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ESII: “Tomorrow’s companies will be Social Purpose Corporations”

Information updated on 29/10/20

An expert in client reception management, Lavérune-based ESII considers a company’s economic performance to be as important as its contribution to the common good. As agile is when it was founded, ESII is now a Social Purpose Corporation.

Photo de toute l'équipe du groupe ESII

The ESII group team @pierre_bruynooghe

“If a company wants to remain in business over the long-term, there must be some meaning to what it does. Employees and clients are not simply pawns. They need a sense of meaning.”

Jean-Pierre Richard, who co-founded ESII with Joseph Zirah, places his group’s social utility at the same level as its economic performance. From his perspective, you cannot have one without the other. When the Social Purpose Corporation (“Société à Mission” in French) was established as a legal status in France by the Loi Pacte legislation in May 2019, it only made sense for his group in Lavérune, just outside Montpellier, to choose that as an option.

Definition of a Social Purpose Corporation

The new status is more than just a legal change. Companies that choose to become a Social Purpose Corporation may publicly declare that status and specify their purpose as well as the social and environmental objectives that they choose to pursue in the context of their business activity.

The procedure is highly regulated: objectives must be included in the company’s by-laws and their fulfillment is verified by an independent third-party from a list of organizations established by the French Accreditation Committee.

As such, the Social Purpose Corporation status fills a void by recognizing that a company can not only achieve its economic and social functions, but also contribute to the common good. Nonetheless, relatively few companies have opted for the status at this time.

In the greater Montpellier Métropole area, ESII is the very first company to officially make the change to become a Social Purpose Corporation, notably committing to provide solutions that give customers serenity and security; reduce its environmental impact; favor local and national suppliers; and continue to create jobs.

Three days a year wasted in lines

Even before making the change, the ESII group already met the conditions for being a Social Purpose Corporation. In fact, its core business is directly related. The French leader in managing public reception develops solutions for making appointments remotely, announcing people’s arrival at a reception desk, contacting the appropriate person quickly, and more. The solution portfolio rapidly expanded with videoconference appointments, virtual online tickets, interactive contactless and phygital terminals, Click and Collect, and single waiting lines for in-store checkout. These solutions are all designed to save time.

“In France, people waste three days every year waiting in lines,” points out Jean-Pierre Richard.

Business boosted by the health crisis

By reducing wait time, these products not only provide a benefit for users and customers, but they also optimize business activity while improving people’s perception of companies, public organizations, and partners. ESII’s client base includes Prefectures, Tax Offices, Family Benefits Funds, French National Health Insurance, Unemployment Agency, EDF, Carrefour, FNAC, Leroy Merlin, Nespresso, Hôpitaux de Paris hospitals, and many more.

For the past several years, the group’s client portfolio has increasingly attracted medical analysis laboratories, with numbers rising quickly since the beginning of the health crisis. The group’s solutions are driven by new requirements: “In the current context, it is essential to avoid gatherings of people by limiting or eliminating waiting lines, avoiding non-necessary and pollution-generating trips, and by favoring the use of mobile technologies,” explains Jean-Pierre Richard.

At the same time, ESII develops Twavox, a line of products that make movie theaters and performance halls accessible to people with hearing impairments or disabilities.

A quest for meaning

The group was destined to pursue a quest for meaning. Founded in 1982, ESII was a startup before the word even existed. Now nearly forty years old, the company maintains its energy by moving forward with both technological and social innovations.

“We are here to help others and we design our products by putting ourselves in people’s place,” adds Jean-Pierre Richard and Joseph Zirah.

Transparent management

This well-intentioned approach is also visible in their management style, which is based on three key pillars: “unity, acceptance, and trust.”

“Human qualities are what make a difference in companies that wish to continue innovating. We all need meaning,” says Jean-Pierre Richard.

The minimum salary at ESII is 1,800€/month (about 300€ higher than France’s minimum wage ), with transparent advancement rules based on the following, in order of importance: social skills, know-how, and objectives. An Internal Comfort unit was created. The company’s offices are decorated with works of art, paintings, and frescoes chosen by employees. An exercise room is also provided for the staff. ESII adheres to both Quality of Life at Work (QLW) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles.

Staff training is a major focus. Management teams attended the SME Growth Strategies Executive MBA sessions organized annually by Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole and Montpellier Management (University of Montpellier).

“This training is essential for company leaders and managers. It gives them a 360° perspective by teaching them what they need to know when they are in charge of a company,” he observes.

A successful and efficient group

ESII’s approach has proven successful. With its 135 employees, the group has offices around France in Créteil, Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Vitré, in addition to Lavérune, which is just outside Montpellier. They have subsidiaries in Canada, Belgium, and Spain, with a distribution network that covers nearly 50 countries. “The next step will be to acquire a company in Germany,” announces Jean-Pierre Richard, whose group posts average profitability of about 6%. In 2020-2021, the group expects to show profit with its target consolidated revenue of 13.2 M€.

The founders are going to gradually pass on their control, with equity stake in the company’s capital already extended to two Deputy Directors – Héléna Palazzo and Laurent Ventura – and several other managers from the Board of Directors. As its motto says: “ESII makes time for the essentials.” And the group does not have any to waste!
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