"Business leaders must understand that we must stop waiting for the State to create the resources they need", (Xavier Ouvrard, CEO Babilou)

“Business leaders must understand that they must stop waiting for the State to create the resources they need”, (Xavier Ouvrard, CEO Babilou)



LA TRIBUNE – Babilou Family was born in 2003. In twenty years, the childcare sector has evolved. According to Xerfi, in 2020, the turnover of private crèches in France reached 1.7 billion euros. In the current context, how is Babilou?

XAVIER OUVRARD – Babilou is 12,000 employees worldwide, 1,100 nurseries, 50,000 families supported and a turnover of 800 million euros. We are leaders in our business. We are very strong in France and Germany and are present internationally, particularly in the United States, Colombia, Argentina, Luxembourg, Switzerland, India… Today, while certain activities are experiencing difficult times, we have no signals, in our different geographies, that are going in the wrong direction. We have significant waiting lists. The critical point in this profession is that even when one is perceived with a good reputation and a very good positioning, there is a basic subject on the number of qualified professionals who arrive each year on the market. This number is lower than the number of places created, in a market where there are many retirements, in Europe in particular. There is a real strategic urgency on this subject. This is why we acquired Paul Strauss University 5 years ago. We are also discussing with the authorities to open a second school in Provence within the next two years. Business leaders must understand – and I’m not speaking only for our sector – that we must stop waiting for the State to create the resources we need, through its universities, all alone like a grown-up. The French state, in particular, is doing its job rather well. Business leaders must accept that government time is a long time, which does not correspond to our short-term needs. Our role is to push the State to work on substantive issues. In the case of our trades, it is to help it to revalue the subsidies so that we can have more attractive trades, better pay the professionals. My responsibility is to invest in the creation of childcare schools or universities capable of graduating educators of young children. If we manage to do both, that’s great, because the very good news about this job is that – and it’s now been scientifically proven – the key period of life for learning and ensuring the social future and economy of a country is early childhood, from 0 to 6 years old.

Our second challenge is to prove what we do. Both on the quality of our establishments, but also on the educational path of the children. We must have an educational curriculum to prove to families that what they perceive as differences or inabilities can be corrected through an appropriate educational path.

You refer a lot to the notion of services. What does this mean precisely?

To serve is a beautiful word. To serve is to bring families a commitment that is powerful in terms of their ability to develop their children harmoniously. For this, families must have access to what we do. To do this, we have invested in technological solutions that we develop internally – we have a team of 40 people dedicated to the development of solutions – such as, for example, with this application which makes it possible to follow in real time what is happening in the establishment, to have information on the workshops which took place during the day… Today, we are the only company in the world to allow parents who connect to our website to know in real time the number of seats available. We also offer – and this has been the point of progress in recent years – additional services, such as childcare, the use of a social worker for family issues…

This notion of services goes beyond the framework of childcare. Where can she go?

It can go as far as tutoring, for example. In some countries, we offer after school. In Holland, a country where school ends at 1 p.m., for example, we welcome children in the afternoon. We have opened 90 centers in Holland as well as in Luxembourg, which we are developing on the pedagogies put in place for 0-6 year olds. In Marseille, we are developing a partnership with Synergy Family. If Synergy Family considers that there is a need for crèche places in neighborhoods where Babilou cannot go because there are few or no businesses, we put our skills and technologies at their service. , our internal university. Conversely, if we need after school, we can ask Synergy Family to be able to offer this service to families who need it. For me, we are reaching a point in the service economy, where all the barriers, between public, private, associative… must be reviewed. The real subject is to serve the customer.

Regarding recruitment, how to make the job attractive?

Employees must be properly compensated. We have signed a purchasing power agreement which anticipates inflation. And employees have been increased a little beyond inflation, around 8% when inflation is at 6%. This eats away at our margins a little, but this head start reinforces employee confidence. We have to work on remuneration models. It is also necessary to make the States understand that they must direct more means towards the activity of early childhood. Subsidy models should take remuneration levels into account. This is the case in Germany, where the level of subsidy is extremely vigilant on the type of levels that employees have and the level of remuneration. And this is not only valid in our sector.

The other lever is training. Remuneration alone is not enough. Fulfillment at work is important and this requires managerial culture, listening, offering a career horizon…

Another subject is a strong issue, that of energy. How do we reconcile rising costs, sobriety and service activity?

On this subject, I questioned myself a lot. In particular, I spent a year at the Citizens’ Climate Convention. It changed my perception of the world, I discovered the extent of the crisis, in a documented way, and areas for improvement. We are working on the footprint of our establishments – we already heated our crèches to 19° – via zero carbon, neutral building and zero soil artificialisation. It’s a long time. We are also working on transforming waste, i.e. nappies, into building materials. This will become insulation materials for roofs. What we gain by reselling this waste will be reinvested in more responsible heating systems. We are also working on transporting employees between their home and work, with a system that sends pushes to employees as soon as an establishment opens near them, with authorization to change establishments. Regarding the company’s invoice in its operating account, we had good energy coverage until this year. We are accompanied by a professional in the subject and we are going to commit to contracts for another 3 years. And my advice to entrepreneurs is not to let the purchasing department manage this subject alone. The risk is too great to go alone.

Babilou also has a corporate foundation. What is its purpose ?

I don’t believe in gimmicky foundations. We talk about greenwashing but we can also do engagementwashing. The president is the director of education for the group, the one who manages the heart of the business and this represents 1/3 of her time. We are working on 4 areas including health – in particular via a partnership with Gustave Roussy, a center specializing in childhood cancer – research, in neurosciences in particular on research program funding. We make our nurseries available with the agreement of the families so that programs take place in our establishments in order to prove things. The third is the environment, in partnership with the OFA. The fourth axis is social, on this point we are working on the integration of refugees and their children. We have integrated Syrian families in Germany into our schools and participated in the German language training program for families. When the Ukrainians arrived in France, we participated with Corsica Linea, in Marseilles, in the establishment of a crèche in the Ukrainian liner. It is the foundation that funds all of this. It is our contribution to the cause. I myself host a Ukrainian family and I am not the only one. Many of us extend our commitment in our personal lives. Business leaders cannot have one discourse in their professional life and another attitude in their private life. We are going to be hounded more and more on this consistency and I understand that.

You organized an event, recently in Marseille, on neuroscience. What is your goal with this type of event?

I’m like Obélix, I fell into the Marseille pot and I haven’t recovered. The Plan Marseille en Grand is a synthesis of all the major problems of society to succeed in education: extreme poverty, violence… serious subjects to put equality back at the center of the game. But there is also an economic and cultural boom unique in France. I live in the territory – I’m not from Marseille – and I wanted this first congress to take place in a territory that I know. Neurosciences are revolutionizing education, especially in early childhood. We need to open more crèches so that children from families far from culture and learning can then enter school learning more easily. I didn’t say I wanted them to be Babilou crèches, that’s not the point. We must invest in the education of our children. In 20 years, it will come out of Marseille, the creative youth of the country.