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Interview – Louis Soudré

Accounts & Finance Manager, Keolis

“The group has put up a genuine fight for cash”

Can you give us an overview of your company?

Keolis is the number one private operator of public transport in France, and holds a key position in Europe, with a strong presence in the United Kingdom, the Benelux countries and Scandinavia. The company manages networks of buses and coaches, metros, trams and trains, on behalf of local communities, after invitation to tender. Keolis’s role is to design and manage high-performance, reliable transport solutions, adapted to the local area and environmentally aware. Operationally decentralised, the company has 45,000 salaried employees, achieved a turnover of EUR 3.4bn in 2009, and operates in 12 countries, three of which, Australia, Canada and the United States, are new this year. France remains dominant, accounting for over 55% of revenue, yet foreign countries are making steady progress and have the same rates of profitability. The company’s investors complement one another: on one side, we have SNCF, the main industrial shareholder, and on the other the financial companies, Axa Private Equity and la Caisse du depot et placement du Québec. All believe in regular and profitable growth: since 2001, our business has increased by over 12% each year. 

Are there any exceptions to your policy of decentralisation?

Certain roles are indeed centralised, and among them is finance. However, in accounting and financial control, there is a level between the subsidiary companies and the holding company: shared service centres, several in France and, in general, one in each country where the company operates. The financial core is organised into three departments: accounting, which produces consolidated accounts and reporting, and sets the group’s shared standards; cash management; finance and accounts, of which I am in charge.

What sort of finance do you mean?

The remit of this department includes group finance. One of our important steps was the negotiation of a new credit agreement in 2007 on beneficial terms, particularly because the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis weren’t yet apparent. We also deal with the financing of assets, as the group isn’t always just an operator, it sometimes provides the buses or trains which it manages. In addition we are responsible for project financing, which is necessary when we tender with partners for joint public-private contracts. Finally, we negotiate guarantees whether they are put in place at the time of invitation to tender or in the context of contractual monitoring of operational performance.

We carried out a reorganisation fo the banking pool in 2005, which led to cutting down from 16 banks to three.