AEF Info: interview of Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT

March 2022

"I am convinced that the happy marriage of people and technology, in the interest of the client, will boost the market," says Benoît Pédoussaut, CEO of Seris, in an interview with AEF info. Since his appointment last October, he has been implementing a "transformation" project for the private security group aimed at "multiplying" the operational capacity of agents through the use of technologies - video, drones, robots, data processing. After achieving a turnover of €650 million in 2021, Seris aims to reach €1 billion within five years, "half of which will come from organic growth and the other half from acquisitions", says Benoît Pédoussaut. The group wants to get out of the price competition by adopting a "premium positioning", and by refocusing "on high-stakes industries".


AEF Info: You joined as Seris group as CEO in October 2021, after having held several management positions in different sectors. Why did you move into private security?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: At 56, I have spent half of my career in BtoB sales development, with a strong international dimension, at Essilor or in construction at Hilti, and the other half in company transformations, at La Poste or at Sonepar. What interested me at Seris was the profession, a profession of men, with a high commercial intensity. But it's also the company, a family-run ETI which is developing internationally, with a real transformation project underway. This is my speciality!

AEF Info: Why is the group transforming itself?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: Private security is a business where the client's expectations are extremely high, while paradoxically companies have difficulty selling services at reasonable prices. The leaders in the sector, even those who are doing very well, are objectively not among the most profitable companies in France and in Europe. Margins are very tight, which means that we are not able to sell our services at the right price level.

AEF Info: What does the transformation underway at Seris consist of?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: First and foremost, private security is a service in which one must be impeccable in its execution. It's a very exposed job, the full extent of which is generally felt the day there is a problem. You need absolute rigour and discipline to maintain a very important promise on a daily basis.

As far as transformation is concerned, the first challenge is to move towards services which combine the best of people and technology. We are selling security hours, which are increasingly expensive to produce, while staffing levels are becoming increasingly scarce. This scarce resource should be used sparingly, especially where technology can never replace man. I am convinced that people will always be in a position to make the right security decisions, but we must help them to increase their operational capacity, to make them more efficient, to ensure that they can intervene more quickly, in the right place, and in a more secure manner. For example, Seris has just set up a hybrid security solution on a military base in Europe, with a hundred or so cameras and five to six armed guards in the security centre to react to alarms. The cost to the client was reduced by 30%. I am convinced that the happy marriage of people and technology, in the interests of the customer, will boost the market.

The second challenge is to implement much smoother processes. Turnover and recruitment - we are currently recruiting more than a thousand people in Europe -, payroll, taking into account overtime, customer invoicing, and additional services require a lot of time and administration. There is room for productivity gains with digital technology. Following on from what I have been able to put in place at La Poste and Sonepar, this will result in streamlined, paperless processes with more interactivity. Employees must be able to access their schedules from their phones, and we must be able to provide information to customers more quickly. The implementation of employee portals and client portals will make it possible to increase productivity, but also the satisfaction of all those involved in the service.

AEF Info: What security technologies are you interested in?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: If we were to compare our profession to our body, security would be based on the perfect synergy between the eyes, the brain and the legs. This implies using tools to detect signals, with cameras, possibly intelligent ones, drones, autonomous robots, even olfactory sensors. Then we need to be able to process this information, which is becoming increasingly numerous. Technology can provide, through the power of calculation, a capacity to process and prioritise data that will feed the legs, i.e. mobile security and security agents.

The link between the technology that captures and the man who acts is decisive: data processing will be at the heart of our business tomorrow. This is a subject in which Seris is investing heavily. We will certainly need fewer agents than today for the same service. But these agents will create even more value.

AEF Info: How do you involve the employees in these developments in security and digital technologies?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: From experience, we always manage to get the teams in place to take the strategic turns as soon as we get them involved in a project which gives meaning and opens up perspectives. Within the group, this plan is called 'Impulse 2024'. The employees have the capacity to understand what is at stake because they themselves often suffer from certain deficits or burdens, and are therefore often willing to participate in the transformation. I also tell them that I have come to create the Seris of tomorrow with the Seris teams of today, even if we will of course need to strengthen ourselves on certain technical or technological subjects.

AEF Info: Does this involve training activities?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: There is indeed a training component, but also a mutualisation component, which is new for the group. The entities in each country used to work in silos, whereas we have leading companies, such as Seris in Belgium or in Poland, where Seris bought Konsalnet in 2019. When you look at the quality of their solutions, there is plenty of material to build a real collective toolbox! We are promoting the exchange of these good practices, which will also help to give the group a body.

In concrete terms, we have set up webinars on these proven, ready-to-use solutions, with the training of project managers. In addition, our "Impulse 2024" plan is based on four pillars - conquest, efficiency, planet, people - which can be broken down into twelve areas of work on technologies, employee satisfaction, digitalisation, inclusion, etc.  These projects are led by international project managers, who combine the skills and opinions of their colleagues.

AEF Info: What are the economic ambitions of Seris?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: After achieving a turnover of 650 million euros in 2021, the objective is to reach one billion euros in the next five years, half of which will come from organic growth and the other half from acquisitions. We also want to double the group's profitability, because technology and digitalisation are expensive, and we need to continue to invest.

AEF Info: As regards external growth, what are the prospects?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: On a global scale, Seris is present in nine countries, which are rather mature economically. We want to consolidate the group in these countries with our financial resources because security is a business of critical size and we don't want to disperse ourselves with small operations. Furthermore, Guy Tempereau, the founder of the company, has always wanted to invest in countries in the making. It's a risk that can pay off if it allows us to establish ourselves among the first. We have already invested in several African countries - sometimes at war - such as the Central African Republic, the Ivory Coast, Niger and Gabon.

Seris also owns 46% of Amarante International, which was the first Western company to return to Kabul in 2021 after the Taliban took over. It is a company with which I would like to strengthen ties because their level of expertise on sensitive issues can only help us.

More broadly, I am a great believer in partnerships, because no one can be good at everything. We are starting to work with start-ups and companies specialising in artificial intelligence, drones or robots, such as Hoverseen, Enova Robotics, Rovenso, XTR Drone or Kooi. This allows for mutual enrichment and above all agility in the deployment of solutions. Today, we know that it is no longer the big ones that eat the small ones, but the fast ones that swallow the slow ones...

Faced with international groups such as Securitas, which is buying Stanley Security (see AEF info), or Allied Universal, which has just acquired G4S (see AEF info), Seris must position itself as an international player, but above all it must highlight the singularity of its model: the size of our family-run group allows us to invest in order to remain at the cutting edge of technology while preserving an agility linked to our culture of proximity to our clients.

AEF Info: In France, the group seems to be less present in distribution than before. Is there a desire to reorient the commercial strategy?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: With a premium positioning like the one we are trying to have, we don't want to exhaust ourselves on price-based tenders. Seris is going to refocus on high-stakes industries, such as nuclear power plants or Seveso sites, high-rise buildings and military sites. I observe that there are more and more clients who are ready to pay for security without compromising on price.

AEF Info: In a context of lack of manpower, how can Seris manage to attract agents?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: All labour-intensive companies have this difficulty and we are no exception to the rule. But this is no excuse for not being uncompromising in recruitment, because a flaw can be very expensive. For me, the solution lies in training. The regulations require us to provide a minimum level of training, but we can offer specific modules, on sensitive sites for example. We also want to offer social lifts to help our employees progress. Seniority is quite high at Seris. The employees are attached to the group, which has been able to offer them career prospects: 90% of internal transfers are promotions.

We have to make private security interesting and attractive. For security guards, but also for other professions. Engineers, technicians, or even sustainable development specialists must know that they can work in security, and thus help us to succeed in our transformation.

AEF Info: How is the group approaching the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: The whole profession is keeping in mind what happened at the 2012 London Olympics with G4S. For 2024, about 20,000 agents should be needed, and this is the number of people that the sector is already short of today. No company can claim to respond to invitations to tender on its own; it is a challenge that can only be dealt with at the level of the profession. It is in the interest of private security companies to adopt an intelligent and collective approach, which they seem to do. There is no room for mavericks on an issue of this sensitivity.

AEF Info: Seris France has entered into a partnership with the French Security Institute for the training of armed security agents in categories B and D. How was this offer conceived?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: The clarification of the law on the arming of private security guards was a good thing. We can trust the companies on this point because they have been mastering the subject of weapons for a long time: the security guards have been armed for years, without any slip-ups to be regretted.

We have been able to offer armed services since the beginning of January. At present we have about ten trained personnel in France. Our first mission was set up on a public site in the Paris region, and we are already working with other interested clients in the south of the country and overseas. We are also going to offer this new service to our clients so that they can reinforce the security of their sites with armed teams.

We hope to develop this activity, which is part of our global offer, in the run-up to the sporting events that France will be hosting in the next few years. However, this remains a micro-market that will concern a few military bases, sensitive sites or amusement parks.

AEF Info: How do you see the future of private security in France?

Benoît PÉDOUSSAUT: The more the economic world develops, the more there is a need for security, so the dynamics are favourable. But the profession suffers from an image deficit that it is important to treat seriously. We must act so that our professions are recognised at their true value. We must pay attention to the quality of the personnel, pay them properly and train them. The seriousness of this profession will be the condition for its development, and rigour in execution is needed to provide financial manoeuvres to manage the necessary transformations. If these challenges can be met, this is a sector that has many years ahead of it.


Reproduced in full with the kind permission of AEF Info. DÉPÊCHE N°667683 by Marie DESRUMAUX. Translation of the AEF Info interview by Seris.