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Robert Cayrol: Director of the CFP and Director General of Desmarais Frères

Blue Star magazine n ° 34

All those who had the privilege of approaching him know that Robert Cayrol united in him, confused, in a powerfully original personality, two types of chief, the sailor and the animator of a whole cycle of economic activities.

He was a sailor by first vocation. He never ceased to be so out of sentimental fidelity to what was the ideal of his young years as a man, by attachment to the forms of action which are those of the sailor. He was an officer, from 1901 to 1919, in the French Navy where he entered the Naval School in 1901.

Two crucial moments mark this career:

In August 1914, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Cayrol was assigned to the Fusiliers-Marins Brigade, a phalanx forever illustrated in the splendor of our military history where, under the orders of the legendary Admiral Ronarc'h, he commanded the Company of Machine Guns in Diksmuide , in the furnace and the slush fighting on the Yser. One of his former marines recounted on the day of his funeral how the machine gunner had almost been killed and how he had managed to rescue him from death by carrying him on his back. Two citations to the order of the Army, a citation to the order of the Division relate and sanction the achievements of the Company Commander.

From 1916 to 1919, Commander Cayrol was Chief of the Navy Intelligence Service. Working methods specific to this profession, he will always keep, in the following, this search for meditation and this taste for reflection which so often marked the steps of his thinking and the preparation of his decisions. From that time dates his unequaled mastery of playing a keyboard where each key represented a sum of experiences and relationships drawn from the highest circles of politics and business and playing with an ease always capable of releasing, from the mass of information collected, however diverse they may be of origin and trend, the luminous synthesis generating the action to be conceived, decided, carried out to the desired end.

Once the gusts of the Great War have subsided, Robert Cayrol thinks that he will no longer find, in the calm of an existence that has once again become risk-free and harmless, the best terrain for engaging all his strength. On the other hand, the economy of the Country seems to him to require, to be afloat and readjusted on the scale of world competitions, an effort widely open to his own possibilities and in which he can deeply invest all that he carries in him of will. It puts itself at the service of the economy.

To begin with, he gropes. For almost two years - from 1920 to 1922 - he served as Commercial Director at the Société des Moteurs Gnome et Rhône. He is quickly cramped there and leaves her to enter the Service of the Maison Desmarais Frères.

Le sillon sur lequel il vient d'atteler, avec dès ses premiers pas l'appui des grands patrons que seront pour lui MM. Lucien et Paul Desmarais, restera le sillon de tout le restant de sa vie. Quel champ d'action s'ouvre à lui ! Il faut dresser autour de la "Maison", la barrière qui la protègera contre les convoitises de l'étranger, pour la maintenir dans sa ligne de toujours, celle de l'indépendance ; la lancer dans les voies nouvelles jalonnées par l'évolution des techniques : celles du "vrac" pour supplanter le "logé", puis celles des produits noirs notamment, celles de l'alcool et du carburant national ; l'appuyer sur un ensemble français, qui va devenir celui de la Compagnie Française des Pétroles ; créer cet ensemble français et, naviguant de conserve avec le grand Ernest mercier, l'insérer dans un complexe de caractère mondial, en vue d'apporter à la France, en matière de produits du pétrole, une indépendance et une sécurité d'approvisionnement dont l'ancien Chef du Service des Renseignements de la Marine nationale a, si souvent et pour tant de raisons, eu à déplorer la précarité, sinon le défaut complet.

Et c'est ainsi que, Directeur Général en 1927 de la Société Desmarais Frères, Robert Cayrol devient très vite Vice-Président de la Compagnie Française des Pétroles après la création de celle-ci, Vice-Président de la Compagnie Française de Raffinage dont la première raffinerie entre en activité en 1931, représentant de la France au Conseil de la Société Internationale chargée d'exploiter les "Pétroles de Mossoul" devenue aujourd'hui l'Iraq Petroleum Cy. C'est ainsi encore que, par ses interventions personnelles et officielles auprès des Pouvoirs établis de l'époque, l'Office National des Combustibles Liquides et son Directeur Louis Pineau, et auprès des Commissions parlementaires compétentes, il joue un rôle souvent déterminant dans le courant d'idées et d'évènements qui aboutit aux lois de 1928 et 1931, c'est à dire au statut légal sous l'empire duquel l'industrie française du Pétrole vit encore et grâce auquel elle a pu connaître son brillant essor au cours des trente dernières années.

Quoi de surprenant dès lors qu'au travers de tels évènements la personnalité de Robert Cayrol se soit imposée au point d'apparaître comme une des plus en vue de l'industrie française du Pétrole et même de déborder le cadre de cette dernière pour s'élever jusqu'aux enceintes où le Gouvernement de la France vient chercher ses conseillers techniques ? Il suffira ici de rappeler que, au delà de notre Société, par delà la CFP, la CFR., l'Iraq Petroleum Cy, M. Cayrol était administrateur ou même Président d'un certain nombre d'autres Sociétés où il représentait les intérêts de Desmarais Frères, en France, dans les Pays d'Outre-Mer, à l'étranger ; qu'il avait été d'août 1942 à février 1945, aux heures cruelles de l'occupation Directeur Responsable du Comité d'Organisation des Combustibles Liquides, de 1945 à 1948 Président de la Chambre Syndicale de la Distribution des Carburants et Combustibles Liquides ; qu'il était et est demeuré : depuis 1946, Président de la Commission de Modernisation des Carburants ; depuis 1948, Membre du Conseil Supérieur des Alcools ; depuis 1952, Membre du Conseil Supérieur du Pétrole.

Tant de travaux et de réussites avaient valu à leur auteur maintes récompenses officielles. Il savait ne tirer de celles-ci aucun sujet de fierté. Nul ne l'a jamais trouvé préoccupé d'autres intérêts que ceux de la France et de ceux de la "Maison", celle à laquelle nous nous sentions rassurés d'appartenir sous sa direction et que nous continuerons à servir en suivant les enseignements qu'il nous a légués et pour mieux marquer ainsi de quelle déférence fidélité nous saurons entourer son inoubliable souvenir. 

The furrow on which he has just harnessed, with from his first steps the support of the big bosses that will be for him MM. Lucien and Paul Desmarais, will remain the furrow of all the rest of his life. What a field of action opens up to him! It is necessary to draw up around the "House", the barrier which will protect it against the lusts of the foreigner, to maintain it in its line of always, that of independence; launch it in new ways marked by the evolution of techniques: those of "bulk" to supplant the "housed", then those of black products in particular, those of alcohol and national fuel; support it with a French group, which will become that of the Compagnie Française des Pétroles; create this French ensemble and, sailing in tandem with the great Ernest Mercier, insert it into a complex of a global character, with a view to bringing to France, in matters of petroleum products, independence and security of supply including the former Chief of the Intelligence Service of the French Navy has, so often and for so many reasons, had to deplore the precariousness, if not the complete defect.

And so, Director General in 1927 of the Société Desmarais Frères, Robert Cayrol very quickly became Vice-President of the Compagnie Française des Pétroles after its creation, Vice-President of the Compagnie Française de Raffinage whose first refinery entered into activity in 1931, representative of France on the Board of the International Society responsible for exploiting the "Petroleum of Mosul" which has today become Iraq Petroleum Cy. It is thus also that, through his personal and official interventions with the established Powers of the time, the National Office of Liquid Fuels and its Director Louis Pineau, and with the competent Parliamentary Commissions, he plays an often determining role in the current of ideas and events which led to the laws of 1928 and 1931, that is to say to the legal status under the empire of which the French petroleum industry still lives and thanks to which it was able to know its brilliant development during of the last thirty years.

What is surprising therefore that through such events the personality of Robert Cayrol has imposed itself to the point of appearing as one of the most prominent of the French petroleum industry and even going beyond the framework of the latter to to raise to the walls where the Government of France comes to seek its technical advisers? It will suffice here to recall that, beyond our Company, beyond the CFP, CFR, Iraq Petroleum Cy, Mr. Cayrol was a director or even Chairman of a number of other Companies where he represented the interests of Desmarais Frères, in France, in the Overseas Countries, abroad; that he had been from August 1942 to February 1945, during the cruel hours of the occupation Director Responsible for the Organizing Committee for Liquid Fuels, from 1945 to 1948 President of the Trade Union Chamber for the Distribution of Fuels and Liquid Fuels; that he was and has remained: since 1946, President of the Fuels Modernization Commission; since 1948, Member of the Superior Council of Alcohol; since 1952, Member of the Superior Oil Council.

So many works and successes had earned their author many official awards. He knew how to take no pride in them. No one has ever found him preoccupied with interests other than those of France and those of the "Maison", the one to which we felt reassured to belong under his direction and which we will continue to serve by following the teachings that 'he bequeathed us and to better mark with what deference loyalty we will be able to surround his unforgettable memory.

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