It all began in the late 1970s. François Marty founded a community project near Calais for unemployed youths, refugees ad released prisoners. A sawmill was constructed, and the initiative became the first social integration company on French soil. Marty then went on to acquire a struggling sawmill specialising in pallet manufacturing. The emerging company, called SPL (Scierie et Palettes du Littoral), has become a market leader in pallet production.
Under the government of Lionel Jospin, Marty become Advisor and Chief of Staff to Guy Hascoët, Secretary of State for the Solidarity Economy and helped draft legislation on “collective interest co-operative companies”.
In 1988, Marty founded the Chênelet professional reintegration projects, aimed at organising the construction of social housing by integration-oriented companies.
The vision: to integrate at-risk populations such as the long-term unemployed and former inmates through employment in the construction sector, and build eco-friendly social housing with the aim of reducing the cost of renting.
The impact: since 1986, two thousand individuals have benefited from integration schemes thanks to Marty’s company. Sixty-four percent were able to find a job after spending two years with SPL.
François Marty, can you tell us about your unusual career path?
It started off on the path to failure. I was a troubled youth, living in a rough part of town and unfit for school. I was taken away from my parents at the age of 17 and was taken in by the monks of Tamié Abbey, and they were the ones who taught me to work. Together with my wife, some friends and an old priest, we looked after the first refugees in Calais, the first young people unable to find work. We looked for a process which will make a lot of noise—pallet manufacturing. Our guiding philosophy was: “If you don’t tire them out, they’ll tire you out!” We learned to work hard, but we didn’t have a viable business model. Then I met the Mulliez family, who guided me toward an MBA at the HEC business school. My studies there, combined with my knowledge of manual labour, gave me both a spirit of ingenuity and a sense of practicality.
What drives you?
I find strength and satisfaction every time I say to myself, “I’m not living for nothing”. For me, not living for nothing means doing useful things, giving jobs to those who have no work. Everyone who joins us feels the need to be useful – they are high-profile people who devote a significant share of their income to feel useful to society. Life can pass by—we’re always dreaming about doing something interesting but then we leave it “for tomorrow”. For me, the real dreamers are those who follow their dreams here and now.
When dreamers create companies, they also have to manage them. What is your approach?
In addition to manufacturing pallets, we also build high-grade eco-friendly social housing. The traditional social housing system, with its extra renovation, security and education costs, only creates the poor of tomorrow. Our goal is different. We want to build attractive and affordable homes for low-income residents. In Calais, T5 houses are built for €250,000 and earn €160,000 over 40 years. We may be 20% more expensive than poor-quality social housing (which generated no jobs and led to a large amount of unpaid bills and the need for year-round repairs), but in our homes, residents get power, heating and hot water for €550 per year. We have also reintroduced local resources into the production process, using straw, hemp and poplar in construction. Plants growing in Pas-de-Calais are gathered and used to assemble green roofs. Water is systematically recovered, leading to savings for the plumbing network.
We also take part in a project in partnership with the European Union. This project is targeted at youths failing at school who supposedly “don’t know how to work” but excel at video games. We tweak certain machines, particularly saws, to enable them to be controlled remotely by console joysticks. And these kids from troubled neighbourhoods who fail at school master the technique in three days when it normally takes a year and a half of training.
PhiTrust and BNP Paribas Wealth Management have significant involvement with your company. What do you think about this partnership and the involvement of bankers in general?
The people at PhiTrust support my dream without changing its nature. They listen to me and ask challenging questions that enable me to improve the way I do business. They hold me accountable, and that helps me avoid certain mistakes. PhiTrust also enables us to expand our knowledge and network.
The relationship is equal and stimulating. To give an example, Olivier Deguerre helped me understand the benefit of offering greater profitability to investors. In turn, I showed him that financial profit was not the only motivating factor drawing in high-profile industrial and commercial investors. I only have positive things to say about my relationship with PhiTrust. Our relationship is open, which is a rare thing.
I am also fortunate to be working with bankers who accept my business model. They simply tell me, “You’ve got a company that creates jobs and performs well financially.” Bankers also help me establish contacts with clients who want to invest part of their money for the common good.
There can be new horizons for the PhiTrust-BNP Paribas partnership. We could create an employee association that would devote 3% of its time to help socially-responsible entrepreneurs find families and foundations interested in taking part.
Re-invigorating the economy is everyone’s business!
For our Francophone readers, watch the beginning of the documentary, “Les Défricheurs” by Marion Claus (produced by Chasseur d’Etoiles avec la participation de Canal+) with François Marty:
François Marty is a social entrepreneur financed by Phitrust Partenaires. This investment in social entrepreneurship is offered by BNP Paribas Wealth Management to its clients.