Interview with entrepreneur Marc-André Cornu, head of the Cornu Group

Questions for Marc-André Cornu

When Marc-André Cornu was only 10 years old, he already knew that he wanted to be a baker and pastry chef. "I still have great admiration for the craft of baking, but unfortunately I rarely have time for it myself," he says. As an entrepreneur, however, he has had the opportunity to do a great many other things in the course of his career, including building factories, developing machines and selling companies. According to Cornu, the desire to create – to construct something new – is what drives entrepreneurs.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?

I have worked a lot, and very hard, during my career, and I have made sacrifices. It takes a clear vision, a feel for the right moment, and the ability to make decisions – as well as luck.

Are you courageous?

Courage is part of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur needs to recognize the difference between courage and recklessness. Is it riskier to do nothing than to take a chance? Should I take the risk even if the result is not entirely predictable?

How do you make your decisions?

In some cases I reach a decision within two minutes, trusting in my knowledge of how the company is doing and where the market is going. The decision to produce goods in the EU took between 24 and 48 hours. Deciding where we should expand was a longer process. But all of us have to experience things for ourselves and develop the tools that will help us in day-to-day life.

What was your most consequential decision?

We urgently needed to produce goods in the EU, and after opening our facility in France we also wanted to launch production in Eastern Europe, since conditions there seemed promising. The sites in France and Romania have both been doing well, so it turns out that taking the risk was the right decision. As a company, we conducted meticulous analyses. As an entrepreneur, I made an intuitive decision.

What exactly did the evaluation look like?

At first we intended to start production in Poland. But then a friend suggested that we take a look at Romania – although at the time I didn't have the best impression of that country. Objectively speaking, conditions in Poland and Romania were very similar. So I decided to visit Romania and see for myself. At some point you have to stop weighing the pros and cons. You have to decide.

What challenges do you face when you're planning to expand?

When you go into other countries, you need to be aware of how markets differ, gain a sense of the situation and accept other cultures and mentalities. Switzerland is not the center of the universe. The world doesn't stop at our borders. If we had stayed just in Switzerland, we would have big problems today. Every company has its own challenges, but I should point out that 85 percent of our revenues now comes from abroad. The bottom line is that expanding to other countries was a significant decision.

What role have risks played in your company's history?

Back in 1934, with no money but with significant powers of persuasion and bank support, my grandfather purchased a building and started his bakery. An important milestone during my father's era was the advent of automated production in 1962, and investing in our new factory was a risk in 1985. My biggest steps have been to open a factory in France in 1990, marking the beginning of our production abroad, and then to build a facility in Romania in 2016. For me personally, risk is always linked to investments – when the question is whether I should spend money or not.

What experiences can you share with the next generation of entrepreneurs?

They need to be aware of possible problems and recognize that there will also be failures. They need the strength to admit their failures, analyze them, and get back on their feet quickly. As an entrepreneur, you also have to be able to say no, choose a different path or perhaps cancel something that has already begun – in other words, to continue on the course you have chosen. Saying yes is always easy. It's far more difficult to say no. Naysayers are not very popular. But saying no is exactly what an entrepreneur needs to be able to do.

If there's something you would do differently today, what would it be?

I don't regret any of my decisions, or any single moment. When I chose my occupation, I based my decision on the situation at the time. Today, in different circumstances, I might make the same choice, but perhaps not. I have never regretted what I've done in my professional life, and I fight for what I believe in until the bitter end. I can also be very tough – which is challenging for the people I interact with, and not easy.

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