Working at Maison Louis-Dreyfus

April 11, 2017

A family affair

I first heard the name Louis-Dreyfus around the dinner table when I was about four years old. Working for the Maison Louis-Dreyfus was like a family tradition. My mother had joined the business in 1946, and worked there until her retirement in the mid-1980s. Her father Louis Carlo and her grandfather Pierre Delabroye had done the same before her – both had worked at the Louis-Dreyfus family business until they retired. Their dedication to the company inspired me. So when I was 12, I decided I would also work there one day.

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Jean-Michel Picaud

A lasting relationship begins

I remember my first day like it was yesterday: September 1st, 1975. I was 21 years old. My mother and I took the bus together to the office at 6 Rue Rabelais in Paris. I was briefly introduced to the guard and then brought to the Commercial Director in Shipping, who took me to the Charting department. It was a little office, with five or six people – quite different from the big open plan offices we see today.

At the time, I had trained as a notary and knew some English from school, but didn’t have much else in terms of formal education. I didn’t even know what Chartering was. I was taken on as a messenger boy, and was given the task of organizing incoming Telex messages in chronological order.

As I read the messages I was charged with organizing, I began, little by little, forming my own picture of the business.

organizing incoming Telex messages in chronological order.

One year after I joined the company, I had to complete my military service. I was drafted into “La Royale”, and joined the navy in Brest – a small infidelity to the company, which was out of my control. One year later, in 1976, I was back in Paris and also back at work. By then the company had changed offices, and moved to what is known as the “Immeuble Bleu” – the blue building, in the city’s 16th arrondissement. I was placed in the Freight Platform, and after learning the trade, was made responsible for shipments done by small vessels, called “coasters”, carrying grains within Europe and North Africa. I stayed with the Platform for six years, and since then, worked in Grains Execution, and finally, after moving to Geneva in 2009, I returned to Freight.

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Today, the thing I enjoy most about my job is the aspect of adding value to the company: that is what I work the hardest for.

The source of our devotion

It’s difficult to point to a single reason for my family’s attachment to the Group. Over the course of four generations, the company’s history also became part of our own as a family. For instance, I’ve been told that, while working in Paris during the German occupation, my great-grandfather protected the bronze relief portrait of Léopold Louis-Dreyfus, which was fixed to the wall in the entrance hall of the company’s offices in rue de la Banque, by creating a false wall over it to preserve it from damage or worse, from being confiscated.

This may be just one of many stories that have been told in my family, but because we all worked at the same company, they resonate in a unique way. Everyone knows of the difficulties brought on by World War II; but in my family, we also understood the importance of preserving Léopold’s memory. It was something we all had in common.

There is, however, one story which had a strong impact on all of us. In January 1937, when my mother was ten, she had severe health problems and needed an operation. She couldn’t be moved to a hospital, so a surgeon my grandfather knew agreed to come to the family home in Paris to do the procedure. The family disinfected the dining room and hung bedsheets on the walls to keep it sterilized, the whole house smelled of burnt alcohol. At the office that same morning, my grandfather ran into one of the two “Grands Patrons” at the time, who asked him how he was. When my grandfather explained that his young daughter was having surgery at home that same morning, the manager was stunned: “But Carlo, this is going to cost you a fortune!” My grandfather was very surprised at this – he said, “Monsieur, the surgeon didn’t say a word about how much this was all going to cost.” That same day, at about two or three in the afternoon, my grandfather was called to the HR office; there was an envelope waiting for him. There was no further explanation needed: my mother was to be looked after.

We often talk about how we are dedicated to the Maison Louis-Dreyfus, but this instance truly showed my family that the company was also dedicated to us.

The next generation?

Although my children decided to pursue different careers, in the early 2000s, my son had a summer job at LDC for one month in the Grain Platform Execution desk – so perhaps this still counts as the next generation.

When my mother retired, one of the two “Grand Patrons” told her, “Madame Picaud, we’ll be waiting for the fifth generation.” She answered that it was not up to her, she was “only the grandmother.” The reply: “But you are part of the family, Madame Picaud.”

As for me, all being well, I intend to continue working hard for Louis Dreyfus Company until my retirement, following our family tradition.


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