By Claire Le Meur, CEO of Blue Bees

Sylvie Goût, a long-standing Fifty Bees partner, has just retired after many years with the group. Here’s the story of her journey…

Claire Le Meur: Sylvie, when did this long adventure with Cofagest, which later became Fifty Bees, begin?

Sylvie Goût: The adventure began when Jean Michard bought out Solyaco. Solyaco was based in Saint-Genis-Laval and Lyon. We were a firm whose two directors were about to retire. Jean Michard and Marc Linder bought the two firms and brought the Saint-Genis staff back to Oullins. Those in Lyon remained in place.

CLM: What year was all this?
Sylvie Gouts et Delphine Michard de Fifty Bees SG: It was 1989! I was working at the time with Danielle – who has also just retired (laughs), Françoise and Marie-Hélène. The three of us were repatriated to Oullins. Danielle had played a joke on me: she said, “You know, over there, they’re all wearing slippers, so you’ll have to get some too! At the time, I was naive, I believed everything… I soon realized that it wasn’t true (laughs). Before that, I had worked in the accounts department of a very large company in Paris and, on my return to Lyon, I joined Cabinet Grillon, which would later also be acquired by Cofagest. I then ran a small business with a friend, before returning to the firm and joining Solyaco.

CLM: So the merger between the two firms went well?

SG: Yes! At first, we were a little worried… But it went well. We’ve integrated with the existing staff, and some of them have left us.  Some of Jean’s partners are retiring and he’s asked me to join them. I’d like to thank him for that.

CLM: And what was your role at the firm?

SG: I was an account manager, just like I am now! I took over Mr Berthaud’s clients when he left, and it wasn’t easy… but they stayed until I retired! It’s a great vote of confidence.

CLM: And in the end, the adventure lasted almost 30 years… What do you take away from it? After all, you’ve devoted almost your entire career to it…

SG: Yes, but my early experience helped me enormously when it came to managing customers. I’d worked in the corporate world before. Knowing the world of business, of the factory (my childhood approach) was a very important contribution. I knew the different functions (sales – production – HR – administration). This gave me a good overall view of the company, from strategy to day-to-day management. This is perhaps a little lacking if you only know the accounting firm.
Sylvie Gouts, comptable associée dans les bureaux de Fifty Bees

My clients’ trust is my greatest reward. I’ve supported a company with four owners! And I’ve kept businesses that were taken over by children. My clients’ children have also asked me to support them. Is there a better way to sum up my career with the firm? Then, when I set up my own business with a  friend, I learned about cash management, among other things. Then there was the wonderful CABEX adventure with its founder Antoine Pérez and then with Jean, who was president of the network. I was on the management committee and a pilot for the other firms. My role was to help them develop their business. This adventure enabled us to make good progress within the firm.

CLM: And then came the arrival of Delphine Michard-Grunwald, Jean’s daughter…

SG: Yes! And that was great. She was a chartered accountant and represented the next logical step in the firm’s takeover. She had to mark the change and Fifty Bees was born in 2019. We were well aware that the profession was changing, and that we needed to be a facilitator in this evolution. If you cling to the past, you die with it! If you get into the swing of things, you bounce back, and that’s always satisfying. It keeps you on track (laughs). At work and in my personal life, I’ve always applied the phrase “when you see the train, you get on. If you don’t get on, it won’t come back”. There’s the past, but you have to look to the future! Even if it’s a bit scary, you have to go for it, because if you don’t, you’ll regret it later…

CLM: What about Brignais practice?

SG: I met the owner of the Brignais firm, Mr. Vennetier, at an Ordre des experts-comptables conference in Dijon. We were at a stand, watching a not very interesting payroll demonstration, and I started chatting to him. He said to me, “I wonder what I’m doing here, because I’m in the process of selling my practice”. And where are you? He said, “In Brignais”. I came back from the conference saying to Jean “there’s a practice for sale in Brignais, we’ve got to buy it, it’s right next door to me!” Jean said “OK, we’ll buy it”. I led the negotiation and we took over the practice with the existing staff. We opened our doors to the west of Lyon. We always wanted to be as close as possible to our customers.

CLM: It was Paul Eluard who said “there is no such thing as chance, only appointments”…

SG: But you have to know how to turn the appointment into something positive, otherwise it doesn’t work.

CLM: The firm grew a lot between the time you joined and your retirement…

SG: Oh yes! At the beginning, there were about ten of us and now there are almost 100… But it’s still human. People know each other. There are no numbers! Relationships are built over time. It’s the same with customers. I liked to go and see them in their homes, to understand how they worked. It was the same when I was working with Cabex network firms as a “pilot”. Of course, you have to be irreproachable professionally, but you also have to make sure that we’re still committed to the same values that we’ve chosen within the firm.

CLM: When you joined the firm, you were one of the youngest, and when you retired, you were inevitably one of the oldest (laughs)… How does it feel to see young people coming into the firm over the years?

SG: That’s normal, that’s life. We can’t stop time. The young people who arrive energize the company, and that’s good. The older employees need to learn from the younger ones, and the younger ones need to learn from the older ones, who have acquired a wealth of experience in the field. At my retirement party, I was delighted to see so many young people … and not just old people {laughs). My customers were also very numerous, and I’d like to thank them for that.

CLM: Now that you’ve retired, what are your new activities?

SG: First and foremost, I enjoy my family: my husband, already retired, and my dear children.

Travelling – I’ve been travelling a lot since I left! I visit and see distant friends. I’m also starting a sewing course (laughs). I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time – I got my mom’s sewing machine back.

I’m also reading a lot – in fact, I’ll be happy to come to any book signings that Fifty Bees organizes, because it’s really great.

I’m enjoying this new life.

CLM: Would you have a worst memory and a best moment to tell us about?

SG: My worst memories are of losing people… I’ve never been able to stand it. It was always tragic for me. Because it was like family.

My best memories are, of course, the moment when Jean asked me to become a partner, in 2000, which remains a highlight! It was a sign of recognition, a reminder of how far we’d come. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but we always came to an agreement with Jean (laughs). It was all really good. There was a lot of sharing. It’s a great story with a happy ending. I was delighted with the farewell party. I wish everyone a happy ending… I’d also like to thank Solène, who is replacing me. The time we spent working together enabled me to leave with peace of mind.

The Bees would like to thank Sylvie for the time she devoted to this interview and wish her all the best for the future, with travel, reading, walks…and sewing 😉 !