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The ages of MANE: Jean Mane on family leadership, authenticity and innovation

Jean Mane, leader of MANE group, shares his thoughts on growth for family businesses, balancing heritage with innovation, how he approaches investment in high-growth markets, and the advice he offers his family’s next generation.
Jean Mane, president of MANE Group
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Photography: David Morganti

It was a heart-warming moment. The scene was Madrid’s Westin Palace Hotel in June earlier this year where more than 100 family businesses had gathered for CampdenFB European Families in Business Awards. MANE, the $1.3 billion French family business, had just been named the Top Sustainable Family Business and Jean Mane, its fourth-generation principal, walked to the stage to accept the award and paid tribute to the pioneering work done by his ancestors.

Then Mane paused and invited his nephew Victor Mane to the stage. Victor, a fifth-generation family member and chemical engineer in the family business, spoke eloquently about his desire to continue embracing sustainability and accepted the challenge of building on that success on behalf of the next generation.

It must have been a moment to savour for Jean Mane who has helped transform the family business into an operator in 38 countries  with sustainable development at the heart of its corporate policy. 

His focus on innovation and globalisation led the company to extensive growth and made it one of the worldwide leaders in the fragrance, flavour design, and ingredients industry—the fifth-ranked globally and first in France. To get to that level, it invests almost 9% of revenues into research and development annually, equivalent to $87 million in 2016.

Jean has a proud history to look back on. He was appointed president of the group in 1995 when his father, Maurice Mane, retired to  become chairman of the supervisory board. Maurice’s other son, Michel, became president of the Americas region. Maurice had taken over from his father Eugène in 1959. Eugène and his brother Gabriel modernised and developed the business internationally upon inheriting the company that had been founded by their father, the first Victor Mane, in a small distillery producing fragrant materials from regional flowers and plants in 1871.

“Looking back over my 23 years of leadership at the head of the MANE Group, I would say that authenticity came first, as a prime manifestation of intellectual honesty,” Jean Mane says.

“I had a family name, my collaborators had to discover who the MANE behind my first name was. Authenticity was the most important thing to ensure my collaborators would not lose time in discerning how important the proportion of Dr Jekyll in Mr Hyde was! Right or wrong in my assumption, I believed that authenticity and consistency was the surest way to attract trust and respect that would become reciprocal.”

The magic ingredients

A few years ago, Mane used to present the evolution of the group’s manufacturing sites in France as a “Four Generations Four Factories” type of investment. Each generation added on to the talents of their respective fathers, and adapting meant finding where strengths and competitive advantages lay.

“It does not always mean to be ahead of the competition,” he says, “but to try and understand better where the unresolved issues of our clients are and how to offer a solution to their problems. A solution that others would not look into for lack of talents, or passion to resolve the issue for the absence of perceived monetary return on investments.”

The MANE mission is “capture what moves”, as the latest logo declares.

“At the heart of our art which is to create hedonic emotions for the final consumer, speaking to their olfactive or gustatory perception when enjoying the products of our clients, lies the perpetual attention to a world in motion,” Mane says.

It must keep up with changing tastes in a rapidly evolving industry.

“Motion and emotion: we must capture what moves, otherwise our own products will be considered obsolete by our clients. Helping them win market shares through successful launches or re-launches of their iconic products needs the capacity to create new emotions at a faster pace, with new ingredients. Nevertheless these [need to be] compliant with ever changing and stricter safety regulations. [They must adhere to] other criteria dictated by our own clients, through more stringent restrictions, or spread by all kinds of media as desirable for the benefit of society.

“We rely on our talents to guide our company along the successful pathways of innovation, be it incremental or disruptive.”

Euros and scents

This growth mindset has driven a great deal of expansion across the multinational business.

In February this year, MANE Germany’s fragrance division extended its office space by 30% in Hamburg-Harvestehude to accommodate the growing team which has multiplied sales by three since 2009.

MANE Colombia was inaugurated in March with twice the size of previous production facilities, plus a creative centre, and sales and marketing offices for both fragrances and flavours divisions. The site was intelligently designed with a self-supply of water and energy, and a bioclimatic design that provides lighting, ventilation, and indoor air quality. It will be LEED Gold certified.

MANE Kenya opened its doors to East Africa in April, in addition to its offices in Maghreb (Algeria and Morocco), Cape Town (South Africa), Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Accra (Ghana) to cover all corners of the continent.

Its focus on sustainability at all levels was one of the reasons CampdenFB’s judges decided MANE Group should win the Top Sustainable Family Business Award. An award-winning signatory of the Global Compact since 2003, MANE set up a whistleblowing hotline in 2016 and created a group ethics committee, with members reporting directly to the chairman.

In comparison to most of its larger competitors, MANE relies for the most part on internal growth over acquisitions and prefers agile “stepwise mergers” while retaining financial independence.

“This methodology of not spending the money we do not have in our accounts has certainly to be adapted in a world where quantitative easing and derivatives have created a monetary mass that is used to acquire companies at insane multiples,” Mane says.

“Our group has also been really frugal in its pattern of dividends distribution, a real frustration to those who would like to see us embrace the mergers and acquisitions pathway at a higher pace or float a part of our capital. At the same time, it offers us the possibility to take risks in investing a large proportion of our EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) in new countries. We have often been pioneers, or in countries where there were very few established competitors, or in countries like China and India where it was a must to invest—given their growing population and GDP, and the emergence of a new class of wealthy consumers.”

The group has been investing in conventional biotechnology for the past 30 years and Mane feels they are harvesting the fruits of their ethical choices as regulations have changed and they had the talent to anticipate them. Now that the “natural” trend has gained momentum, the company has the capacity to ramp up production to meet the demand, he says.

“New additions to our portfolio can be obtained through modern biotechnology, but also by the addition of the competences within our latest Indian merger and new investment. These will complement our range of molecules which are antibacterial or antioxidant and open new avenues in the stable sourcing of cosmetic actives from the diversity of Indian agriculture. [It will also] create a new platform for the large-scale synthesis of a range of patented synthetic molecules.

“We screen them to discover new functionalities such as odour control management or bactericide and fragrancing properties, such as Betahydrane for instance,” he says.

“The heart of MANE’s innovation strategy will remain in the hands of our seamless team of people reinventing our future with disruptive technology.”

Base notes

Of course, MANE has its fair share of business barriers. It is not immune to instability or reversibility in tax law, especially inheritance tax. This uncertainty is a growing pain when the huge amount of tax to be paid is incompatible with the need to grow the business internally and increase its value, he says.

The instability of the demand from Health Risk evaluation bodies is also a growing pain in both the group’s segments, flavours and fragrances. For the flavouring substances, the firm is still waiting for the full evaluation of 8% of the European Flavour Association’s (EFFA) application dossiers. The rules for evaluation, deletion, or restriction on the EU positive list vary with time and under political or public opinion pressures, some based on “fake science,” he says.

“Our clients add to this uncertain tyranny by asking us to anticipate on potential yet unpredictable deletions and therefore to reformulate some of our products.

“Each time a new health warning emerges, based rightfully on new scientific evidence or solely based on highly suspect scientific studies, tweets and gossips from influential millennials or political cowardice not to surrender to any situation, right or wrong, which could prevent them the gain of a few votes, we must anticipate to produce new evidences for the authenticity of our products. “

Although a taskforce exists within the company whose role it is to predict trends in the not-so-distant future, Mane says he can only be sure that “our future is uncertain and we must be prepared with a certain humour to face impossible or unrealistic scenarios which will cascade down from the consumer to the client to their supplier—us.”

A third threat is to MANE’s intellectual property. Trading products which are hybrid between intellectual works of art and chemical recipes, he says the group is constantly challenged to be more transparent about the molecular content of “our beautiful cuisine”. However, he doubts communication to the public of chemical names is going to positively influence their attitude towards chemistry, “when only 4% of the French admit they like chemistry as a subject for their baccalaureate or doctorate studies.”

The fifth element

In addition to nephew Victor, Mane’s daughter, Samantha Mane, is part of that fifth generation working to take the group well into the 21st century as director of its Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. What is his advice to her as she works alongside in consolidating the business?

“If I were sure to really apply them all myself, I would advise any of the members of the fifth generation of the MANE family to respect les Accords Toltèques, a code of conduct towards a serene life which are taught and explained by Don Ruiz, a Mexican author of Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts.

“Any company, especially a family-owned business, has a soul, principles, passion and is made of the flesh and blood of their human resources,” Mane says.

“In as much as my major at school or university was synthetic organic chemistry, what I learnt is that it is an experimental science. And human chemistry is far more complex than chemistry itself.

His philosophy is reflected by their employees, with a majority rating family governance as being one of the best parts of working at MANE.

“My eldest daughter Samantha, her cousins and sisters likewise, have learned, or will learn, to be humble in front of such complexity and keep a passion to learn and a strong capacity of resilience relying on an entertained sense of humour,” Mane says.

“All of them know that I am personally available day and night for advice… for what it is worth. I opine there is no absolute rule and even avoiding the errors of the past is not a guarantee to be led by impeccable leaders.”

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