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Inteview – Valerie Niclas Valerie Niclas explains the nature and principles of Pomona’s business, and looks at how this operational outline relates to the structure and principles of the treasury. She also examines debt and other causes of risk within the business, and gives us her thoughts on banking communication.

Valerie Niclas

Treasury and Finance Manager, Pomona

“A very concentrated way of managing liquidity”

What does your company do, and broadly what are the principles of your organisation?

Pomona is among the leading players in the distribution of processed foodstuffs to professionals, and declared a turnover of over EUR 2.6 bn in 2009: its clients are commercial and institutional caterers – with companies such as Sodexo, Elior or Compass – local shops, or even supermarket distribution. Its activity is organised by product – fruit and vegetables and fresh seafood, frozen and fresh food, groceries, products for bakeries and pastry shops. The company, which employs 8,600 people and works from 140 sites, deals with a million tonnes of produce per year, almost exclusively in France. Although Pomona, which be 100 years old in two years’ time, is very stable when it comes to shareholding, with a family holding of 74% of the capital and a significant employee ownership, its organisation is very decentralised: each site is set up as a profit centre with commercial, logistics, administrative and financial teams.

Is this operational outline replicated in the treasury?

No. Our operational decentralisation, which best suits our national network, contrasts with a very centralised method of liquidity management. For a long time, liquidity has been centrally managed with the help of a banking cash pool shared among a few big banks which have historically also been our partners in other matters. This process was formalised in 2005, with on one hand the transition from five to three financial establishments, and on the other the renegotiation of the ‘receipts and disbursements after one working day’ policy. This desire for centralisation can be seen in the manner in which we integrate businesses that we buy out: we link them as quickly as possible to the cash pool and we almost immediately concentrate banking powers at headquarters. We are also planning to purchase some software which allows us to follow more accurately accounting trends in operational sites, with the aim of further optimising the working capital.

Taking activity into account, we suppose that the treasury is structurally in surplus?

Each site is set up as a profit centre with commercial. logistics, administrative and financial teams.

Yes, we are lucky enough to be net investors throughout the year, which gives us certain negotiating powers with our banking partners, which we don’t hesitate to use in the area of asset management. Having said that, in this area, group policy is quite conservative: we choose the funds above all for their capacity to guarantee capital and for their liquidity, whilst we get additional return with certificates of deposit and fixed term accounts. I will add that with asset management, taking into account particularly the persistent weakness of short-term interest rates, we are starting a review which could lead to a more extensive diversification of investments.

Is there debt, or other causes of risk?

The company, which constantly worries about keeping its independence, is mostly self-financed, and has available a cash surplus, net of any debt. The little debt that exists is in real estate, by way of leases, most of which are coming to an end anyway. Indeed, in 2009, we changed our tune when it came to financing two big warehouses: we approached our banks with tenders for traditional loans, the result of which proved to be conclusive, in terms of price. When it comes to currency, the issue is marginal, with half a dozen accounts in pounds sterling, dollars and Swiss francs and cover by purchases or forward sales, the only aim of which is securing the gross margin.

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