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February 24, 1999


By CBR Staff Writer

In November 1998, Lyons, France-based services firm Soleri SA had an initial public offering on the Paris Stock Exchange, gaining 10.2% new capital. The new shares sold on November 18 at between 205 and 225FF, which would make the company’s market capitalization in the region of 466m FF ($80m). Georges Rousseau, President, hopes to add fuel to maintain the acquisitive and internal growth which Soleri has displayed for nineteen years. Rousseau intends to broaden the company’s client base by increasing the government sector which is currently 14% of the firm’s business. Rousseau hopes to expand this sector to 20% in the next three years, building on a contract with the Agriculture Ministry. Telecommunications is another target area, but Rousseau is well aware that it is not his field. Soleri’s success has revolved around the know-how for financial networks gleaned by the three founders while working for IBM. Soleri got into the market for large financial institutions early, and it has forged its position on the back of that, installing 30,000 workstations in France and Spain. The business is more than a network story; Soleri’s thirteen acquisitions testify to a canny eye for new markets. The tactic has been to pick and buy services companies with an existing expertise and niche in a potential sector. Rousseau is in talks at the moment, for example, to acquire a telecoms company, probably a French one, but would not disclose a name. He did say however that he anticipates telecoms to provide 10-15% of revenue within three years. So far, Rousseau hasn’t needed the telecoms market. Soleri’s revenue figures have been rising for several years. Turnover rose from 360m French Francs ($61.6m) in 1996, through 427m ($73m, 19% growth), to 629m last year ($107m, 47% growth); figures calculated at exchange rate of $1= 0.171215 FF, February 17 1999). The glittering figures are partly attributable to the string of companies that Soleri has absorbed. The company has enlarged internally as well, the growth rate was 32% last year. Personnel has kept pace with turnover. When Rousseau decamped from IBM in 1980 to set up Soleri, it was a minnow with three employees. Now it ranks 26th out of France’s 30, 000 services companies. It has 1320 staff, plans to increase that to 1500 by the end of 1999 and breach the 2000 personnel mark by 2002. Soleri has three divisions; engineering is the largest of these with 45%. Soleri designs bespoke IT systems with object oriented technology. One client is the Spanish savings bank Caixa de Cataluna, from whose workstations bankers can book theater tickets, buy car parking subscriptions, organize travel and also do their jobs. Software is the smallest element (21%) of the business, while in the systems integration sector (34%), Soleri is a vendor of SAP, Mapics and Oracle products. The bulk of Soleri’s client list is mid-ranged businesses (200-3000 personnel). Main markets are financial (40%) and industrial (46%), Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) is a typical client in the finance sector, with electricity giant Schneider Group and tire manufacturer Groupe Michelin industry clients. Soleri has been unable to turn national financial customers into international ones, unlike its industrial sector. BNP have separate services suppliers in Spain; Spanish distribution company El Corte Ingles are clients on both sides of the Pyrenees. Spain has been the first step of the European tour. Although more than half of its business is in the Paris region, with a further 20% in Lyons, its headquarters neighborhood, the Spanish arm now accounts for 8% of total revenues and has 130 of the 1300 staff. The company has big plans for Western Europe; Rousseau says that services companies in England, Italy and Germany will provide 20% of the firm’s turnover outside France in the next three years. Germany is the key to the East; Rousseau explains that German firms find the route for expansion to the former Soviet states easier than their French counterparts. Soleri already has clients in Poland and Turkey and is currently scanning the German market for suitable acquisitions. The three founders are still the major share holders, Rousseau and the Vice President, Paul Vauthey, own 30% each, Jean-Pierre Mauran, the technical director, 25%.

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