Mazars: The road from Rouen

Rising from the ashes of Second World War France, Mazars has grown in recent decades into a major multinational accounting, auditing and consulting firm, one which posted turnover of €2.1 billion last year.

Posted mercredi, juillet 27 2022
Mazars: The road from Rouen

When he founded his little company in 1945 in Rouen, Normandy, in his early 20s, did Robert Mazars ever dream that it would become a wildly successful multinational? Ward of the state turned resistance fighter, decorated mountaineer, HEC business-school graduate… the young entrepreneur had already demonstrated daring and a variety of capabilities by the time he established his eponymous company in a small office on Rue d'Harcourt.

Today, Mazars is frequently rated the No.5 consultancy in Europe behind EY, PwC, Deloitte and KMPG, know collectively as the Big Four. Present in over 90 countries, at 44,000 Mazars has practically enough staff to fill the Parc des Princes stadium. Let’s find out how it got there.

It was during an exchange trip to the United States made possible by the Marshall Plan that Robert Mazars discovered the concept of analytical accountancy. Well before it was necessary, or even fashionable, Mazars, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 95, set store by ethical and transparent accounting, defending the importance of accurate financial information as a key component of corporate success at a time when the profession of auditor did not yet exist.  

“He was the accounting genius, in the broadest sense of the term, behind French professional life,” gushed one of his peers, Edouard Salustro, stressing that Robert Mazars’ defining characteristics were generosity, tolerance, independence and proficiency.

Salustro might well have added loyalty to that list as, to develop his accountancy firm, Mazars surrounded himself with a team of trusted colleagues, every one of whom received the same salary and shares in the company. As for the founder, he paid himself only 10% more than the base salary for young recruits. 

After establishing itself in France in the 50s and 60s, Mazars began to look for opportunities outside its home turf, and in 1971 opened branches in Spain and Germany. But it was only when the founder’s entrepreneurial adventure ended a decade later that Mazars really started to make a name for itself on the world stage.

In 1981, aged 63, Mazars sold his company for the equivalent of €5 million to a dozen partners and named one of them, Patrick de Cambourg, his successor. “I have chosen you to lead Mazars because I think you have the talent. And because you have talent, I am not going to see you held back,” said the founder at the time. 

While Europe still accounts for the bulk of Mazars' business, the firm has been making inroads in the Asian and North American markets over the past decade

In 1995, Mazars made its first acquisition, merging with fellow French auditing firm Guérard Viala. After consolidating its position at home, Mazars crossed the 1,000 employee and €100 million turnover threshold. But that was just a taste of things to come. A decade later Mazars smashed through the €500 million turnover barrier and by 2018 revenue had tripled to €1.5 billion. In between time Patrick de Cambourg was succeeded by Philippe Castagnac, under whose watch Mazars strengthened its position in the German market. The current CEO, Hervé Hélias, has been in situ for the past four years. 

And while it’s true that Europe still accounts for the bulk of its business, the firm has been making inroads in the Asian and North American markets over the past decade. In 2016 Mazars made headlines following its merger with Chinese accounting firm ZhongShen ZhongHuan, in the process going from having 300 to 1,800 staff in the world’s No.2 economy.

Across the pond, the Mazars North America Alliance saw the light of day in 2019, a platform through which Mazars established close partnerships with BKD, Dixon Hughes Goodman, Moss Adams and Plante Moran in the US, and MNP in Canada. The Big Four had been put on notice, there was a new player in the anglosphere. 

Holding itself to account
In recent years, the firm has put a strong emphasis on the need for purpose as well as profit. “Responsibility and sustainability are now of fundamental importance in the operations of companies and are essential for any company that hopes to instill trust in markets, the companies active in them and in public institutions overseeing them,” remarked Hervé Hélias during the presentation of Mazars latest set of annual results, in 2021. This signalled his intention for Mazars to do more for society, as befits a multi-billion-euro multinational. 

Examining Mazars’ latest annual results in more detail, you can see that each arm of the professional services group is a success in its own right: Mazars’ auditing activities are up 8.5% year-on-year, which puts the firm comfortably in 5th place in the European auditing market. Financial advisory and consultancy shot up by 15.7% and 7.9% respectively. A bright future looks in prospect for Mazars.