downside comes soon since this procedure gives a low-end-market image to Vranken, at least initially.
This first acquisition will call others. With remarkable flair, Paul-Francois Vranken cue marks likely to improve the upmarket image of the group. Six years later, it was the turn of cognac Charles Lafitte to fall in his wallet. To convince the owners to give him the mark, he offers them a royalty on sales. Paul-Francois Vranken then performed a hocus-pocus: he transforms a cognac to a sparkling wine appellation . (Red) Bordeaux winemakers are seeing red. And for good reason: in their eyes, the name Lafitte evokes all their famous wines. "Paulo" - his nickname in the vineyard - does not care.
His other stroke of genius is to have launched in 1985, the brand "Demoiselle", name of the locality he acquired the castle the same year. Paul-Francois Vranken then becomes aware of the importance of wrapping product. "We had to create a world around the product. The flexibility around the label is limited, for Demoiselle a New Art bottle was designed, sold at a reasonable price. A first for any product to the customers of large retailers. "Supported by the particular group Delhaize (who had won the exclusive on the Belgian market), this thin bottle neck targets a female audience while positioning the group in the Premium accessible prices. Success was immediate on both sides of the border.
In the 1990s, Paul-Francois Vranken reviews the low-level champagne houses. Asphyxiated by large stocks, the soaring price of grapes and the first Gulf War, the houses Lallemant, Germain, Bissinger, Barancourt, Charbaut, etc.. fall into his hands for a pittance. But this does not satisfy his bulimia. It lacks a prestigious label. Then in 1996, Seagram offers Heidsieck Monopole on a platter. Vranken becomes Vranken Monopole and buys essentially a history dating back to 1785. Extraordinary mediatic fluke : a few months after the takeover, divers found in the wreck of a boat, at 62 meters depth in the Baltic Sea, ... a cargo of Heidsieck bottles dating from 1907. Furthermore, although it is not a worldwide famous mark, Heidsieck has the enormous advantage of the confusion with Piper-Heidsieck brand, the flagship of the group Remy-Cointreau.
After the acquisition of a trademark containing the word "Veuve" (widow) and another suggesting the Bordeaux excellence, the businessman beautifully illustrates his uncommon flair. However, the original Liégeois doesn't want hint or imply that his success in business is based on the confusion of labels.
Insatiable, he managed the coup of his life acquiring Pommery in 2002, giving thereby to the group its "premium" brand, which was lacking in order to be firmly rooted in the international markets. In addition, by taking the label to LVMH for 152 million euros (with the help of financiers led by the Crédit Agricole Indosuez group), this opens wide the doors of the Establishment to Paul-Francois Vranken ... and debt. However, this time, nobody could find no fault with the intrinsic value of such a jewel. Sharing Pommery was nevertheless the subject of fierce negotiation: Vranken takes the mark, the facilities and a few acres of land, LVMH keeping the majority of vines. So, Vranken Monopole' name becomes Vranken-Pommery Monopole.
The reason for all these acquisitions is also to access a supply of grapes in the long term given the historical ties that link the houses to the workers in vineyard. Supply contracts are in fact signed for multi-year periods, sometimes very long. Besides distribution, ensure an adequate supply by signing with the greatest possible number of wineries, is the other key to the success of Paul-Francois Vranken. Sure, some 270 hectares of its own vines seem modest face his rival LVMH (about 1,000 ha), but it's much more than its main competitors such as Lanson, who has no wine, or Laurent Perrier (121 ha ).
The reason for all these acquisitions is also to access a supply of grapes in the long term given the historical ties that link Houses to vineyards whose supply contracts are sometimes signed for very long periods . Besides distribution, ensure an adequate supply by signing with the greatest possible number of wineries, is the other key to Paul-Francois Vranken's success. Sure, some 270 hectares of its own vines seems modest face his rival LVMH (about 1,000 ha), but it's much more than his main competitors such as Lanson, which has no wineyard, or Laurent Perrier (121 ha ).
If the empire is taking shape, it is not completely dedicated to champagne. Through the dealing skills of his Anglo-Portuguese friend Ian Symington, port entered on the Vranken card. In 1986, the brand Sao Pedro is created. The Portuguese wine portfolio is advantageously completed 13 years later, by acquiring the prestigious Rozès. Once again, LVMH gives him the brand. "A combination of circumstances, "said Paul-François Vranken. In fact, the transaction is obvious. Bernard Arnault's group had the mark, but not the vines. Paul-Francois Vranken, He had a beautiful quinta in Portugal, but no wine. The case is heard for a secret amount. And what about her marriage with Listel, the leading seller of French rosé, gris, and table wines, owner of one of the largest estates in Europe, with nearly 2,100 hectares of vines?
Behind this investment is actually conceals a strategy guided by the desire to build a diversified portfolio of brands in terms of price and consumer tastes. "On the commercial side, the others add sometimes whiskey brands, Cognac, ie products with international image, says the Champagne assimilated (P-F.V.) . We, we first gathered several brands of champagne to create a portfolio whose value is to divide the marketing expenses. And then, for Rozès and Listel, there are commonalities with champagne as they are assembled, high quality and internationally reputed . "
For four years, Paul-Francois Vranken extends its clout worldwide. In Asia, especially in Japan, where a subsidiary was set up last year, Italy and United States following the takeover of the distribution of Pommery in the country of Uncle Sam remains to conquer South America.
In addition to internationalization efforts, the house VPM working harder than ever on the refocusing of its 'premium' brands . "By 2011 we will sell 24 million bottles with only our four international brands." What also explains the disappearance of labels like Germain or Veuve Monnier. However, the aggressive policy of diversification introduced by the boss does not go without financial heavy. In this context, his thirst for conquest would it be stopped de facto by a need to consolidate? "In my opinion, the consolidation movement begun in the 1990's is finished, he says. The uncertainty about the champagne houses is closed and opportunities have become scarce. As for my portfolio, whether in champagnes, wines or ports, it seems well balanced. "Yet many observers believe that Champagne contains many operators still likely to be swallowed. "Beware, he is very clever and often has an edge over its competitors, "says a member of the Union of Champagne Houses.
Whatever happens about Paul-Francois Vranken's prospects, no doubt he will not fail to paraphrase this tirade of Napoleon: "I do not want to live without champagne. In case of victory, I deserve it, in case of defeat, I need it. "
Article translated from rtbf news January 7, 2009