Michel Bernardaud tells his tale of family history and being the number one porcelain manufacturer and exporter in France.
Michel Bernardaud comes from a long line of Bernardaud’s who have run the family business that manufactures Limoges porcelain for 153 years. He is the fifth generation who has taken over the family business. Born in Limoges in 1957, he was educated at the Lycée Gay-Lussac and he earned admittance to the prestigious school of management École des Hautes Études Commerciales in Paris, where he graduated in 1979. Later that year he joined the family business. By 1986, Michel became CEO of the company; he was appointed, by the board of directors of the company, to take over as the head of the firm because his father, Pierre Bernardaud, tragically died in a plane crash in Vietnam.
Over the generations, the brand’s name has become synonymous with Limoges porcelain and Bernardaud (the brand) has grown into a major player in the French luxury and international decorative arts scene. He is a refined man, calm in nature and confident with the success of the business. What makes the 59 year old a good leader is his openness and awareness to innovation, new concepts and ideas. He also has his predecessors to thank for his ability to run the company so well. Michel Bernardaud is a world traveller who values local identity and heritage associated with the family business. He sees to it that the company plays a socially responsible role in his home town, so he set up The Bernardaud Foundation to promote ceramics as an artistic medium and showcase the cultural aspects of the historic factory site.
On one of his many trips to Dubai, we met the man himself at the Bernardaud boutique launch at the Dubai Mall.
What’s your connection with the Middle East and how important is the region for you?
For me, this region has a special place in my heart. When I joined the business in 1979 my first business trip here was in 1980, and since then I have come here many times. The Middle East is doing very well for us. It is a very important market and we have a long history of being here. The Middle East customer shares our values, they like family life, they place a big importance in their homes, and they like to entertain with big parties. The dining table is something that is very important to them, so although it is a different culture their values are very similar.
How has the industry changed since you joined?
The world has changed, everything has changed, nothing stays the same. The industry has evolved and I guess this was the case for my predecessors. There were a lot of changes and they had to go through rocky times and I will never forget those moments. I have a responsibility to my predecessors who have given me this role. Bernardaud was already a company that was well established when I joined. I am the fifth generation, so it’s easier than starting from scratch.
How has the company evolved in the last 5-10 years?
We’ve always maintained and followed the principles and DNA of Bernardaud, never compromise with quality, always try to make the best product and be as creative as possible. We try to have a close relationship with the creative world, working with different artists and designers. We are also very open to new technology. When you follow the principles and the DNA it is very easy. The company evolves with what is current.
What have been your favourite key collaborations?
We have had so many collaborations in the history of the company. I think now it is easy for me to meet people and to work on new projects. It was harder for my great-great grandfather because he had to take a boat to go to New York, for instance. I can just take a plane and go and have a meeting with Jeff Koons (for example), the American artist known for working with popular culture subjects.
Any new collaborations coming up that you are excited about?
We are always excited and there are many coming up. We try to be open-minded and work with people who bring us fresh new ideas. We work with people who are very well known and others who are not. We like to work with those who will bring something new to the wide collection that already exists.
How has the popularity of porcelain changed in time?
Porcelain has conquered new territories, thanks to the combined talents of prominent artists and artisans with a passion for their craft. In addition to tableware for use at home or at the restaurants of great chefs, porcelain is now used to make furniture, lighting fixtures and jewellery.
Do you have any favourite pieces?
That is like asking a parent who is their favourite child.
Other than the Middle East what other regions are key for Bernardaud?
From the start, we have sold all over the world so we don’t have all our eggs in one basket. Yes, the US is important, but so is Asia, South America and Europe.
Who are your typical customers?
Sophisticated customers that recognise quality, of course. They enjoy dinnerware and want products that they are proud of. Our customers aren’t uniformed, some are very contemporary and some are very traditional. We keep this in mind when we create new collections twice a year. We try and cater for all styles.
What inspires your work?
I look at what is happening in the world, the trends, where we see something that we may add value to that is missing in the market, or something that can make us more creative. It is a maturing process and I listen to people who are working in the company who also have the same spirit and way of thinking. Every year we like to reinvent Bernardaud.
Do you have a mentor or any role models?
My mentors are my predecessors. I’m always thinking about what they would have done.
What is your greatest achievement?
I’m always trying to be positive. Life is ahead of me and my greatest achievement it yet to come!
Do you have a motto?
When you want something, you can get it.
By Hershey Pascual