Apax Partners’ view of a successful transformation
From digitalisation to acquisitions to international expansion, transforming a company is far from smooth sailing. Gilles Rigal, Partner at Apax Partners and TMT sector specialist, delivers the keys to a successful transformation.
The world is moving faster and faster
“We live in a world where everything is speeding up. Companies have to adapt and anticipate.” Whether this means adapting to a changing environment to defend a position, or conquering new markets, now more than ever, a company has to transform itself.
Gilles Rigal’s first transformation topic: growth by acquisition. In a world that is picking up speed, a company must quickly establish a presence in its market. Should the company give priority to organic growth or acquisitions? “That depends on the time-to-market,” says Gilles. “There is nothing today that a company doesn’t know how to develop. The only question is how much time it has to do it.” By acquiring a company, specific expertise can be incorporated quicker, whether in the local or international market.
“To become a well-known player in technology, you have to go international,” Gilles continues. The company’s transformation therefore requires geographical expansion. “In this sector, global by definition, you can’t be purely local, and this is often the most challenging change.” With customers that are increasingly international, you must understand the cross-cultural aspect and adapt to geographical differences by customizing your offering and business model.
Knowing how to adjust your business model is obviously crucial. “This is without doubt the most important change within the company.” Gilles gives the example of Gfi Informatique, which joined Apax Partners’ portfolio in 2007. “Vincent Rouaix, current CEO, knew that the traditional model of technical assistance was bound to change, and that the company had to move towards projects and service centres.” Gfi Informatique also bet on rapid external growth, acquiring 20 companies in France and internationally – a winning strategy that enabled this mid-sized French company to break through the billion-euro sales mark in 2016, of which €180m outside France.
Finding the right pace
“If a transformation is necessary, it must be launched at the right moment.” As soon as Apax Partners invests in the company, it creates a roadmap. Once the decision to transform is taken, the CEO sets the pace. “We are always there when the CEO encounters a problem and has a bit of a setback,” says Gilles. “Every company has difficult moments during a transformation. These are extremely challenging processes to start and implement.”
According to Gilles, the most sensitive subject is the human element. “A transformation always implies new people within a company and adjustments for the existing teams.” The company gets new tools, sees its managerial resources develop and welcomes new employees. “Transformation is complicated on all levels. Existing personnel can be reluctant to accept it.” In this fluctuating environment, the role of Apax Partners is to demonstrate “unfailing support and solidarity with the CEO.”
Above all, for the transformation to be successful, the company must stay close to its customers. “The company has to ask itself if it is listening to what its customers are saying; they will be the first to be affected by these changes.”
By understanding the sector, we understand CEOs
To provide the best support, Apax Partners relies on sector specialisation. His career as both an entrepreneur and manager in France and internationally has made Gilles a TMT expert. “We understand the sector and consequently management’s decisions. Our role is to support them at all times.” Each CEO has his own methods: formal meetings, telephone conversations, text messages, or a chat over a cup of coffee. “Depending on the period, we might have regular meetings, or exchange texts on a Sunday afternoon!” The most important thing for Gilles is to always be available when a manager needs to discuss something.
As for Apax Partners’ next TMT investments, Gilles says, “We are considering deals that are consistent with our view of the software market and the telecommunications field in general.” Before returning to his desk, he offers one more piece of advice to CEOs. “Once the transformation is launched, never stop, and always ask yourself what the next step is.”