Groupe Fournier SA - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Groupe Fournier SA

42, rue de Longvic
21300 Chenöe

Company Perspectives:

Groupe Fournier is a diversified international pharmaceutical group, constituted by a conglomerate of French and international companies working in complementary areas and linked under the umbrella of the wholly French-owned holding company Fournier Industrie et Santé.

History of Groupe Fournier SA

Groupe Fournier SA is a minor player among the world's pharmaceutical giants but remains a goliath in its chosen niches. Ranked as the 13th largest French pharmaceutical company--and number 84 in the global market--Fournier has developed a predominant position in the market for lipid-lowering drugs through its discovery and development of fenofibrate-based therapies, notably through its Lipanthyl brand. In addition to its work on cardio-vascular medications, the company also develops drugs for the Uro-gynecology field, including estrogen-replacement systems, and anti-ulcer agents for the gastroenterology specialty. The company has developed its international operations through marketing and distribution partnerships with local companies. International pharmaceutical sales account for more than half of the company's sales in that category. Altogether, Fournier's pharmaceuticals activity accounts for 70 percent of its sales. The company also produces bandages through its Laboratoires Urgo brand, holding the first place in the French first-aid market and a leading position throughout Europe. The company's third division, Plasto Adhesives and Polymers produces a range of products for the healthcare, automotive, electricity and electronics, construction and other industries. Fournier is 100 percent owned by Jean Le Lous through the private Holding Fournier Industrie et Santé. Le Lous's son-in-law, Bernard Majoie, led the company through the 1990s before turning over the CEO spot to former Bristol-Meyers-Squibb executive Bernard Helain in 1999. The company has consistently rejected acquisition approaches from the rapidly consolidating pharmaceuticals industry; in order to protect its position, Fournier invests as much as 16 percent of its revenues in research and development. The company's sales neared EUR 700 million in 2001. Fournier is present in some 29 countries.

Drugstore Origins in the 19th Century

Groupe Fournier traced its beginnings to a drugstore operated in Dijon, home of the famous mustard, in the Burgundy region in France. The pharmacy, operated by Pierre Bon and Eugène Fournier, like many of its counterparts at the time, fabricated many of its own medicines. In 1892, the company built a new facility to house its pharmacy and growing production activity. By the end of the century, Laboratoires Fournier, as the company came to be known, listed some 150 products in its catalog.

The beginning of Fournier's industrial era began in the 1930s, when the company developed its own adhesive tape by adding glue to a strip of cloth. The company's invention soon became a major focus for its activity and a major source of its revenues. Fournier developed its sticking plaster and then a full range of adhesive tapes under the Plasto brand name. The Plasto brand soon captured the leading share in the French industrial adhesives market, and later built up international sales to become the second largest adhesives manufacturer in Europe. In 1952, the company set up a separate subsidiary, Plasto Adhésifs & Polymères. The new subsidiary was backed by a strong client list, including the French army, which contracted the company for supplies of tape for its ammunition crates. Fournier later extended its adhesives operations into the larger plastics sphere, adding products for the automobile industry, but also for the health care, hardware, and construction industries.

The outbreak of World War II proved catastrophic for the Fournier family. By 1941, the company's financial difficulties and lack of raw materials led it to turn to Jean Le Lous, who took over the company and managed to rescue its finances and resume production. If the company had concentrated on its adhesive tape operations since the 1930s, Le Lous placed a new emphasis on building the company's pharmaceutical product. Under Le Lous, research and development became a primary component of Fournier's activity, and through the war the company began developing new pharmaceutical products based on more readily available raw materials such as saccharine and algae. The company continued to develop its Plasto bandages and tapes as well. By the beginning of the 1950s, Fournier's operations were divided between its pharmaceuticals and adhesives operations. To the Plasto brand of industrial adhesives the company added the Urgo (from urgent--French for "emergency") brand of bandages and other first-aid products.

Fournier's breakthrough came in the 1970s. By then the company had been joined by Le Lous's son-in-law Bernard Majoie, who, in 1975, developed a new class of drugs, called fenofibrates, exhibiting lipid-lowering effects. The release of Fournier's new drug, which was given the brand name Lipanthyl, coincided with the developing world-wide understanding of the role of cholesterol, lipids, and hypertension in the incidence of heart disease. The approval of the drug for use in treatment in France and then in Europe placed Fournier, despite its relatively small size, in the front lines among Europe's drug companies.

As research studies continued to validate Lipanthyl's effectiveness, and as researchers discovered new potential for the fenofibrate molecule, Fournier's fortunes rose. By the 1990s, Lipanthyl had become the most-prescribed lipid-lowering medication in Europe. In the United States, however, Fournier's ambitions remained frustrated. Its efforts to introduce Lipanthyl in the United States market, begun in 1984, were successively thwarted by the Food & Drug Administration's tightening drug approval process.

Diversified Conglomerate for the 21st Century

Jean Le Lous turned over leadership of the company to Majoie, who in turn led the company through the 1990s, before retiring in 1999. Le Lous, meanwhile, retained the chairmanship of Fournier's controlling holding company, Holding Fournier Industrie et Santé, which represented the interests of the some 100 members of Le Lous's family. Under Majoie, Fournier stepped up its international expansion in the 1990s. The company extended its sales of Lipanthyl to more than 80 countries. Most of Fournier's international growth came through a series of partnerships with locally operating companies. Many of these partnerships were with Fournier's heavyweight counterparts, such as Glaxo-Wellcome in France, Pfizer in the United Kingdom, and SmithKline Beecham in Italy. Other partnerships were with Byk Gulden in France, Bayer, and, at the end of the 1990s, Abbott in the United States and Grelan/Tekada in Japan.

Fournier invested strongly in its research and development of new products--the company's research and development effort in its pharmaceutical branch represented some 18 percent of total sales, more than the industry average. Among the new products the company worked on were new transdermal drug delivery systems--better known as a 'patch'--which achieved popularity as a smoking cessation aid. Fournier's long experience with adhesives and bandages gave the company a strong position in the developing category. The company combined this expertise with the development of estrogen-replacement therapies for the treatment of menopause symptoms, releasing its Oesclim (Eslcim in the United States) patch.

The company found another strong product with the acquisition of Laboratoires Debat, also based in France in 1993. Debat brought Fournier its research in a new class of drugs for the treatment of benign hypertrophic prostate conditions. Fournier began marketing the new drugs under the Tadenan brand name, which became one of the most widely prescribed medications for that condition worldwide. The addition of Tadenan, and the success of Oesclim and Tadenan helped raise Fournier's sales to more than EUR 490 million by 1996.

Fournier at last received FDA approval for marketing Lipanthyl in the United States in 1994. The company began negotiations to find an American partner to market its drugs and reached an agreement with Abbott Laboratories, which introduced Lipanthyl to the United States in 2000. By then, Fournier had found a partner in Japan as well, with Grelan Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd., part of the Takeda Group, which began marking Lipanthyl in 1999.

Fournier's international component grew strongly through the 1990s, with new subsidiaries being opened in Germany, Italy, and Spain, a push into Eastern Europe, with offices first opened in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, then in Bulgaria, Russia, and China. The company boosted the share of its international sales from about one-third to more than half by the end of its 2000 year. Important for the company was the development of its international operations beyond Europe.

In 1997, Fournier complemented its Urgo subsidiary with the acquisition of Mobypharm, the French leader in sales of extendible bandages, which marketed its products under the Nylex brand name. That company, which had been founded in 1923, had originally produced curtains and lace products before transforming itself into a medical textiles manufacturer in the 1950s. Mobypharm's success was due to its use of combining nylon and cotton to form its extendible bandages--the company held exclusive rights to its process through the end of the century. Also in 1997, Fournier's Plasto subsidiary formed a joint-venture with the United States' Foamade, called FPA. The joint-venture extended Plasto's growing activity in automobile interior fittings with the purpose of developing and marketing detachable parts for the automobile industry in the United States.

Majoie retired in 1999, replaced by Bernard Helain, forming vice-chairman with Bristol Myers Squibb. That appointment sparked a brief flurry of rumors that Fournier might finally be up for sale to one of its larger competitors--which had long been courting the steadfastly family-controlled company. Fournier quickly dispelled any notion of the company selling, reaf- firming its intention to remain 100 percent private and family-owned.

At the turn of the century, Fournier began looking for new acquisitions to extend its chosen niche activities and to boost its international operations. In 2000, the company acquired Sweden's Selena, a pharmaceutical distributor to the Scandinavian market, which had already been acting as a major distributor for Fournier's products in that region. By the end of that year, the company's sales neared EUR 690 million. Fournier could look back on a century of innovative products and breakthrough medications and to a future of continued growth. The company remained small among the world's global pharmaceutical players, but a giant in its chosen niche.

Principal Subsidiaries: Fournier Hellas (Greece); Fournier Pharma GmbH (Germany); Fournier Pharma SpA (Italy); Laboratorios Fournier SA (Spain); Fournier Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (U.K.); Fournier Pharma Inc. (Canada); Fournier Research Inc. (U.S.); Fournier Group Singapore; Fournier Japan; Plasto Aludec (Spain); Plasto/Foamade Industries (U.S.); Plasto GmbH (Germany); Selena Fournier AB (Sweden); Urgo Healthcare Products Co. Ltd. (Thailand); Urgo Med-Com Spol sro (Czech Republic).

Principal Competitors: Abbott Labs; American Home Products Corporation; Amgen Inc.; AstraZeneca PLC; Aventis; Barr Laboratories, Inc.; BASF AG; Bayer AG; Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; Chiron Corporation; Elan Corporation; Eli Lilly and Company; Genentech, Inc; GlaxoSmithKline PLc; Glaxo Welcom; Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Merck & Co., Inc.; Mylan Laboratories Inc.; Novartis AG; Novo Nordisk A/S; Pfizer Inc; Sanofi-Synthélabo; Schering-Plough Corporation.


Additional Details

Further Reference

Iskandar, Samer, "Old Family Business Sticks to Sales Expansion Target," Financial Times, February 26, 1999.Jemain, Alain, "Fournier soigne Ă  Prague et Ă  Bratislava," L'Usine Nouvelle, July 3, 1997."Les Laboratoires Fournier bientĂ´t vendus?" L'Expansion, April, 11, 1999, p. 12."Molypharm est repris par le groupe Fournier," Les Echos, September 2, 1997, p. 21.Tiller, Alan, "Niche Drugs Help Fournier Say 'Non'," European, November 16, 1995, p. 32.

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