Aquarelle : Passionate entrepreneurs in action
Let's meet with Aquarelle’s CEO, Eric Dorchies. Almost a quarter of a century back, in 1994, a small group of young entrepreneurs within CIEL group, including Harold Mayer, laid down the groundwork for what would later become the world-renowned Aquarelle group. To this day, the spirit of entrepreneurship has been an integral part of the values shared within this subsidiary of CIEL group which specializes in the textile and garment industry.
CIEL Stories: What does it mean and what does it take to be an entrepreneur within a firm or group?
Eric Dorchies: Entrepreneurs are mainly described as people with the capability to develop new ideas or concepts and turn them into successful business ventures. At Aquarelle, we mainly refer to this as the “entrepreneur attitude”: being passion-driven, achieving very hard work, demonstrating exceptional commitment and developing a champion culture. One of our critical success factors is our ability to behave as entrepreneurs and not as corporate managers. With 90% of our competitors in the Textile-Apparel industry being owner-managed companies, we, as professionals at Aquarelle and CIEL Textile, therefore need to lead and behave as “Entrepreneurs”.
CS: Nowadays, intrapreneurship (or the ability to nurture entrepreneurs within the group) is gradually winning the mindset in the corporate world. Does one necessarily need to reach a higher hierarchy within the company to behave and act as an intrapreneur?
E.D: It’s been long since the transformation of key entrepreneurial attitudes and attributes into our core values has been achieved and integrated into our culture. When it comes to the empowerment of our staff members to the status of entrepreneurs within the group and to act as such for the greater good, we expect everyone to take the initiative to perform accordingly, irrespective of the status or hierarchy level. It is obvious that decision-making, risk-taking, application of novel ideas to resolve recurring issues need to be concerted, but everyone’s views and ideas are always taken into consideration.
CS: It is said that at aquarelle, every single employee is an entrepreneur. How do you instill this spirit in your colleagues and nurture it?
E.D: Our company culture is very strong, and we are continuously communicating about our values and philosophy. Since the very early days of Aquarelle, we have developed a profit-sharing scheme for leaders and staff. It is only an example of incentives that keeps everyone motivated. Subsequently, it visibly contributes to the optimisation of the company revenues and the reduction of our costs — two key factors always taken into consideration by any successful entrepreneur. Moreover, our factories are decentralised profit centres: factory managers and their leadership teams are driven to attract the most demanding customers with the highest margin orders. The latter are produced at the most competitive costs to deliver the highest profit for the group, while the highest profitability bonuses are shared among themselves and their staff members. We always strive for win-win-win situations for the clients, the group and our colleagues.
CS: Being a relatively new management approach in Mauritius, has the entrepreneur-driven philosophy proved itself elsewhere?
E.D: With each one of us inhabited by this entrepreneurial drive, we have taken the calculated risk of investing in Bangalore, India, more than 10 years ago. There, out of a joint venture with trustful and reliable Italian partners, we have developed Laguna India. From day one, we have applied the same recipe: the implementation of an “Entrepreneurship” culture, the decentralisation of the management approach and the application of the profit-sharing scheme. The same methodology was applied when we started Aquarelle India in 2007. I strongly believe that this approach has set very strong foundations from the start and has led to the successful journey we all witnessed consequently. At the end of the day, whether in Mauritius, in India or elsewhere, we are collaborating with humans who share the same needs, wants and dreams.
CS: What are the benefits a firm would gain by adopting an entrepreneurial culture on the medium and long term?
E.D: The empowerment of staff members with the entrepreneurial approach might seem daring but local companies would be achieving a lot more through its application. It is a recurring situation for me to hear from my leaders that they pilot their business units as if they were their very own. It takes the concepts of responsibility and accountability to a whole new level. This is one of the main benefits of adopting an entrepreneurial culture. The motivation level remains very high while our leaders tend to stay for a longer period with us, taking into consideration the competitive talent market environment such as the one existing in India.
CS: Today, what do you look for when recruiting an employee at any level? Are there “entrepreneur” qualities that you seek through interviews?
E.D: From an attitude point of view, we are for sure looking for “entrepreneur” qualities when recruiting: passion, goal-driven attitude, open-mindedness, effective time management and good communication skills, among others. Since we are now a global company, we value candidates who are motivated by international careers. The fearlessness, showcased when one has to leave everything behind to venture on unknown grounds to start something new, is a strong quality successful entrepreneurs possess.
CS: If you had one piece of advice to offer TO young entrepreneurs out there, waiting for that impulse to start their business, what would it be?
E.D: A true entrepreneur is passionate and has a rock-solid faith in his/her new ideas, products and concepts. Young people who are truly passionate about their endeavours should always move into action and start their companies, whatever the cost. My recommendation is that they should be looking out to partner up with a mentor possessing strong leadership qualities and management experience. Solid, trustworthy partnerships are aces every entrepreneur would dream of having up their sleeves in today’s fierce, competitive business world.