Yves Ducerf is retiring: how does he see the future?
The transition between the 4th and 5th generations of leaders is taking place in 2019, and this will include the retirement of Yves Ducerf. After 46 years overseeing investments and the secondary processing business, he is leaving behind a valuable legacy and is looking to the future with confidence. Encounters and memories…
How does it feel to be handing over management of the Ducerf Group?
Yves Ducerf: I think retirement is not an end in itself, it’s another stage of life which can still involve many projects, just with less responsibility! So I’m not overly worried, I’m all the more happy to see that the transition is going well and that the required resources, such as materials and professionals, are all in place. I am confident in the future.
Will it be difficult to cut the cord?
Yves Ducerf: It’s true that I grew up in the timber business. As a student, I would spend the holidays at the sawmill with my brothers and my cousin, stacking wood or in the forest helping to estimate harvests and the volumes of logs felled. We never asked ourselves what we were going to do later on! The future was at the company... And then it was such an interesting job, with a wide variety of duties, responsibilities and changes... So obviously it’s a little bit difficult to get away from it, especially as I live near the group's sites and regularly meet its employees!
"We have constantly evolved"
At the time, how was it joining the group?
Yves Ducerf: I joined in 1972 after studying timber at Mouchard and training in logging, sawmilling and trading. Since the company's inception in 1885, things had changed a lot. The large sawmill at Vendenesse-lès-Charolles had just been commissioned (1969). It was one of the first hardwood sawmills to be mechanised. At 22, I spent my first year in charge of the Vendenesse sawmill. The brothers and cousins have all taken their turn, it was a baptism of fire!
Has your generation always wanted to improve the company’s performance?
Yves Ducerf: Every generation has worked to change things, to find the right solutions. For example, after the Great Crash in 1929, the Lyonnais traders no longer came to buy our sawn timber, that's when my grandfather, Claude-Marie Ducerf, decided to start a business in Lyon, to get in with the professionals, craftsmen and industrial companies based there. In the 60s, Jean and Paul Ducerf, the 3rd generation, were thinking about how to market smaller pieces of wood, what we call "coursons". They then founded "Les Bois Profilés" and adopted the finger jointing methods already in use in Scandinavia and Germany to supply oak slats in longer lengths, pre-profiled for joinery work. Similarly, when the furniture industry collapsed in the early 1980s, we had to look for other ideas. That's when our generation created Patchwood, adding panelling to the finger joints. And then in the 90s, we founded Delarbre to create a presence in the DIY Superstore market. Our history shows that we need to constantly adapt our products and find new distribution channels. For example, we are seeing the continuous rise of new technologies that accelerate E-commerce sales!
“My curiosity about innovation led me to create some exciting projects"
And how do you see the future for this sector?
Yves Ducerf: I’m not at all worried about the future. Timber is one of the oldest modern materials. French forests have been managed for a long time. In the 17th century Colbert was already planting forests of oak, such as Tronçais, to produce structural timber for shipbuilding. Three centuries later, these trees are being used for wine casks and barrels. The timber sector has always been able to maintain its markets and to find new ones. Timber is still perfectly in line with today’s trends as it is both renewable and stores CO2. It is also highly sought after for homes, both indoors and out, in the wine sector, for health products, chemistry or even perfumes... which shows there are many opportunities! It is often imitated but never equalled!
What are the best memories of your 46 years at the company?
Yves Ducerf: The best memories are often associated with financial successes and investments. We must remember that, for our generation, jobs at the company have always been distributed according to everyone's skills and tastes. Being curious by nature, I have always been attracted by mechanisation, innovation and visits to trade shows. As the "do-it-yourselfer" of the family, I was involved in many exciting projects. At the beginning of my career in 1975, I helped set up the SOBIC sawmill at La Machine in Nièvre. I also oversaw the mechanisation of the Brunel sawmill on the Côte d'Or, the development of Les Bois Profilés and the creation of the "Patchwood" and DIY Superstore ranges of products. And, more recently, I worked with other colleagues in a wood heat treatment unit: Bois Durables de Bourgogne. I have great memories associated with all these successes!
"The new generation will have new ideas and a new style of management"
So, a lot of satisfaction...
Yves Ducerf: My greatest satisfaction is to see that, after 134 years, Ducerf is still firmly established and that everything is in place to continue its growth. The members of the 4th generation that I represent are happy to see the new team in place, composed of Edouard and Jean-Marie. The team could also expand if other members of the 5th generation apply for a job! It is also satisfying to have loyal and satisfied customers! As I like to remind my staff, the true PATRONS of our companies are our customers, without whom we would not exist. We are highly satisfied with our employees. They are people we meet throughout our professional lives and with whom links are woven. I have always had good relationships with them and I appreciate their work.
What are your thoughts on the 5th generation?
Yves Ducerf: I'm confident. Like us at the time, those who are arriving today, whether they are called Ducerf or whether they are close associates, are full of enthusiasm, ambition and new ideas. They were chosen for their skills. They have had additional training and they work as a team. The important thing is that the team is both creative and disciplined! It will be up to the new leader to organise all that.
Retirement? Professional bodies, sport... and my family of course!
What are your plans for retirement, we imagine you will stay active?
Yves Ducerf: During my career I participated extensively in professional bodies. For some time I will continue to be a member of Fibois, the interprofessional organisation for the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region. It's also about time I played some sports! And then I have 5 children and 4 grandchildren so far, they will take care of me. Myself and my wife will also take advantage of our free time to travel. As you can see, family spirit remains a fundamental value that has always been very present, not only within the group during my career, but also in my private life. We love to meet up, it’s all very nice!
What is your message now that you’re closing this chapter of your life?
Yves Ducerf: I had the opportunity to do a very interesting job in a great atmosphere. Our parents (father and uncle) trusted us from the start. During those 46 years I’ve had the pleasure of travelling extensively in Europe, as well as Asia and the United States, to meet customers, to attend trade shows and to visit facilities. Here within the group, the relationships we have established with our employees have always been frank, loyal and appreciative. I hope that the family spirit will remain for a long time. This is definitely one of the keys to success!
Of course, I will not forget the partners I have collaborated with for over 40 years:
Gilles, who roams the forests of France looking for the best oak at the best price to supply the group’s sawmills.
Pierre, who still handles supplies for the secondary processing business. Few hardwood sawmills in France have not had visitors looking for friezes, planks and offcuts of oak and other hardwood species.
Lastly there is Jacques, our "Conductor": we have often worked together on communication and marketing issues, our first trade shows in Paris, Brussels and Cologne... the founding of DELARBRE and Bois Durables de Bourgogne... He has always brought people together and acted as a catalyst for projects to bring them to fruition.
I hope there will be more chapters to come!