John Baptist Henry claims to be unaccustomed to the “price race”. Still, the Kitchen Innovation Award won for its “Conservation Cup” of foodstuffs, is not to displease the boss of the company Emile Henry.
At the controls, for ten years, of this culinary ceramics factory, the Centralien has made it a group of 320 employees and 40 million euros in consolidated turnover. Proof that we can still last in the millennial trade of pottery. While being a brand 100% made in France… and still family-owned, 170 years after its creation!
While, for nearly two centuries, the SME has cultivated discretion, Jean-Baptiste Henry seems inclined to “share” what drives him. Namely the passion for cooking patiently simmering, as evidenced by the delicacy with which he handles the handwritten recipes of his great-grandmother. As well as the story of six generations of Henry who passed on the business. “And as many generations of employees perpetuating our know-how”, slips the 43-year-old manager, soft eyes and graying hair, who opened a LinkedIn account in the name of his company… but not his.
Networking, very little for him. It is on the concrete that he thrives. Moreover, this son of a professor of letters, and of an engineer who became patron of Emile Henry, began in public works.
Originally from Marcigny, in Burgundy, where the company was born and still develops today, the fourth of six children attends a country school. Nurturing the same taste for literary and scientific subjects, he hesitated to join a hypokhâgne. It will be the prestigious Ginette preparation, then Centrale Paris. At the time, nothing pointed his way towards the “family business”. “My grandfather told historical facts about the company, my father tested samples at home, but we didn’t go to the workshops like to a mill and the succession was not a subject”, recalls- he.
Thus, a thousand leagues from a “career plan that could have led to a tower in La Défense”, he opted for a helmet and boots in the colors of Bouygues, heading to the site of line B of the Toulouse metro. The engineering firm Setec International will follow for the construction of the Rhine Rhône high-speed rail line.
Neither duty nor power but meaning
Then, he would have liked to “build a viaduct”, at the crossroads of construction and mountaineering, one of his hobbies. But his father is ready to hand over. Once identified as his driving force, “not duty nor power but meaning”, Jean-Baptiste Henry learned Italian and set off to criss-cross the transalpine peninsula to develop the brand there. Five years later, and after a stint in production, he became CEO at the age of 34.
If the graft takes, it is the result of a “progressive learning”, according to the surgeon Antoine Combes. Met in high school, this friend describes him as “a man of convictions, not certainties”.
“Ingenious rather than engineer”
The interested party says he is “ingenious, rather than an engineer”, enjoying “finding solutions to what seems impossible”. For example, anchoring in modernity a ceramist created in 1850 and still nestled in the far south of Burgundy. As a result, Emile Henry (who carried out his first external growth operation in 2016 with the Drôme Jars Céramistes) exports his “pizza stones” and other oven dishes made in Marcigny to 50 countries.
What to invest in a new workshop which will be operational at the beginning of 2023 and will give rise to 45 recruitments. But more is needed to divert this father of three children, married to a general practitioner, from what he considers essential to his balance: family, literature and outdoor sports. As proof, three years ago, he decided to no longer have access to his emails on his smartphone.