Zacharias, Antoine 1939–
Chairman and chief executive officer, VINCI SA
Born: June 6, 1939, in Sarreguemines, France.
Education: École Nationale Supérieure d'Electrotechnique, d'Electronique, d'Informatique, d'Hydraulique, et des Télécommunications (ENSEEIHT), BS.
Family: Married Rose; children: two.
Career: Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE), 1971–1974, hydraulic engineer; 1974–1991, regional manager, Lyons; Société Générale d'Entreprises (SGE), 1991–1997, chief executive officer; CGE, 1994–1995, deputy general manager; Vivendi, 1995–2000, member of executive committee; SGE, 1997–2000, chairman and CEO; VINCI, 2000–, chairman and CEO.
Awards: Grand Benefactor Medal, French government, 2003.
Address: VINCI, 1 cours Ferdinand-de-Lesseps 92851 Rueil-Malmaison Cedex, France; http://www.vinci.com.
■ Antoine Zacharias, the first chairman and chief executive officer of the giant French construction company VINCI, guided the company to a steady increase in revenues and profits in the years following its 2000 spin-off from Vivendi, a widely diversified, Paris-based conglomerate. The key to VINCI's improving fortunes was Zacharias's forward-looking decision to diversify the company in the direction of airport and highway services and move it away from its previous dependence on construction projects.
Although Zacharias continued to capitalize on VINCI's core competencies and long history in construction, his strategy for increasing the company's profitability was based on expanding it into airport service and toll road concessions. Under the direction of Zacharias, VINCI was organized into four main divisions: VINCI Construction, Eurovia, VINCI Energies, and VINCI Concessions. While the company's construction division continued to account for the biggest share
of VINCI's revenues in 2003, the operating margin of its con cessions company—31.7 percent—dwarfed those of its other divisions. VINCI Concessions, which made use of the parent company's expertise in project design, turnkey construction, financing, and management, provided management services for parking garages, airports, and highway systems—including some of France's toll roads.
VINCI ranked first in the 2003 top global contractors listing of Engineering News Record. VINCI was ranked third in the journal's list of leading international contractors. Both listings, released in the Record 's issue of August 25, 2003, were based on the companies' 2002 revenues. Rankings in the top global contractors list were based on companies' total 2002 construction contracting revenue, while the top international contractors list ranked companies on the total of their contracting revenues generated outside their home countries.
EDUCATION AND EARLY CAREER
Zacharias was born on June 6, 1939, in Sarreguemines, a small city in the Moselle region of France near the Franco-German border. His father was an architect. Zacharias grew up in a village not far from Sarreguemines. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure d'Electrotechnique, d'Electronique, d'Informatique, d'Hydraulique, et des Télécommunications (ENSEEIHT) in Toulouse, where he completed a bachelor's degree in hydraulic engineering. Zacharias was then hired for a series of public works construction projects in and around the city of Forbach, which is also in the Moselle region.
Zacharias went to work in 1971 as a hydraulic engineer for the Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE), France's massive water distribution company. Three years later he was named CGE's regional manager for Lyons and its environs—a position he held for the next 17 years. In 1991 Zacharias was named chief executive officer of the Société Générale d'Entreprises (SGE), the public works construction division of CGE. In 1994 he was named deputy general manager of CGE while he retained his position as CEO of SGE. CGE was renamed Vivendi in 1995. Zacharias continued as SGE's CEO and was named to Vivendi's executive committee. Two years later, he was given the added responsibility of serving as chairman of SGE.
A SPIN-OFF AND A NEW NAME
In 2000 Vivendi spun off SGE, which was renamed VINCI in honor of Leonardo da Vinci, who had been not only a renowned artist but one of history's most visionary draftsmen and engineers. Zacharias remained the chairman and CEO of the newly created company. He moved aggressively to expand and diversify VINCI, engineering a friendly takeover of Groupe GTM, one of VINCI's major competitors and the construction arm of another large water distribution company, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux. Other acquisitions included Nor-west Holst and Ringway in the United Kingdom; Emil Lundgren in Sweden; Teerbau, Obag, and Klee in Germany; and Sogeparc in France. The company also began to move more forcefully into other fields. In 2002 VINCI finalized its acquisition of a 16.4-percent share in Autoroutes du Sud de la France (ASF), the second largest European manager of highway and toll road systems. Under Zacharias's direction, VINCI also entered the field of airport and parking garage management.
Zacharias was frustrated, however, in his bid to acquire a controlling interest in TBI, a regional airport operator in the United Kingdom. Although VINCI had managed to acquire a 14.9 percent stake in TBI in August 2001, the British company's board of directors rejected VINCI's bid for control of the company as "opportunistic," according to a report in the Independent (London). Keith Brooks, the CEO of TBI, told the Independent that VINCI's offer did not reflect his company's "underlying value" (August 16, 2001).
Despite TBI's rebuff, VINCI managed to expand its position in the airport management business. As of mid-2004, VINCI Airports, a subsidiary within the company's concessions division, managed 16 airports around the world either directly or with a partner. VINCI Airports also owned an equity stake in a number of airport management companies, giving the French company a presence in nearly 30 airports worldwide. In addition, the subsidiary operated cargo handling services at roughly a hundred world airports through its Worldwide Flight Services network.
VINCI Concessions operated in three other business sectors: road and motorway infrastructure; parking garages; and the management of Stade de France, a giant stadium in Paris, in which VINCI held a 67-percent interest. In the area of road and motorway infrastructure, VINCI managed roughly 1,300 kilometers of toll roads, of which 928 kilometers were maintained by Confiroute, a company in which VINCI held a 65-percent interest. VINCI was the world leader in parking garage management as of 2004, with more than 810,000 parking spaces under its control.
The success that VINCI experienced outside its core construction and engineering businesses tempted some business observers to wonder if the company might eventually move out of these sectors altogether. In an interview with Engineering News Record, Zacharias made clear that he would never sanction an abandonment of its core competency. Although the concessions segment of VINCI's business had proved to be far more profitable, Zacharias saw important benefits in the firm's remaining an integrated company. As he told Engineering News Record, "… there are a lot of synergies, even if you do not see them immediately" (August 25, 2003).
VINCI Construction accounted for roughly 43 percent of the parent company's total revenue of approximately $22.7 billion in 2003. Eurovia generated roughly 29.4 percent of VINCI's sales, while the company's energy division brought in about 17.1 percent of its total revenue. VINCI Concessions supplied about 10.5 percent of VINCI's total sales. In terms of operating margin, however, VINCI Concessions far outstripped its sister divisions, coming in at 31.7 percent, compared to 4.1 percent for VINCI Energy, 3.8 percent for Eurovia, and 2.9 percent for VINCI Construction. About 39.2 percent of VINCI's total revenue was generated outside France in 2003, down slightly from 41.2 percent in 2002.
LIMITED PRESENCE IN THE UNITED STATES
VINCI's approach to construction "as more than pouring concrete and erecting steel is a tough sell across the Atlantic," according to Engineering News Record. Although the company acquired several highway construction contractors in the United States, its construction business in that country remained relatively small as of mid-2004. Zacharias noted that VINCI's approach to road construction—handling the entire process from design through maintenance—was not standard practice in the United States, where different road-building tasks are typically handled by different companies. "We want to design, to build, and to maintain," Zacharias told the magazine. "A French company can bring nothing to America. The way [Americans] think is so different" (August 25, 2003).
Zacharias was honored in early 2003 by the government of France, which awarded him its Grand Benefactor Medal for his support of the renovation of the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at the Château de Versailles, one of the country's most hallowed historical sites. The renovation project, which got underway in 2004 and was scheduled for completion by the end of 2008, had a price tag of almost $11 million and was underwritten completely by VINCI. In an interview with the Associated Press about the company's involvement, Zacharias said, "My conviction is that durable development starts with taking charge of the jewels we inherited, our national patrimony." He added, "I regret that Louis XIV isn't here to contract the work."
See also entries on Alcatel Alsthom, Vinci, and Vivendi Universal S.A. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
"Antoine Zacharias: Vinci a l'oeil sur les autoroutes du sud," Investir.fr, October 23, 2003, http://www.investir.fr/exclusivite/chat.phtml?idChat=59742.
De la Roque, Jean-Pierre, "Antoine Zacharias: Bâtisseur obstiné," Challenges (France), March 2004.
"The Global 500: Winners and Losers," Forbes.com, July 22, 2002, http://www.forbes.com/global/2002/0722/036.html.
"Investir—10/17/2003: Our Plans with ASF Would Result in a French Group of European Dimensions," press release, http://www.vinci.com/appli/vnc/vncus.nsf/web/news.htm.
"Luton Airport Owner Rejects 'Opportunistic' Vinci Bid," Ananova.com, http://www.ananova.com/business/story/sm_375378.html.
Mesure, Susie, "Battle Looms as TBI Rejects Vinci Offer," Independent (London), August 16, 2001.
"Priority at Vinci is More Diversification," Financial News (London), March 18, 2002.
Reina, Peter, "Teaming Construction and Concessions, Vinci Can Pick the Plums," Engineering News Record, August 25, 2003.
Tieman, Ross, "VINCI Broadens Airport Horizons," Evening Standard (London), August 16, 2001.
"Versailles' Hall of Mirrors Will Get Facelift," Associated Press, January 27, 2003.