Regis Arnoux – Chairman & CEO, Catering International Services (CIS) – France
Regis Arnoux founded Marseille-based CIS in 1992 and looks back at years of service and growth. He reflects on the company’s commitment to innovation and continued development based on its core business of catering and living accommodation services in extreme environments.
You founded CIS in 1992. Look back, what would be the three major milestones in the development of your company that you would like to mention?
The first important step when you create a company is to win your first contract! My first contract was in the oil and gas industry, in Siberia, on behalf of a Canadian company. At the time CIS was completely unknown. I found out that this Canadian company was looking to develop in this region , so I picked up the phone to call their manager and pitch our services. He welcomed me in his office at 6 am and asked me how I could help him. Although CIS was relatively unknown, I highlighted my personal credentials and professional experience in Canada. Earning this contract spearheaded the development of the company.
In 1998 we issued an IPO in order to have enough financial flexibility. Today, CIS is the leading catering service company in the Brazilian offshore sector. We are very involved in Brazil. We have earned the trust of Petrobras, one of the fiercest clients to deal with. Thanks to our privileged relationship with Petrobras, we continue to develop our activity in Latin American whereas our competitors have suffered from recent market trends. We have even managed to win additional market shares.
In 2006, we completed our first acquisition by integrating CIEPTAL, an Algerian catering company. This strategic decision has yield outstanding results; our turnover has quintupled ever since. We have since sought more external growth operations in the mining sector, in the Democratic Republic of Congo notably. In 2014, we further expanded our international presence by establishing a strategic partnership with Saudi company Zamil. Today, CIS is present in more than 30 countries and oversees more than 200 operations. We are currently the third largest player in remote site management for the oil and gas industry.
How would you define the importance of oil and gas today for CIS, and what are some of the current market trends that you have identified?
In 2014, oil and gas represented 64 percent of our turnover, so it is very substantial. The oil and gas industry is undeniably suffering from plummeting prices at the moment. Investments have slowed down, while operations are sustained. As long as oil and gas companies continue to produce, there will be opportunities for CIS. We for example recently won a three-year contract on an offshore platform in Brazil. In gas, we are bidding for tenders for the construction of LNG terminals in Africa.
I am passionate with emerging markets. They are booming, often lacking adequate infrastructure and support services and therefore, such markets present genuine opportunities. In emerging markets, we must however address issues related to logistics, hygiene and transportation. We either operate our own logistics, or we rely on a qualified contractor. We then organize onsite storage and ensure that everything is frozen in accordance with international health standards. Each CIS affiliate must undergo stringent training sessions in transformation and installation. Anyone who visits our kitchens must imperatively wear a protection suit, security shoes and so on. Our clients’ employees often suffer from food poisoning when working abroad. If any issue arises in a life camp or on an oil and gas platform, we take food samples and analyze them in laboratories to evaluate the origins of the incident. We also mobilize nutritionists, who help our clients determine adequate diets during the course of their missions.
Africa represents more than half of your turnover. On a more general note, what is CIS’s internationalization strategy ?
In 10 years, Africa’s GDP will grow by 650 percent according to estimations. Africa is home to incredible resources. We are therefore well positioned across Africa from West to East. I am actively seeking external growth possibilities. We recently unveiled a new strategy called “ARISE 500.” I considered that in order for CIS to grow at a reasonable rate, we must carefully examine our strategy. I therefore hired a specialized management-consulting firm. The first task they performed consisted in a detailed inventory within the company to assess our strengths and weaknesses. Based on the outcome of this inventory, we distinguished together between feasible and unreasonable targets. Our consultant advised us to concentrate on our core markets, Africa notably.
The second mission consisted in moving beyond this observation, and beyond identifying obstacles. The second phases therefore consisted in providing recommendations for us to achieve this objective.
Every month they dispatch a team to carefully examine our performance and determine whether we are following their suggestions. We capitalize on our reputation and credentials in Africa to win new contracts worldwide. For instance, we delivered a mission to Exxon in Chad, which went particularly well. As a result, Exxon is looking to hire our services in other countries. Our competitors are less focused on tropical countries and emerging markets. Their strategies are usually to focus on their core businesses, meaning the hotel industry. We have a bright future ahead of us. Operations will always need catering services. It is essential for professionals to be able to enjoy a decent meal with peace of mind.
You were awarded the Prix de l’audace creative in 2002. What does it signify?
I was also interviewed by a journalist who then named me “the entrepreneur of the extreme”!
This nickname of “brave entrepreneur” symbolizes our commitment to emerging markets, remote site and hostile environments. Winning this prize was a great moment of my career. I come from the South of France and therefore never had privileged relations inside the political realm. When I found out that I would be awarded this prize from the former French president, I was extremely honored.