To Start from Zero

They have no diplomas or just barely one, and their only real school is their talent. Having exceptional human and/or entrepreneurial qualities, they have developed the art of rebounding in face of risks and difficulties to construct great enterprises starting from zero.

200 € million for a finger in the jam

With no experience other than a certificate of school attendance, he helps his family with their farm located in the Lot-et-Garonne. A big fan of his Mother’s jams and jellies, his success begins with avec two large containers borrowed from a local business, two tripods and two bottles of gas. He wants to industrialize the production of jam whilst maintaining their homemade quality. The beginnings however, are difficult: lack of means, he is unable to deliver to his clients, no one takes him seriously, and no bank wants to finance his venture. Having little equipment and a lot of debt, he still doesn’t give up. His courage and perseverance finally force his destiny. Luck smiles upon him: a banker who has confidence in him, helps him to expand and this is the start of a rising success. « We advance together ! » : that is the motto of LG, the 65 year old who, with 95 employees, sales revenue of 200 million € and a presence in China and Japan, produces today 11 million jars of jam, and 1,2 billion packages of candy.

350 € million for handywork in a garage

His odyssey begins in a garage in Strasbourg where his father, a teacher, puts together a sort of water ballet for a musical performance including « Singing in the rain » under an artificial rain … spouting from a garden hose. Noticed and contacted by a Parisian show agency, the family accepts a contract to accompany the travelling Bouglione circus for a year !  These are two founding steps which exercise all their magic on DF, who creates the Water Organs in 1974, and then in 1979, the IWS company, with 350 € million of sales revenue and 31 employees. Known in more than 70 countries and solicited for the Olympic Games in Shanghai, this small company is inspired by high fashion to create extraordinary shows mixing a play of water, light, and music.. A great business lesson relying upon two essential ingredients: loyalty to an element – water – and the loyalty of the team devoted to the company and its leader: all of the employees are there since 20 years.

DNA coming from the same bucket

In a social and economic environment where the diploma is all important and is often considered as the only means of obtaining employment and success, these entrepreneurial adventures show that professional success is possible without diplomas, by developing the qualities of ambition, hard work, effort, and team spirit.

These two entrepreneurs have similar DNA. They are passionate, motivated and curious about everything. Pragmatic, creative and particularly hard workers, they all learned and matured « on the job » whilst respecting the human qualities dear to them. For them, being a self-made man, not knowing how to make a presentation or deliver a message, was perceived as a handicap. Yet for all of them, being thoughtful and generous is  essential in order to move mountains, succeed and handle failures, all the while considering that an operating P&L is often more meaningful to them than a balance sheet.

Taking risks where others do not, they all acknowledge the necessity of being well surrounded, of listening and analyzing, whilst retaining their good ideas; a simple and powerful means of decoding the expectations and wishes of their clients. Their sense of relationship building, of human contact, their reactivity and their ability to adapt are a true « trademark ».

They think about their less successful friends. They both admit to having had a lot of luck even though they don’t say that they do everything possible to put luck on their side. Their message to young persons in difficulty is quite clear: « one can always succeed, even without a diploma ».

Their experience of how France is perceived by foreigners is much different from the ideas of others in the current environment. Being a French entrepreneur is an opportunity for them. «France encourages, sells well and inspires dreams; the price is of little importance on international markets ». Their strength lies in the rare examples, of those who are able to move mountains: “to love, learn to love and to be loved”. Having transcended scholarly and social barriers, they are active in charitable projects, thus thanking the world for what life has given them.

Gilles Bouchard

Caroline Robertson-Augé

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