The president of family-investment company FFP, Robert Peugeot has spent much of his career steering the fortunes of Peugeot and Citroën.
Robert Peugeot caught the auto-business bug early in life. He remembers, as a boy, being captivated by the animated discussions on the subject his father, Bertrand, would chair around the Peugeot family dinner table. He even remembers details; like the time the family weighed up the pros and cons of opening second car plant in Mulhouse, in addition to its base in Sochaux, where all Peugeot vehicles had been made up to that point.
“I have carried on the tradition of these family discussions about the future of the company with my own children,” beams the 70-year-old. Robert Peugeot’s eldest son, Charles, became boss of the DS brand in Belgium in 2018, while his daughter, Laure, sits on the board of Peugeot’s kitchenware offshoot (which is famous for its luxury spice mills), while her younger brother, Édouard, is pursuing a career in private equity in London, and has joined the board of FFP.
The (re)generation game
His children are not the only heirs, among the three branches of Peugeot descendants, to be attached to PSA. In all, three members of the ninth generation of the group founded in 1810 have recently joined its various governing bodies. They were selected by a headhunting firm out of dozens of applications from members of the Peugeot family. “I didn’t want to just hire anyone linked to the family, that was not the logic,” insists Robert Peugeot. “We are convinced that the future of our companies depends on the quality of their leaders and their boards of directors.”
It is also his perspective that PSA should benefit from shock absorbers in the event of a crisis, which is why FFP – the investment company 80% owned by Peugeot Frères which owns more than 10% of PSA’s capital – decides not to put its eggs all in one basket.
When Robert Peugeot took over the management of the firm in 2003, only €225 million was allocated to investments outside PSA. At the end of 2019, non-Peugeot-related investments represented two-thirds of the company’s €5 billion in assets under management. It must be said that when Robert Peugeot sets a course, he knows how to get to the destination.
“When Robert Peugeot took over the management of FFP in 2003, only €225 million was allocated to investments outside PSA. At the end of 2019, non-Peugeot-related investments represented two-thirds of the company’s €5 billion in assets under management”
This new room for maneuver allowed Peugeot to pull back from the brink in 2014 when PSA was going through a major crisis. Had the idea of throwing in the towel ever crossed his mind? “No, it's in the family DNA: we feel responsible for this business,” stresses Belfort-born Peugeot.
These days, Robert Peugeot is fine-tuning Stellantis, the name for the a group that will result from the merger of PSA and FCA, once European Commission approval for the tie up is obtained. “Our long-term project is to create a world-class manufacturer, with a balanced presence in America and Europe, which is important if we are to secure the future of our brands and to finance future transformations, such as autonomous vehicles,” stresses Peugeot, adding: “Before, when you talked about a car enthusiast, you’d say they had gasoline in their veins. Today, it’s also a bit of electricity too!”
On this point, Robert Peugeot is proud to be able to affirm that PSA is the European group that best meets the CO2 objectives set out by Brussels. As for the debate surrounding car pollution, Peugeot reminds us that sustainable mobility has a price: “Observers too often forget that this technology is not accessible to everyone and that lowering costs, especially for lithium-ion batteries, will take time.”
This self-confessed “public-school boy” leads two lives; the first as auto industry luminary closely associated with Peugeot and Citroën, two of the French ‘big three’ car companies. The second life? His “entrepreneurial adventure” at FFP. The success of this investment company is “the result of some very good choices,” such as taking a stake in SEB, a company that has seen stunning growth. FFP also entered the capital of Zodiac, a French aerospace company, and was very influential in its merger with Safran. ”We are not going to take holdings of more than 5% to 10% in the companies in which we invest, because we have enough to do with PSA, but our experience lends legitimacy to the strategies we support in other groups.”
As regards the merger with FCA, 28% controlled (end of 2019) by the Agnellis, a family with whom Peugeot is working closely to advance the merger between the two automotive groups, he has this to say: “We have known each other for a long time and the vision we share for Stellantis is very clear,” said the man set to become vice-president of Stellantis, with John Elkann (grandson of Gianni Agnelli) taking the seat of chairman.
Robert Peugeot has not been twiddling his thumbs during the Covid crisis either. The Peugeot family has enabled the Immunov Foundation to acquire equipment for its research into the disease. “We wanted to aim for something specific and are proud to support the foundation’s cutting-edge research."
A sense of precision that suits this engineer turned investor with a practical mind and a flair for the imaginative.