"It was not the best year that we could have possibly had. The French financial industry, which are our clients, have had very big restrictions in their budgets."
Laurent Piepszownik is direct in his assessment of Umanis' performance over 2019.
As CEO of the French business intelligence VAR, he saw group net profits drop by 34 per cent to €3.3m in its H1.
CPI has also tracked how investor jitters sent shares down 30.60 per cent between 2 January 2019 and 2 January 2020.
However, Piepszownik (pictured) is clear that he can pinpoint exactly what was behind 2019's tough financials, and is confident that the French VAR has a strategy that will see it diversify its vertical focus, and even look to expand via acquisition.
"Last year, 33 per cent of our turnover was with financial institutions [Umanis' largest revenue vertical]. So you can imagine that with Société Générale, BNP and Credit Agricole all decreasing their IT spend, it was the same challenge for all our competitors, as well."
It meant that Umanis only grew by one per cent organically in 2019, which was an unexpected setback for the firm.
"In 2020 we plan for that to be four per cent, and we are planning to grow with by acquisition," he added.
Significantly, France's constrained financial sector has made Piepszownik consider deviating from his France-only strategy.
"It's possible that we will consider our position," he mused.
"Before now, we thought that we must grow in the French market before considering growing in other countries.
"Because in the beginning of the 2000s we tried building subsidiaries from scratch in the UK and Germany, but we had to close them.
"So we learnt that it is possible to grown in a foreign market only by acquisition of an existing company, and that it cannot be a small one. Less than €50m [revenues] is not worth it."
Umanis' revenues are currently around €250m. Piepszownik said that ideally, he want to grow Umanis to €400m turnover before looking at expanding abroad, with Germany or Spain on the radar as potential new markets.
"We already have a small subsidiary in Spain, so we know that market. And of course there are big opportunities in Germany.
"I imagine it would be necessary to take over a company of at least €100m."
To try and press ahead with organic growth to reach that €400m benchmark, Piepszownik is pivoting the VAR to the SME market.
"We are not very strong in SME at the moment," he said.
"So my priority looking ahead is to focus on SME. We hired a director last month to lead and create activity in SME because of the higher margins."
He added that, in part, this strategy has been inspired by his rivals.
"When I study the balance sheet of competitors, I can see the importance of SME," he said.
"With larger companies, there is a big struggle between all the companies in the procurement process and the prices end up being lower. With SME companies, they don't have the procurement processes in place that push margins down."
Another key priority to drive growth will surely be familiar to any reseller across EMEA - recruitment.
"You know, if you have 30 per cent of staff turnover you have big difficulties in growing. For instance for me, I need to hire 800 consultants each year just to maintain the same levels of staff. Turnover of staff is very, very important."
He added that despite a tough year, Umanis remains an attractive firm for both potential employees and the end-users.
"We are one of the top fifteen IT services companies in France… And when we are in competition with Capgemini for instance, we are bigger than they are.
"In AI, in cloud, in CRM, it is important to realise that we are a big company that is very attractive for clients because we operate in areas where there is a strong need for consultants."
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