Nicomatic Proves That Two Heads are Better Than One

By Connector Supplier | March 26, 2024

Brothers Olivier and Julien Nicollin share CEO responsibilities with great success. Their team approach is just one of the ways they stay ahead of the curve.

When Paul Nicollin retired from Nicomatic, he left the business he founded in the capable hands of not one but two sons. Olivier (left) and Julien Nicollin (right) share the role of CEO in a unique arrangement that fosters an atmosphere of innovation. We spoke with the Nicollin brothers to learn about them and this unusual leadership structure.

How did this CEO arrangement come to be?

Julien: Nicomatic is in our DNA. It was founded in 1976, the year I was born. Every year, working at Nicomatic was our summer job. I took over with Olivier at the end of 2008, but we have worked directly with my father since 2001. We decided not to have two company heads, which can be a little bit complicated. Rather than co-CEOs, we change every three years. We have been doing that for 16 years with quite a lot of success. When we took over in November 2008, everything was good. December was our best December ever. In January 2009, our bookings dropped by 50%. Our first few months as CEOs, we were under pressure because this was the crisis of late 2008-2009. This was a key experience for us to navigate; it taught us a lot. It started very hard and then everything went brighter and brighter from that.

What do you do in the years that you’re not CEO?

Olivier: What is important is to be as agile as possible. So, one of us oversees the day-today business and the other is dedicated to new development; for example when we expand into new countries and new markets. Nicomatic started as a subcontractor for screw machining and grew to producing connectors. Now we are finding new ways to add value, so it is important to have somebody in charge of looking outside of the day-to-day connector business. This allows for some experimentation with our business model. We come together after three years for our strategic review, and say what is good to keep, what is good to accelerate, and what is important to let go of in order to be focused for the next three years.

Julien: Three years is long enough to put in place a strategy and, at the same time, short enough to be a bit like a sprint. Then the brother that takes over the lead can build on whatever is good and change whatever we think is not successful.

Why have you made the choice for one of you to work outside of France?

Julien: We have 22 subsidiaries. I have been CEO while in Dubai and in Singapore during the five years I lived there. I like to be located where things are happening, where there’s big demand or something important for Nicomatic’s future. These days, I’m based in Dubai, because the Middle East is a very exciting market for us.

Olivier: I was also abroad for two years in South Korea and in the U.S. Julien is away for longer than me, but it was important to me to have this experience, to understand what is going on everywhere in the world. Our strategy is to be as local as possible. We want to be very connected with the field and to give autonomy to our subsidiaries to develop their own product and ecosystem around their customers. We want to show that it is easy for everyone to export, because we are doing only 10-15% of our sales in France. It is very important that we understand the market outside France, and that we have people working outside their own country, because those links are very valuable.

Tell us about yourselves prior to working full-time at Nicomatic.

Olivier: I have a master’s in chemistry and an MBA. And I had the chance to do my national service in France. After I started with Nicomatic, my job was to close one of the first companies my father bought. It was a good learning experience to determine whether to try to work with this company. But after a couple of months, I told my father no, it’s not possible, so I had to close it. And after, inside Nicomatic, I did everything: quality, purchasing, sales, R&D. Within Nicomatic, every day is something different because we are trying not to do the same thing for years. We are always improving and every year more than 30% of our sales are with product that didn’t exist two years prior. We have this innovative spirit. You can find a lot of experimentation and new things here. You are never bored!

Julien: I did some marketing and finance, business school, mainly. I did not work at Nicomatic straight out of school. I Iaunched a startup in 2000-2001 during the first boom of the internet. And not to say it failed, but it did not succeed at the release. Olivier started by closing a company and I started by not succeeding in startups. So, a lot of learning during this experience before joining the company.

Nicomatic goes to Jupiter

What do you find most interesting about the connector industry?

Olivier: With the very wide range of connectors, you can always experiment to find something new. From 2008 to today, Nicomatic is a completely different company. We are almost 10 times bigger, with at least five times more people. We wanted also to have the capacity to grow in different fields. So, it is very important, at least for Julien and myself, to have the freedom to do what we think would be good for people, for the world, and for the company. Also seeing what kind of disruption we can create in the market, like introducing a very short lead time and offering a lot of custom solutions. We listen to the customers and we try to find a solution by being free to experiment. We like to be a little better than everybody else. We like to be different, not only in connectors, but also in organization.

Julien: When we took over Nicomatic we saw that the connector industry tends to have a real classic way of management, quite hierarchical. Coming from the internet industry which was  really flat in terms of organization, really different in terms of spirit and production, here was a chance to see how we can bridge that world of liberty and creativity with the connector industry world of quality and precision. That’s one of the key reasons we’ve enjoyed so much success. We are offering our customers a different experience. We don’t try to make our customers just happy; we really try to get them to love us, not just to like us, or to be satisfied with 99%. It has to be 110%!

Olivier: We are more a solution provider than a trendsetter. We don’t want to do the smallest connectors on Earth, if we don’t understand the application or why this is important. Sometimes you need big connectors, sometimes you need small connectors, and sometimes you need reliable ones. We need to understand the scope. It is also very important that we work with partners, to connect locally. This is how we develop dedicated connectors inside each country and market, to be as personalized as possible with what the customer needs.

Julien: We use what makes the 21st century exciting, which is flat hierarchy, lots of communication, being closer to our customers, and win-win thinking, like minimizing our impact on Earth. We are taking tens, if not hundreds, of actions to contribute to this circle of life.

Nicomatic e-sports team

Thinking outside the box at Nicomatic involves partnering with an American football team. Tell us about Nicomatic’s esport team.

Olivier: The European champion of American football is from near our town. American football is not very popular in Europe, but we are quite proud of this team. That’s why we wanted to be a sponsor, but not in the regular way. Why not do an esport section? It’s good for them to attract new people and good for us also. We are a bigger company, more than 800 people now. These games are a different way to connect our people. We are using it not only for esport, but also for training. Some of our customers and competitors are doing this also, so we create another kind of link with them, with some “competition” within our ecosystem. We love this esport team!

Visit the Preferred Supplier page for Nicomatic to learn more about the company and its products.

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