KEPLER, Consulting Entrepreneurs
“We wanted to be able to carry our convictions and convey them with our own tone, not fearing to go against the grain: this was our initial ambition and it remains the DNA of KEPLER”
– Pierre Rougier
“We were thinking to ourselves that the objective was to create an independent leader in operational performance encompassing the complete cycle from procurement to production and from the original idea to its operational achievement”
– Vincent Marcadé
“Understanding the causes of a problem is one thing, trying to solve it by formulating realistic recommendations which can be supported during their implementation is another”
– Florian Chauvin
“This ability to target the best solutions, design them, then deploy them and support them over time, is really at the heart of KEPLER’s expertise”
– Julien Besse
“We get our hands in the dirt, we don’t indulge in a blathering consultant’s speech nor in the posture of a remote observer”
– Lionel Muller
“If this takeover made sense, it was because there were real synergies and a common DNA based on a real entrepreneurial spirit”
– Sébastien Grilli
“We must preserve the agility and expertise of our company; an organization that is very focused on feasibility and driven by a culture of tangible results…”
– Pierre Rougier
A corporate biography written by Caroline Castets
“All four of us were complementary – Lionel is straightforward, Florian is creative, Bernard is the numbers wizard, he who prevents reckless risk-taking, and I would be a mix of Florian and Lionel, an artistic touch here, a literary touch there, rather organized… – says Pierre. We got along well, we wanted to build something and, beyond that, we wanted to keep our sense of humor. In a sector populated with oversized egos, we wanted to remain cool-headed conquerors. Entrepreneurs determined to seek out the customer but also to retain him and, to do that, to be sincerely close to him; without any deference nor any arrogance. “We wanted to be able to tell him things like they are, to convey convictions and pass them with our tone,” he continues. We didn’t want to be afraid of going against the grain: it was the initial ambition and it remains the DNA of KEPLER.” A peculiarity which, in 2006, will force their decision to secede when, after a long time sticking to the Masai model, they ceased to identify with it.
To the point, says Florian Chauvin, that we built KEPLER “slightly in opposition” to it, in terms of offer and mindset.
“With a longer perspective in the approach but also more humility in the relationship, while retaining the “reflection/action” paradigm allowing to be both in strategic and the operational”. A starting brief to which, very quickly, is added a will to go beyond categorical logic to mix inspirations and, from there, to create new performance levers. For Lionel Muller, most of the added value of the firm comes from this.
“To this ability to break down silos to take the best of each practice and sector, whatever they are,” he explains.
In this ability to import the ingredients of success outside of their territory of origin to transversalize the levers of growth, as we have been able to do with lean, this industrial method that we now apply quite widely to R&D departments. This is our strength”. Such “creativity” is promoted as a differentiating element and, beyond that, as a true trademark. This flagship element of consultancy denotes “a different operating mode and an offbeat tone, sums up Lionel Muller. Something difficult to convey and which is only ours. An approach to the profession in which all four of us believe enough to, fifteen years ago, make it a deal-breaker and a creative project.
Thinking out of the box…
When Lionel brings up the idea, the reactions are unanimous. For Pierre, the classmate from Centrale Lyon, Bernard who, when he started his career at PSA, was his counterpart at Renault, and Florian, who arrived six months before him at Masai, the answer is “yes”, with no hesitation. The sequel is almost obvious. A name stands out, KEPLER – after the astrophysicist. “From something very complicated, the movement of the planets around the sun, he made very simple laws”, explains Lionel Muller for whom this sums up the ambition well, then a logo: a square for expertise and rigor and a boomerang for creativity which, by their vision of the profession and the way they intend to exercise it, “goes out of the box”.
Then come the resignations, chained a few days apart, and the establishment on the Quai de la Rapée, in premises located in a basement they call “the cellar” and where they are ashamed to hold interviews.
The first times are strained, “rudimentary” recalls Pierre Rougier; and yet, they recruit, among others, some Masai who, tempted by the adventure, have followed in their footsteps. The 2008 crisis goes almost unnoticed, cushioned by the signing of four major contracts that will launch the activity. Six months later, the team settles in 110 sq.m located Place de la Bourse. After a year they are twenty colleagues. New customers are flocking, “industrials and retailers”.
In the meantime, China’s Office has been launched, “with an office in Shanghai settled in one weekend because, three months after creating the firm, we had landed a first assignment there and we had to deal with the most urgent matters”, laughs Peter. A few weeks later, it’s the turn of India – where KEPLER settles an office in an emergency because, “as in China, the mission was assigned before we had the means to manage it”, and, from 2013, the United States office, following a call for tenders won with a world leader in medical equipment. This time, we’re off.
So much so that, from the following year, the firm was looking for new momentum. The turnover is around 4 million euros, business is turning and, on the management side, we are champing at the bit. “We wanted to grow, to make acquisitions! ” recalls Lionel Muller. To initiate this new era, KEPLER begins by bringing Odyssée Venture into its capital, before moving on to serious matters by launching, in the mid-2017, its first takeover operation on Sinnogen, a consulting firm specializing in R&D and innovation issues with clients such as Faurecia and L’Oréal in its portfolio. This will be a two years project. But when the takeover is signed in May 2019, the repercussions are instantaneous, and not only economical.
KEPLER-Sinnogen: the obviousness
“When KEPLER approached us, they had around 8 million in turnover and we had 2.5 million with 12 employees, says Julien Besse, co-founder of Sinnogen. The firm was eight years old, it was very profitable, for them as for us this was a perfect timing. “ And the logic, unstoppable. Ten years after its creation, KEPLER remained organized around four practices – innovation, procurement, operations, supply chain – but had never really developed the first. As an innovation specialist, Sinnogen filled this gap. “There was an obvious interest for KEPLER to do a build-up with a professional in the field,” he explains. “For our part, the issue of cross-selling convinced us: we had a real customer complementarity. Similarly, they were more in a missions perspective whereas we operated on a portfolio of loyal customers. Sébastien Grilli, another co-founder of Sinnogen, confirms: “If this takeover made sense, it was because it involved a complementarity of practices, real synergies at the offer and customer portfolio levels and a common DNA based on a real entrepreneurial spirit”.
A foundation of shared values, business and even human complementarities… Enough to make this merger a strategic obviousness, which the future would quickly confirm the scope. After a few years, the group saw its innovation activity increase from 2.5 to nearly 5 million euros in turnover and its expertise transformed.
“In this business line, they brought us practice, know-how, track-record, methodology… they professionalized us”, welcomes Lionel Muller while acknowledging that the “Sinnogen effect” goes well beyond. Not only on the economic level, since they will support our common growth, but also on the corporate level.
“The takeover enabled to diversify the typology of talent by introducing business school profiles into a team mainly constituting of engineers”, he explains. As a result, despite the various lock-downs which, at the time, slowed down the integration process, the graft takes.
Leading: KEPLER’s new age
To the point that, two years later, the decision to repeat the experience with a new build-up operation becomes essential. Objective: to complete the system by adding a part that still lacks: sales. The ideal candidate is quickly identified. It’s called Leading. It is a firm employing about ten consultants and with a 2.5 million turnover, specializing in customer management and sales and which, as a key advantage, complements with KEPLER on both business and sector levels.
“They were mostly service-oriented and also very strong on the management and HR level, whereas we were more focused on technical skills, explains Pierre Rougier. So getting closer to them ticked a lot of boxes.” And opened up great opportunities for growth… “Not only does the arrival of Leading lead to the emergence of a fifth practice, Sales & Marketing, continues Julien Besse, but there was also a real opportunity to be seized in their strong establishment in the banking sector, a sector where we were absent and which model is called upon to reinvent itself.” And therefore, a clear gain in terms of business and prospects. On the Leading side too, the operation makes sense. Almost thirty years after its creation, the firm is considering a merger and for its co-founder, Vincent Marcadé, this requires more than a shared industrial project.
“For us, this implied a desire to share a same roadmap, therefore a vision and values in which we could recognize ourselves. ” This is the case. As a result, eight months later, the deal is concluded and the takeover signed. With it, KEPLER is entering “a new age in its history”, a kind of maturity that allows it to complete its system and expand its scope, but also to resize its ambitions. “Our job is to rub salt in the wound, like a doctor, by asking the right questions and providing solutions that work”, summarizes Lionel Muller for whom the successive arrivals of Sinnogen and Leading are clearly part of this logic. “Today Leading brings us new business expertise, a soft skills dimension and offers related to managerial experience but also information systems,” he continues. It consolidates the base and the end-to-end dimension of the offer to the customer, this ability to carry out global transformation. ”
Strategic vision and operational focus
Exactly what it takes to reinforce KEPLER in its role as a performance accelerator with, as a driving force, organizational and process transformations. Transformations can now take place from one end of the value creation chain to the other.
“Historically, KEPLER has focused on innovation, procurement, operations, and supply chain businesses, on cross-functional skills – change management, data & digital, but also program management office… – and on the industrial, retailing and health-cosmetic sectors, explains Vincent Marked. From this starting base we bring, in addition to banking insurance and Sales & Marketing, managerial transformation, project support, and major projects management around information systems. ” In other words, transversal skills that will allow “to de-compartmentalize.
KEPLER’s offer of deploying a multi-direction approach to change management” gives the firm the means for a new ambition. “Together, we told ourselves that the objective was to create an independent leader in end-to-end operational performance,” he continues, “encompassing the complete cycle from procurement to production and from the original idea to its operational achievement. ”
To do this, the firm does not only rely on its newly acquired expertise but one of its historical assets: the “business-oriented” dimension which comes from an in-depth knowledge of the practices addressed and their issues enabling it to offer a “different kind of consulting,” summarizes Julien Besse. With field approach that is sufficiently rare in the sector to constitute a real differentiating lever.
“For us, the right mix involved combining the strategic vision of the market – to advise a Procurement or Industry director on his strategy – and operational focus to ensure our recommendations will stick to reality,” explains Pierre Rougier, who reminds us that the unstoppable guarantee of reliability lies in the ongoing support of the firm to its clients all along the deployment process of its recommendations. “This dual approach, such that we would rather deliver results than slides, brings credibility to our recommendations,” he continues. It prevents us from indulging in the “woulda coulda shoulda…”
A particularity which, for Florian Chauvin, is a real game-changer. “Understanding the causes of a problem is one thing, trying to solve it by formulating realistic recommendations which can be supported during their implementation with the client is another, he insists. This is our added value compared to a traditional strategy consulting firm.”
“The KEPLER Touch”
This is the difference on which KEPLER has built its modus operandi: this association of higher insight and field pragmatism, from which stems an authentic culture of results.
On this operational side which, summarizes Lionel, means that “we get our hands in the dirt, we don’t indulge in a blathering consultant’s speech nor in the posture of a remote observer. We are operational people who provide advice. “ Professionals in the business lines they support, capable not only of establishing a privileged close relationship with the client, “almost among peers,” but also to identify the right transformation levers. Those that will optimize performance by adapting the expectations of top management to their possible achievement by the teams to lead to concrete results.
“This ability to target the best solutions, to design, deploy and support them over time, is really at the heart of KEPLER’s expertise,” explains Julien Besse, who sees in this a “special” consulting approach, “neither exclusively in the vision, nor exclusively in the implementation”.
A culture of support and feasibility which, combined with the rest – customer proximity, business expertise and reliability, rigor and concern for a “quantifiable and qualifiable” result… – sums up in what Lionel Muller calls “the KEPLER Touch”.
This approach, the foundation of KEPLER’s DNA, is more than ever to be preserved in a context of strong growth accompanied by the arrival of Leading, marking a new stage in the firm’s development.
“Now that we have consolidated the base, we are planning new acquisitions, announces Lionel Muller. We have the common trajectory and ambition to become the leading French firm in end-to-end transformation”. It’s a statement. And this time again, this is no “consultant speech” since, to achieve ambition, an action plan has been drawn up: “Ambition 2025”.
“More than a roadmap, almost a raison d’être” which enabled to define projects in all areas, both internally and on strategic subjects such as CSR, digital or even managerial transformation.
Growing without losing our soul…
There remains, to accompany this ramp up, a double challenge to be met: growing, without losing our identity. “The bigger we grow, the more we establish ourselves as a brand whose advice is valued,” explains Florian Chauvin. But developing your offer and therefore becoming a generalist comes with a risk: that of becoming commonplace. To avoid this pitfall, a solution: “capitalize on what makes our added value in order to gain in attractiveness and attract talents and prospects. ”
This is the whole challenge of Ambition 2025, which aims to make KEPLER a major player in consulting capable of influencing a consolidating market. “Without letting it become more complex or rigid,” sums up Pierre Rougier. “The challenge is: how to preserve what makes our originality in terms of culture, positioning and mindset, while growing? “ asks Lionel Muller before evoking “cross-functionality, performance and this set of values and specificities – humility, dirty hands, expertise…
– which defines the firm” and to which is added a decisive human dimension. A “Code and silo breakers, able to be in the proximity while remaining professional, committed and friendly…” side on which the firm was built and they intend to preserve in order to continue to develop the brand without losing anything of what, at the start, made its difference and therefore its strength.
The next shot…
“We have to be able to grow without losing our DNA, explains Pierre Rougier; We must remain this agile, flexible, expert firm with a singular tone, something that is not too bombastic, not too serious… An organization, very focused on feasibility and driven by a culture of tangible results which implies to remain focused on the field and gives an entrepreneurial spirit…”
This mix of audacity and inventiveness which allows “to think outside of the box to produce breakthrough offers and take the customer further in ambition,” says Florian Chauvin. In other words, to gain in creativity, without losing reliability, which partly involves the diversification of profiles – “more creative, more self-employed…” – and therefore, by a recruitment issue.
“On soft skills, it would give us a mindset of autonomy, curiosity and responsibility,” confirms Pierre Rougier before returning to the essentials: that the brand endures and settles over time. “What we want is to guarantee the sustainability of KEPLER and its managerial independence. For us, it is crucial, he asserts. And now is the time to build this sustainability. The next move must be anticipated and prepared now. “ In the acquisitions and the new talents, the new expertise and the new sensitivities they bring, in the collective ambition for the coming years and the shared values and in all those perks that transform the language components into authentic vectors of cohesion. These past moments, as is the case with the “Happiness Programs”, these internal events – football, bowling…
– organized each month to federate the teams and create a collective dynamic, “outside office hours when, recalls Lionel Muller, corporate culture is infused and collective identity built. “ Everything that makes a firm like KEPLER, its originality and its added value.