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Interview with a philanthropist: Jean-Pascal Archimbaud

Five questions on philanthropy | BNP Paribas Wealth Management

Jean-Pascal Archimbaud speaks to BNP Paribas Wealth Management about his family philanthropy and the philanthropic fund they have created as a solution to ensuring the future of the family business. As a key player in timber production and forest management over a number of generations, the Archimbaud family philanthropic fund supports actions around forests and wood and is also a major shareholder in the family company. This structure, a shareholder fund, will enable the family to pass on their ethos and approach to the environment whilst ensuring the long-term means to finance its philanthropic actions.

Jean-Pascal Archimbaud | BNP Paribas Wealth Management

Jean-Pascal Archimbaud

« As a family involved in forests for three generations now, we are deeply aware of the importance of forests in our ecosystem and our landscape. It was therefore a natural choice to focus on grants and support for projects in this area.»

What motivated you to start giving?

From my grandfather during World War II, my parents growing up in the post-war period to my children and myself today, our family history has been defined by strong values. As a family, we strongly believe in integrity, putting our trust in people, local roots as well as contributing to our community.

Our family business has been very active in helping our local community grow and providing opportunities for young people in the region whilst being respectful of our environment. As a family working in the timber sector for several generations, we live with nature all around us.  Having a long-term perspective is key to our entire business and our family.

Passing down the company and its values between generations – from my grandfather to my father and then onto me – was simple. However, whilst my children share the same values, their interests lie elsewhere and they want to pursue other career paths.

With this in mind, we turned to a model that is common in other countries, in Denmark for example, the shareholder foundation. The philanthropic structure we created – an endowment fund - will become the controlling shareholder of our business when I retire. My children will remain part of the fund’s governance and a non-family member will take over the Managing Director role.

Anticipating this change in governance was the perfect opportunity to ensure the continuity of our family values. The fund will ultimately own 70% of the company and reinvest the dividends it receives in projects and causes that my family and I believe in. I could have sold the company and made an immediate financial profit but I strongly believe in doing something better for our community and for the world. This fund is my way to maintain my family’s interest in the company as well as supporting a number of key philanthropic objectives that are important to my children and myself.

Tell us more about your philanthropic commitment, the causes you support and your fund.

The philanthropic fund, “Fonds Archimbaud pour l’Homme et la Forêt” “Archimbaud fund for Humankind and the Forest”, supports initiatives across three areas: agroforestry, research about forests and wood as well as cultural and sustainability projects focused on wood and forests.

As a family involved in forests for three generations now, we are deeply aware of the importance of forests in our ecosystem and our landscape. It was therefore a natural choice to focus on grants and support for projects in this area.

One of the first projects we supported was the launch of a plant nursery aimed at preserving rare, local plant species in Niort, central-west France, where the company is located. Backed by a local charity, La Pepiniere is located on a piece of land given to the fund and the company’s employees and their children helped to plant the seed orchard. The fund also finances research on the complex ecosystem of edible mushrooms in forests. In addition, we created a prize for architecture, landscaping and engineering students with projects in wood-based construction. Archi’bois is the first prize for students with a focus on wood: until now, other competitions have solely celebrated raw materials such as steel and concrete.

How do you feel about your initiative now? Are you having the impact you hoped for at the outset?

I believe the actions we support through our philanthropic fund help to finance important projects that would have had difficulties finding funding. I believe our projects also help sustain our local community, providing funding and opportunities for our young people. Through the fund, we are part of a global movement working towards a more sustainable world, fighting against climate change and ensuring the next generations will be able to enjoy living in our world.

What advice would you give to others looking to do something similar?

It is not easy! It was a very personal decision to gradually let go of a family business over time. However once the decision was taken, the difficulty lay in setting up the philanthropic fund and defining its governance. It was also important to align the fund’s objectives with the timeline of my own expected retirement from the company, my children’s involvement going forward as well as establishing concrete targets for the fund.

In that context, it was very important to be able to discuss this with experts beforehand, to let the decision evolve and take shape over time before making a fully informed decision and then ultimately set things in motion.

How did the philanthropy advisory team help you?

The advice given by the team at BNP Paribas Wealth Management was of great value. Based on my very specific needs, the team were able to help me identify the right structure for my project.  They introduced me to key experts in this field and helped to coordinate the work needed to achieve my ambition. With their help, I was introduced to Prophil, a consulting firm and to the lawyer Xavier Delsol, both of whom have specific expertise on shareholder foundations. Between these three advisers, I had a winning team that guided me through the intricate world of setting up this fund and it made my life easier! They also supported me through the whole process, involving both my children and the management of the company from the outset.