For a company that has shed 20 percent of its work force and narrowly escaped bankruptcy, opening a glitzy new headquarters might look like corporate vanity.
Not so for Skis Rossignol SA, says new CEO Bruno Cercley, who hopes the glass-fronted new building will motivate staff as the 100-year old company tries to turn the page on recession by focusing on core ski brands.
Cercley took over last year, when he says Rossignol was on the point on bankruptcy.
Slashing payrolls and cutting in half the number of products available under the Rossignol, Dynastar, Lange and Look brands is returning the company to profitability, he told the Associated Press.
"We still have a lot to do. But we don't have the enormous black cloud over our heads saying 'Will we survive until tomorrow?' That was the situation of Rossignol a year ago ... when the company was almost in bankruptcy."
The company is named after Abel Rossignol, a wood craftsman, who made his first skis in 1907, then set up a skis and sleds division in his wood turnery in Voiron, near Grenoble.
In recent years the skiing business has been hit by a triple whammy of recession, unpredictable weather and a change in consumer habits.
The company has struggled with seasonal factors — one of the warmest winters on record in 2005-2006 hit Rossignol hard — and more permanent changes. In seven years, the number of skis sold globally has halved as skiers favor renting, Cercley said.
Key to Cercley's turnaround plan has been greater attention to the company's main ski business, contracting out textile and clothing.
His original turnaround plan involved 450 job cuts from a total work force of 1,500. In the end, Cercley cut 320 jobs after talks with the unions and local authorities saved 130 positions.
"We had to cut off an arm to continue to live," he said.
Now, as the company gears up for the Ski World Cup in Val d'Isere, France, this month, followed by the Olympic Games in Vancouver in February, Cercley says he expects the 2009 fiscal year to show the company "is saved."
Last fiscal year, which ended March 31, 2009, the company reported a negative EBITDA — or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — of euro42 million ($63 million) on revenue of euro250 million.
This fiscal year, Cercley hopes for a positive EBITDA — a measure of the company's fundamental earnings potential — of euro2 million to euro5 million, excluding restructuring costs.
Cercley, who is on his second stint as Rossignol CEO, inherited the plans for the euro25 million headquarters near Grenoble, in the heart of the French Alps, from the French ski maker's former owner, Quiksilver.
It sold out to Chartreuse & Mont Blanc — a company formed by Australian investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd. and Jarden Corp. of the U.S. — a year ago, when the ski maker's future pointed downhill.
"If we were deciding the priorities today it's probably not the first decision we would take," Cercley said, of the decision to build the new headquarters.
But the building was almost finished, and there was no going back.
"It would have been devastating to go back on the project, because there was a real expectation from the employees, who have faced so many difficulties in the last years," he said.
This year, Cercley, who is only on his second star in the three-point French ski school system, hopes to have more time to ski — when he took over as CEO in 2008, he strapped on his skis only four times.
"I don't think I will get my third star this year, but I hope to have more time on the slopes," he said.