Jean-Yves Bouffault joined the company in 1995, when the company’s main export market – Germany – fell into recession. Since then, the company diversified, reached new markets, and joined the Manitowoc Crane Group.

‘Potain rediscovered the United States by creating a successful subsidiary – our turnover reached $30 million in 2000. While we were looking for a means of optimising the price of the tower crane provided in the United States, Manitowoc wanted to increase its lifting activity and in particular to internationalise. The convergence and complementary nature of the two companies led to Potain being acquired by Manitowoc in September 2001. Some people believed that Potain was bought dearly ($307 million). At the time, the dollar was worth a little more than the Euro. Now I can say that the best move that Manitowoc made during the past five years was to buy Potain!

‘A year later Manitowoc, which was thinking about buying a third company to add to what it had to offer in lifting, acquired Grove. This was the beginning of an exciting period that saw the creation of a European company, Manitowoc Crane Group, which covered Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) with colleagues of many different nationalities.

‘Whilst Grove is every bit a German company, Potain is every bit a French company. This produced a real challenge of integration, which has been successfully met. It was not Potain that acquired Grove, or vice versa. The merger was made possible because the shareholder is American – a kind of neutrality that got round any problems of nationalism. I have never felt more European than since I’ve been working for an American company.’

CT: If western Europe is a mature market, what is it like in Asia and the United States for the tower crane?

‘China is a huge market, which will have to structure itself. In fact, there are lots of local manufacturers. Our factory in Zhangjiagang is making money and satisfies the needs of the market, with an increased level of local integration except for the large cranes and specialist machinery.

‘And then there’s Russia, in which I have great hopes; it’s our own China! It’s a country that traditionally uses tower cranes. An industrial investment project is being studied and should become a reality in two or three years’ time.

‘And as for the United States, it’s worth noting that the turnover for GME type cranes, realised two years ago in the USA, is greater than the GME turnover realised in Germany! One hundred cranes at a million dollars apiece – means 100 million dollars! It’s therefore a market well worth considering – demanding, of course, but the tower crane is well established in it now.’

CT: Between the manufacturer and the client is the distributor. Have you managed to reconcile the distribution and hire functions within your dealer network?

‘It’s true we’ve had some problems in the countries where we work with one major distributor who provides both the functions. The distributor tends to prioritise hire over sales, and this puts us in a precarious position in terms of market coverage. In countries like Italy, where the distribution structures are smaller in size and therefore more numerous, it works better than in Belgium or Spain, where the distribution is all provided by a single structure.

‘This is a complicated subject on which we will have to work. We will need to arrive at a clearer distinction between the function of distributor and hirer, and within the combination of GME and GMA.’

CT: As you leave, what do you think about the major moves still possible within this industry?

‘At present, the three leaders in the field of lifting are of similar size, with some differences. Potain is a little stronger in tower cranes, Liebherr in mobile cranes and Manitowoc in crawler cranes. Manitowoc has made up its ground in relation to Liebherr and Terex by purchasing Potain and Grove. Let’s leave it for a year so that the new combination can be digested, but then there could be initiatives linked to Asia, because it’s there that everything will be happening.

‘At present Manitowoc, Liebherr and Terex have control on the American and European markets. China and Japan are markets where there is still potential for a group to emerge. The one of the three Western manufacturers that shows the greatest initiative in Asia will make the difference.’