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From Farmer to World Leader - Delfingen

De
193 pages




The story of Delfingen is not only the story of Bernard Streit who remarkably developed the company but it also closely relates to the astonishing path of the Streit family, men and women of sturdy character, strong personality and outstanding courage.





Bernard Streit is an unconventional corporate leader. Here is a man of peasant origins, whose school achievements are modest and who is ill at ease when it comes to writing. To top it off, he was plagued by an extremely shy nature when he was a young man. Thanks to his unlimited willpower and remarkable foresight, he managed to hoist Delfingen, step by step, among the very first world leaders in its field.





The man is fascinating and he tells his story in an extremely simple and straightforward manner. It’s much more than a success story, more than simply explaining how a rural kid developed a global company. It’s the story of how this self-made man, through forty years of hardships and victories, developed a unique vision of life and a most original understanding of the world.





The way he made his company grow, his spectacular success and his testimony give rise to unlimited optimism. His favorite aphorisms: “The worst is never sure to come.” and “What is impossible today may become possible tomorrow.” sum up pretty well the extraordinary life of Delfingen’s charismatic boss. The whole book contains surprising and positive messages that Bernard Streit wanted to pass on to his coworkers, customers, partners and to all those who will read this little gem.

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couverture
CLAUDINE LE TOURNEUR D’ISON

FROM FARMER TO...

To my parents and stepparents,
to Françoise my wife
to Philippe my brother
to Gérald and Hélène
to David and Stéphanie
to my grandchildren Victor, Benoît, Agathe
...

Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot.

Others look on it as a cow they can milk.

Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon

Winston Churchill

Contents
Titre
From France to Switzerland 
The Strength and Courage of a Farmer
The Power of Origins
The Miracle of Plastics
Emile, the Creative Soul
A Hectic Childhood
Our First Vacation
“Salut les Copains”
My Extreme Shyness
Philippe, my Brother
Back to Real Life
First Flirts with the Banks
The Workshop
My Father, the Remarkable Craftsman
Forward March … or Die!
One Step from the Abyss
Back to School
The Convolute Miracle
Our First Steps Abroad
Major Changes in our Market Positioning
Fighting Back
Going Public
A Coach for a Trial
A Never-ending Nightmare
VIII - Discovering America - The Other Side of the Atlantic
Racing against Competition
Making Progress in the United States 
Total Failure in Latin America 
Beyond Crises
Banks: the Moody and the Bearish
El Paso and the Mafia
IX - Against All Odds - A Very Wrong Appraisal
When Fate Strikes
In Search of Enthusiasm Lost 
Focusing on the Essence of Working Together
“Primitive” and Instinctive 
X - The Dizziness of 2008 - A Shattered Strategy
Walking on a High-wire above the Abyss
My Grandfather, Still by My Side
The World and Us
XI - The World of Enterprise - The Big Village Family
The Honduran Mafia
The Challenges of Hiring and Firing
The End of Paternalism
At the Crossroads of Conflicting Interests
Uncertain and Alone
The Guiding Principle
XII - Towards the Rising Sun - A Breakthrough in Asia
Complex Mental Structures
A Journey in Asia
XIII - 2014: a Great Year for Delfingen - The Quest for the Holy Grail
The Honduran Customs
In a Jam with Honey
XIV - Today and Tomorrow - The Time to Pass the Torch Is Nearing
We, the Hidden Champions
The Asian Dreamland
Europe Is Ill
An Eternal Quest
Time to Conclude
Index

Foreword

I wanted this book to be written as a testimony to my son Gérald and all the coworkers at Delfingen. I wanted to reaffirm a deep conviction: everything becomes possible if we place the human being at the center of our concerns.” The man who wrote these words is Bernard Streit.

And in fact this testimony can be shared with everyone and particularly with the elite who have very little knowledge – if any – of what a company is. Their conception is full of clichés and prejudice that they learned at school from teachers for whom the working world, apart from educational institutions, is a completely unknown territory. But they are not responsible for this ignorance or poor knowledge. We, the corporate leaders, have failed to teach the facts.

But the gap is now filled with the story of Bernard Streit and his company, Delfingen. The book explains what a company should be: a place where wealth is generated by teamwork for the benefit of four different populations: coworkers, customers, shareholders and all the territories in which the company operates. (I listed these four populations by alphabetical order on purpose.) It is a great mistake to limit the mission of a company to the production of short-term profit for the exclusive benefit of shareholders. First, because a vision and a long-term strategy are necessary if a company wants to attain sustainability. Second, because a company is first of all made up of women and men who, together, produce wealth.

We should stop demonizing profit. Profit is a discipline, indeed a virtue, serving self-sufficiency, financing, development and investment, with the fair remuneration of the coworkers … and of the shareholders.

A company is a place where people learn to cultivate a sense of commitment – first by being demanding with themselves – and where diversity and confrontation are welcome, where coworkers are given the right to make mistakes or possibly fail. A company’s performance is not measured only in terms of financial results and certainly not on a short-term scale. It is also – and very much so – measured in terms of customer satisfaction, well-being of the employees, motivation or indeed enthusiasm of the coworkers, as well as how much the company contributes to a society’s overall feeling of well living together. In this way, a company is a testimony of responsibility and solidarity.

The measure induces behaviors. The leaders of Delfingen have understood this well. As profits grew, so did the company and number of coworkers whose competencies were developed.

This book, the story of Delfingen, is a remarkable educational tool for those who don’t know what a company is, as well as for those who think that they know what it is and who, often, actually run a company.

Yes, as Winston Churchill wrote, “A company is a horse pulling a wagon.” It is that horse that must produce material and non-material wealth that will make our society evolve for the benefit of all.

This book is a treatise on the corporate world, on what a company must be, on the reasons of its existence. It comes at time when other elements of society, family, church, school, state are ill. The story of this French company is a simple and refreshing one, full of common sense and optimism, and it shows us the way to responsibility and solidarity.

Henri Lachmann
Former CEO of...

Back to Radelfingen

Autumn has already settled in but the countryside around Anteuil, in the East of France, still displays a lavish green. The buildings of Delfingen stand alone in front of soft rolling hills, as if dominating a landscape of woods and small valleys, and the company seems to draw its strength and energy from this environment where nature remains unspoiled.

I had arrived at the train station in Besançon and rented a car to drive to Anteuil, a small village of about 400 inhabitants located halfway between Montbéliard and Besançon, not far from the Swiss border. I had never visited this region called Franche-Comté and I discover the foothills of the Jura mountains as they bask in the September sunlight. I have an appointment with Bernard Streit, the Chief Executive Officer of Delfingen, as I want to write a portrait him for a business magazine.

The man who greets me in the large and light-filled hall is not wearing a suit and tie....

1

The Home of Our Fathers

Streit, Devil of a Man

I was in Rome, Italy, for a gathering at the Academy for Entrepreneurs where I was regularly invited since I had received the Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1996. A distinguished guest is always invited to these prestigious seminars and on that day the lecturer was Luc Ferry, philosopher and former Education and Research Minister in the French government. He was sitting opposite me at the lunch table. Two charming ladies were delighted to be sitting right next to him. One of them, after many flatteries, asked him what he thought of death. “Ah, my dear ladies, when one has been to the very end of the reflection on the subject of death – as I have – the conclusion is that death is nothing!” I thought that was quite a pompous remark so I spoke up: “Mister Minister, I think your philosophy just helps you bear other people’s grief! Well I’d like to see how you are going to behave when your time has come!” He turned toward me (so far he hadn’t given me a look) and glanced at the badge on my coat. “Is that your name?” he asked. “Yes, that is my name.” “Sir, your name is a diabolical one!” And he cut the conversation short. I had to make efforts to refrain from insulting him.

I put this incident in the back of my mind until, a few years later, I met Dominique Peccoud, a Jesuit priest appointed by Pope John Paul II to represent the Roman Catholic Church to the UN and the International Labor Organization. He is a man of great culture and immense knowledge. In the early years 2000, he had a consulting role in a Christian corporate leaders organization working on the theme of globalization and the conditions for globalization to represent a benefit to mankind. I am not a member of this organization but I have friends who are and they sent me one of his speeches. He based his theory on the Gospel of the multiplication of the loaves, interpreting it as an admonition to make those who have far too much share with those who have nothing. This inspired me so much that I did everything I could to meet him. When I did, I spoke to him about his interpretation of the Gospels and how he must have been criticized by some Christians. In the course of this conversation, we got to talk about Luc Ferry, as Father Peccoud had taken part in a debate with him. I straightforwardly told him “Oh, so you’ve met this smooth talker?” He asked why I said that and I explained what had happened a few years back. He then told me that Luc Ferry speaks several languages including German, that he masters. He knew that in German my name meant ‘quarrel’ and, although an atheist, he had a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals of Catholic religion. He knew that what unites men and women is God, that is love, and that what separates them is the Devil: quarrels and hatred. In a split second he had associated “Streit” to a diabolical phenomenon! On that day with Father Peccoud I learned a great lesson. I told myself “Bernard, before thinking that someone is a fool, you should first remember that you know very little!” I have spent a great part of my life trying to become less ignorant!

image

When we were children, my grandfather Christian Streit liked to tell us the story of our family name. A long, long time ago, a village boy had ventured into the woods and suddenly saw a wolf. Controlling his fear, he decided to lie on the ground and play dead. The wolf came closer to sniff the body and it put its two front paws on the boy’s shoulders and its snout on the nape of his neck. At that moment...

II

Otto and Emile,
the Ones Who Paved the Way

The Moustier Family

My grandfather could see that his elder son Otto was showing little interest for farm work so he decided to put him in charge of the maintenance of all the farm equipment. Otto got to work, developed an interest, actually started making farm machinery and eventually set up his own business. My father, four years younger than Otto, joined in. Their business grew and the workshop in the farm soon became too small. In the nearby village of Clerval, they had spotted an old foundry that had gone bankrupt in 1936. It was just what they needed and they made an offer to the owner of the building, the Marquis de Moustier. He agreed to rent them the building but on the condition that after the war they would team with the marquis in a partnership. The deal was made so Otto and Emile spent the war years making machines for agriculture.

The Moustier are a famous family in the area. The Marquis Léonel de Moustier, with whom my father was in business, was Member of the French Parliament, director of a coal mine in the North of France and vice-president of the District Chamber of Agriculture. The Marquis played a major part in the beginning of our industrial experience. He may have been a poor businessman but he was a very educated person. I recently read the very beautiful book written by one of his sons, Henri, in loving memory of his father. It is well written and very moving. The Moustier family always lived in Bournel Castle, even during the French Revolution. They were never tempted to go and flock with the court in Versailles and so they had maintained a strong relationship of rights and duties in their area of influence. After 1789, as no revolutionary ventured from Paris to wreak havoc in the region, they had no problems.

Otto and...

III

The House in Anteuil

Michèle and Emile

My parents got married in 1950. Michèle, my mother, was from the village of Anteuil. She was French and was a Catholic whereas my father Emile was Swiss and Protestant. Because of the difference of religion, the priest in Anteuil refused to celebrate the wedding in the central nave of the church and it took painstaking negotiations to have the priest finally condescend to hold the ceremony in the smaller, offside, Saint Joseph nave. This hurt my mother’s feelings. Before she died in 2011, she had insisted that a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor should perform the religious service together, which was done. In the speech I made on that day, I explained that my mother had given us a fine lesson in wisdom because she had forgiven the wrong that had been done on their wedding day. Before being carried to the cemetery, her casket had been placed in the central nave. I became an orphan at age fifty-nine. My grief work enabled me to understand many things about my parents and our history. Although we did not have a closely-bonded relationship, their absence is far more difficult to accept than I would have imagined. I became hyperactive after they died and it was probably a way for me to think less often of their departure and suffer less from it.

As a child, my mother had lived in extreme poverty. Her father, Elisée Dodivers, was the village road-mender and he died when she was five. Elisée’s widow, Georgette, managed to survive by cleaning houses and washing the laundry for other people. My mother was a devout person and she educated us in an ecumenical spirit, praying with both Protestants and Catholics. My parents had us baptized in Catholic faith but we are deeply Protestants. As she had lived so long in misery, my mother could not imagine that I had reached such success by staying an honest man. In her mind, it was just not possible to evolve from the poverty she had known to the prosperity of a successful entrepreneur without robbing people and society. Her honesty had no limits. One day, my father went with a friend of his to buy two medium-sized metal hangars from the US Army surplus. When they came back, the friend told Michèle: “Hey, Ma Streit, we just made a darn good deal! We got the two hangars but the American Army guys made a mistake and they just invoiced one.” My mother got angry and yelled: “The two of you go back right now and pay for the second one or give it back! We’re not rich but we’re not thieves.” My father didn’t say a word and his friend was stunned. Because he was a Protestant, even though he did not go to the temple, Emile’s vision of business was very different.

My grandfather Elisée, the road-mender, had a hard, distressing life and a tragic fate. His mother, when she was an attractive young lady, twice became pregnant from two different married men in Anteuil. She had a girl and a boy, my grandfather. The two natural fathers put some of their savings together and decided to send her to the United States, leaving the two kids in the village in the care of their grandmother on the mother’s side. They were sent to work on farms. The young lady got married at Saint Patrick’s church in New York and she never came back. Every time I am in New York I go to this famous church and I meditate upon the strange destiny of my great-grandmother. Years later, one of her distant cousins in Anteuil found a stack of letters that she had sent regularly to ask how her children were doing.

So my grandfather was brought up by farmers, became a road-mender and then served in the army for two years then another five years because of World War I. He was discharged in 1919. The war had completely destroyed him and he had become an alcoholic. He died at the age of forty-six. He lived with his wife Georgette in the small house where the Delfingen story was to start years later. They slept in separate rooms. The stairs leading to the first floor were very steep. One Saturday night he came home completely drunk and fell in the stairs. The next morning, my grandmother went to picnic with her brother and didn’t worry about her husband. It is only when she came back from the picnic that she looked for him. After the fall he had managed to crawl to his bed where he died of cerebral hemorrhage. Some folks in the village thought that she had pushed him down the stairs because she couldn’t stand him anymore. An old-timer once told me: “Oh your grandpa, he was a tough and nasty one! When he came back from the war he was disturbed and violent.” He had been sent three times to the war front. Marshal Pétain, the commander in chief of the French army, had implemented a troop rotation system enabling the soldiers to have a short break every two weeks. The war front in Verdun was hell on earth. Anyone who fought there three times could lose his mind. Pétain did a lot during World War One to limit human losses. When I was a child, I met many veterans who admired Marshal Pétain. A large part of the population sort of worshiped him and that is why the French turned to him and his common sense in 1940. But he unfortunately was no longer the hero of 1914.

— THE HOUSEOF A

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