Rationalization of lubricant ranges was quite easy to operate thanks to technological and organizational complementarities.
3 questions about the TOTALFINA & ELF merger ...
What are the challenges of the Total-Fina-Elf merger that you anticipated and which were simple to manage and, conversely, what were the unexpected difficulties that arose during the project?
As Technical Manager of Elf Lubricants, I oversaw all R & D programs and also had an expert role. And what struck me was the relative ease with which we were able to operate line rationalizations, Elf and Total being very complementary in terms of technological choices and organization. Elf was very active internationally and in the markets for marine lubricants and industrial lubricants, Total a lot less. On the issue of automotive lubricants, because of agreements with manufacturers, Elf worked with Renault and also Citroën under the brand ANTAR, and Total with Peugeot and Citroën also ... So we quickly found a rational pattern of operation, because the relations with our guests were very good.
Some aspects turned out to be more unexpected, such as technical differences in the way things worked: Elf bought its base oils on the market and did a whole range of qualification and interchangeability tests in its research centers to select the best formulations according to geographical areas. Total, however, supplied directly at its Gonfreville refinery and tried to use the same base oils all over the world. We have had a lot of work to rebalance the formulations to homogenize the lubricant performance.
What change in culture and practices did this fusion involve for you?
At the time of the merger, at Elf, two years earlier, we had come out of a very advanced process of reconciliation with the German industrial lubricants company Fuchs - we were at technical due diligence! - and the creation of a joint venture with Texaco, the company Arteco, today number two worldwide in this field. The future agreement included the construction of a plant in Belgium in the field of coolants. This dynamic was accompanied by very advanced developments in R & D, where we still had, in many areas, the formulation of component lubricants by component. At ELF, the technical evolutions of the ongoing programs at the Solaize R & D center were monitored month by month. At Total, the dynamics were much weaker, the monitoring much more spaced and based on integration tests of additives already formulated by suppliers.
In terms of corporate cultures, the situations were also very different: because of the variety of technical solutions developed at Elf, we worked a lot in small groups of creativity integrating from the upstream the technical teams of the subsidiaries and the central teams for new developments, in order to quickly find the best solutions. The leaders of the working groups also had a large autonomy of organization, even of decision. At Total, the processes were much more formalized, more centralized with one more hierarchical level. With the merger, we have gained in precision in the files made - especially for the marketing part - and in reporting quality, which we have unfortunately lost in creativity and dynamism!
What is the most memorable memory you have of this period?
The most important remains undoubtedly the recovery of the F1 mid-2000 by Renault. This decision created a very good momentum for federating the Total-Fina-Elf lubricant teams around a competition project with the installation of new equipment in the tribology laboratory of the Solaize Research Center. The new challenges we were focusing on helped smooth the streamlining of the workforce dedicated to lubricants.
I also have great memories of a team building day organized in 2002 in Rome to weld the teams of the lubricants structure. The pedestrian rally in the capital allowed people to get to know each other and it was here that everyone realized that the "lubricant structure" had really acquired another dimension allowing us to be one of the world leaders.
A more painful memory will have been the restructuring of R & D with the disappearance of the mathematical development teams at Solaize, which already foreshadowed at the time what is now called artificial intelligence, and the closure of the center. Fina's engine tests at the Feluy Research Center, Belgium ...
However, we managed to maintain our analysis centers by redirecting them towards the development of new methodologies, which gives us today, more than 15 years after this period, a significant competitive advantage in the development of our products and the answers to bring to customers, and that's great!