February 2024

Les Centaures

Sprightly centenarians

Centaure was founded last autumn when the Aix-Marseille-Provence Chamber of Trade and Industry brought together over 100 business owners to launch a network of centenarian businesses with the slogan “The past as reference, the future as excellence”.

by Maurice Gouiran
Lors de la soirée de lancement du réseau « Les Centaures » au Palais de la Bourse, à Marseille le 27 septembre 2023. © Claude Almodovar

The Aix-Marseille-Provence Chamber of Trade and Industry used the company register to identify 85 centenarian businesses which between them employ 10,700 people and generate 1.74 billion euros in annual sales. To Jean-Luc Chauvin, president of the world’s oldest chamber of trade and industry (founded in 1599), it seemed an obvious thing to do. “I am especially attached to these human adventures that illustrate a company’s capacity to maintain their energy over the long haul, staying agile, daring and resilient while remaining loyal to their roots and to our region.” The list is clearly not exhaustive, as it can be hard to identify which businesses are that old. But there are such businesses throughout the region and in all sectors. They come in all sizes, from self-employed craftspeople and one-person businesses like Studio Henry Ely in Aix-en-Provence, founded in 1903, to companies with international reach like ONET, founded in 1860 and now employing a workforce of 66,000. Both these firms are family legacies, as are a quarter of the network’s members, run by men and women of the seventh or eighth generation since their ancestors started up in business. Others have been transferred or bought and sold, or changed their structure to confront the turmoil of the past century. It’s hard to imagine the crises, conflicts, technological changes, social developments and events of every kind that have had to be overcome by Four à Navettes, founded in 1781, or Père Blaize, founded in 1815.

A few other names closely tied to our region’s history reflect the eclecticism of the Centaures network: Pellegrin & Fils, Savonnerie du Midi, La Samaritaine, Moulin à Huile Margier, Compagnie Chambon, the G. Giraudon et Fils sugar company, Sodexo, Faïences Louis Sicard, Pébéo paints, Banque Martin Maurel.

These centenarians have stayed in business by sticking to their values and sharing them to consolidate a shared vision. They surely have methods that explain such lasting success. “One of our network’s aims is for businesses to share their secrets and methods with each other, taking inspiration from lasting success to identify and build on the key factors that have enabled them to thrive for a hundred years or more. It’s important to use their stories to benefit younger companies, small and medium businesses making their way and those just starting out,” says Jean-Luc Chauvin. The exemplary success of the Centenarians and the energy they bring to our region cannot fail to encourage others to follow their example.

Les Centaures ne sont pas de belles endormies, pour preuve la cinquième boutique Pellegrin & Fils ouverte en 2021. Depuis 1870 la famille Leydet transporte les Provencaux.
Milhe et Avons fête ses 140 ans au Mucem.