Second time lucky? Noel Goutard, Valeo's legendary long-time leader, is retiring in the hope that this time, it's for good.
In March, Goutard will step down as head of Valeo's supervisory board. This strategy-setting job was made to his specifications two years ago, when Valeo shareholders declared the company in a state of emergency and called the retired Goutard to the rescue.
Meanwhile Thierry Morin, head of Valeo's executive committee, will see his role evolve. He'll become Valeo's all-powerful president-directeur-général, or chairman and chief executive officer.
"Valeo is out of the red and its balance sheet is sound," Goutard told Automotive News Europe. "Thierry Morin is a good successor who has shown his mettle."
Goutard was speaking a few days after Morin said the company had reduced its debt and returned to profit last year.
Valeo last year earned a net E135 million after a loss of E591 million in 2001. Its profit margin on operations averaged 5 percent of sales, compared with 3.8 percent the previous year. Morin expressed confidence that it would grow to 6 percent this year. Debt fell to 27 percent of shareholder equity from 29 percent.
Morin said Valeo would drop the dual management structure created as part of the 2001 rescue operation.
"Obviously Noel Goutard thinks Valeo's management can face up to the job," Morin said.
The change will be proposed to Valeo's shareholders at their March 18 annual meeting, and is expected to be adopted.
So Valeo will return to France's traditional management structure of a board of directors chaired by the CEO. That had been Goutard's role from 1987, when he joined Valeo, until 2000, when he first stepped down to make way for André Navarri, a former executive at engineering company Alstom he had handpicked.
But Navarri was barely 10 months into the job when Goutard and Valeo's shareholders forced him out because they felt he was not tackling the company's difficulties rapidly enough. Morin, who had long been Valeo's chief financial officer, took his place.
"Thierry Morin is very good at troubleshooting," said Goutard. "And in his kind of job, you spend a good part of your day doing just that."
Under Goutard's supervision, Morin filled the gaps in a depleted executive team, cut costs by moving plants to cheaper locations and selling non-core assets, and expanded business in Asia. He also solved a bitter legal and labor stalemate in Rochester, New York, a US plant Valeo inherited from ITT Automotive, an electrical and electronics supplier bought under Goutard.
But the 71-year-old Goutard is not severing all links with Valeo. He will sit on the future 10-member board of directors and head an executive committee.
"My responsibilities at the head of this committee will be peanuts compared with what they were at the supervisory board," Goutard said.
But it's not Goutard's style to be content with peanuts. A few years ago he created a private equity fund called NG Investments. Among other things, it has taken over a company, Compteurs Schlumberger, that Goutard ran in the 1970s.
"It's quite wonderful to be your own boss," said Goutard.
He is also farming in central France and has been studying the most rational way to water his cattle. Somehow, one suspects Goutard's cows, while chewing their cuds, ought to mind their productivity.