By Claire Le Meur, CEO of Blue Bees

At the Bees, there is a before, a during… and an after! That’s why we went to meet Danielle Marionnelle and Chantal Nallet, both recently retired, so that they could tell us about the many years they spent with the group.

Here are their adventures…

Claire Le Meur : You are both recently retired… How did this adventure start with the Bees? Which of you was the first to join the group?

Danielle Marionnelle : It’s me ! October 21, 1986… (laughs) I was 25 years old.

CLM: (laughs) Indeed, most of our Bees were not even born at that time… I had just passed my baccalaureate (laughs). And you entered as what ?

DM: At first, I joined as a bookkeeper. At that time, people didn’t call me an assistant. Everything was done on paper. The accounting journals were sent to a company that entered the journals that we sent to them. I did that for about a year and then the company became computerized. From then on, I continued to do my work on paper and then I entered the elements and those of the others on computer. I wasn’t doing live input yet.

CLM: And what was the atmosphere like at the firm at that time?

DM: I was only with the “old ladies” (laughs). I was the new kid on the block. Looking back, I couldn’t tell how old my colleagues were… In the end, looking back, they weren’t that old, they were probably in their 40s (laughs). There were “cliques” in the offices, it was pretty funny.

CLM: How many of you were there at the time? It wasn’t called Fifty Bees yet?

DM: At first, the company I worked for was called Solyaco. We were based in the center of Lyon.  We were then bought by Jean Michard in 1994, who had just founded Cofagest the year before. There were two certified public accountants, five accountants and I was the only assistant accountant.

CLM: There was already a majority of girls ?

DM: Yes, there were two male accountants and the rest were all women (laughs).

CLM: The proportion hasn’t changed much (laughs)! We still have 75% women in the group… And you, Chantal, when did you appear in this adventure?

Chantal Nallet: I arrived on November 30, 2001, to do Sylvie Goût’s payroll files – who is still there. For a few years, I continued to work on these files and then on others that I had been added to. Then I joined a sort of small social service in which I was alone and where I also did some internal payrolls. Until the day Jean Michard suggested that I create a real payroll department, and that’s when the whole adventure really began. Sandrine Teisseire, who had been an assistant until then, offered to join me in the department. And so we grew. At the end, we were 11 people. Then I ended my career managing all the internal social service because I was a little worn out by client files (laughs).

CLM: And you, Danielle, what happened to the bookkeeper afterwards?

DM: I stayed as an assistant for two years in Lyon, then I was “parachuted” overnight into Saint-Genis-Laval office, which had just opened, as a bookkeeper. I had two assistant accountants. We were set up in a small house, which was very nice! Except that I had no accounting experience… The assistants who had high hopes for me asked me ten million questions that I didn’t know how to answer (laughs). So, between noon and midday, while the assistants were taking their lunch break, I phoned the “old ladies” in Lyon to get information and not to answer the questions I was asked in a too stupid way. I spent a few sleepless nights… Then, when we were bought by Jean Michard, we found ourselves with about twenty people. It was called Cofagest at the time. We joined the team of the office in Oullins. Then, when Jean bought the Brignais office, Sylvie asked me to come to Brignais with her. That was 6/7 years ago.

CLM: You’ve spent almost your entire career with the group, in fact ?

DM: Yes, and the funny thing is that I kept some clients from the beginning to the end.

CLM: And you never had the urge to leave?

DM: Yes, sometimes. There were times when I said to myself, “You can’t keep up this pace. Then the days go by, morale is back. And I couldn’t see myself working in a company. It wasn’t something I liked. In accounting firms, you know that the pace is always fast – it’s the same for all my friends who are accountants! The years go by, you keep up with the pace, you get older and you find yourself at retirement age saying that you haven’t changed firm (laughs).

CLM: How many tax periods have you completed? Have you ever done the maths?

DM: Oh no, never! I joined in 1986 but I was only a bookkeeper. Let’s say, since 1988, that must be 33 tax periods (laughs)!

CLM: That’s a great score! A third of a century of tax periods… And you, Chantal, how long have you been with the group?

CN: 20 years! I guess you could say that Danielle and I helped build Fifty Bees after all (laughs).

CLM: Exactly! And have you ever thought of leaving?

CN: Yes, there were some very hard times.

CLM: And why did you stay?

CN: Because it was family. I had already experienced completely different things in the office and the hard times were really compensated by the happy and friendly moments. It was just what I needed. Before that, I had worked in large structures and I was really not well.

Danielle et Chantal, jeunes retraitées des Bees
CLM: You both have been involved in the construction of the group, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, and when you were told 3 years ago that the group was changing its name to Fifty Bees and that you were going to become bees, what did you think of it ?…

DM : (laughs) We laughed ! I still say Cofagest (laughs).

CN: It’s true that it made us laugh at first – we sent each other some pretty funny e-mails, with bees everywhere, but afterwards, it didn’t bother me more than that.

DM : The only thing that was a bit complicated was with regard to the clients who asked me about the name change and to whom I had difficulty answering – simply because I hadn’t listened to the presentation on the subject, which you had taken care to make internally (laughs). I must say that it was the middle of tax season, in May, and I had a lot of work to do at that time. Then I’m one of the rebels (laughs).

CLM: Did you both prepare for your retirement, or did you jump in with both feet?

CN: Not at all! I didn’t prepare anything. I got up one morning and said to myself, “I have to see at what age I can retire “. I asked around. I learnt that I could retire at 61 and I said to myself, “Well, I’m leaving. It wasn’t thought out at all (laughs). In the end, I was worn out, tired. Then there were all these changes, which perhaps corresponded a little less with us.

CLM: And what is it like to start retiring after having spent so much time in the same company? Because it’s quite rare nowadays for people to spend their entire career in the same place…

CN: I had a strange start, a little depressing, because I left in the middle of Covid… At the time, I felt like I was leaving like a thief, without seeing anyone! I ended up asking myself if I had done the right thing in leaving… The first year was a bit hard.

CLM: That’s why we threw a party in your honor last June!

CN: I really appreciated being invited to that party, even though I had been gone for a while because it was very frustrating to leave like that. Especially since in the group, we always celebrated well (laughs). Now I’ve started going out again, I’m taking care of my nieces and nephews, I’ve gotten closer to my family. It’s not the same life at all.

CLM: Is it nice, this new life?

CN: Oh yes, it’s nice. I’ve taken up walking and cycling. What has done me the most good is to have less stress. Even though we felt good in the company and we know our job well. It’s incredible how much less stress I’ve had to deal with!

CLM: What about you, Danielle, who has less “experience” with retirement?

DM: Me, similarly, I had been looking at my retirement rights. In 2018, I think. I learnt that I could retire at age 60 and one quarter. I knew that, but I had left it at that. Then there was Covid, which forced us to be confined for almost two months. I couldn’t stand that because I don’t like working at home. It’s not the fact of being confined because I live in a house, but simply the fact that my “home” is not made for working. Then, in 2020, we had to work in a hurry, sometimes having to catch up, doing the best we could. I left on vacation exhausted and, as a matter of fact, it was my little brother who asked me how long I thought I would keep this up. I felt like I was in a washing machine that was running too fast. At the beginning of the school year, I went to see Delphine Michard-Grunwald, to whom I had told shortly before that I would not be leaving immediately (laughs), that I was leaving in April 2022. We talked about it again at the beginning of the following year. And I hadn’t changed my mind (laughs).  Delphine simply asked me to finish the tax period – which made sense to me because I wasn’t going to leave in the middle of the year.

CLM: So, how’s the beginning of your retirement going?

DM: I’ve only been retired for 15 days (laughs). I still have a few things to finish – notably two clients that I know very well and for whom I offered to help finish the balance sheets because I know their files very well. But I don’t have that date stress that used to haunt me. For the moment, I am not planning anything. I’m going to do things the way I want to do them. And I’ve been lucky enough to be a grandmother for two months and it’s a great occupation! I haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that I’m retired yet. I feel like I’m on vacation (laughs). And I feel great!

CLM: You must have seen quite an evolution in the profession, from when you were working on paper until now. There’s been an explosion of technology that has changed the business considerably.

CN: It’s true that at the very beginning of my career, when I was a data entry operator, we did payroll on small strips of paper, by hand. There were certainly fewer taxes to integrate – just social security, unemployment, retirement.

DM: It’s the same for me! There were no computers when I started. I was 20 years old. We just had a calculator – still not the abacus, we’re not that old (laughs).

CLM: You’ve mastered all the new technologies, no doubt about it…

CN: Yes, but it was a gradual process. It wasn’t painful.

DM: I don’t remember anything insurmountable either.

CLM: I have a trick question for you: do you have a worst memory of this whole career?

DM: Well, that’s a tough one. I have a worst memory… I was on my way to see a client to prepare for the balance sheet. That day, I arrived mid-morning and the accountant on site was working at her desk. I said to her, smiling, “Good morning, are you doing well? ” She replies, “Oh no, I’m not doing well at all, Danielle! I am astonished. She says to me ” It is terrible, we will never have finished all this by the evening “. As she was naturally very stressed, I tried to reassure her by showing her what remained to be done – and it was very feasible. I sit down at my desk and let her grumble. I sit down and she gets up, grabs the binder that was on her desk and throws it on the floor, screaming “I’m sick of it, I’m sick of it”, all the while pulling her hair! A kind of hysterical crisis… I tried to calm her down as best I could – she was screaming more and more. And I didn’t dare to go out because she was close to the door and I was afraid that she would catch me or even strangle me! She was like crazy. We were only both on the floor… I was wondering how I was going to get out of this situation. In the meantime, she had also thrown away her glasses. Then, as luck would have it, someone arrived, opened the door and asked if everything was okay. She yells back, “Those accountants piss me off with their questions, I’m sick of them!”  He looks at me, appalled. The maintenance man arrived – he got along very well with this lady. He started to calm her down and waved me out… I cried because I was really scared to death. Afterwards, everyone was very kind to me, they brought me a meal tray, I was spoiled, etc. But it will remain the worst memory of my life!

CLM: And you, Chantal, what is your worst memory?

CN: I don’t have a worst memory…

CLM: You’ve never been attacked by a binder?

CN: (laughs) Yes, I have one worst memory. I did have one terrible client. Every time he talked to me, he would scream. As soon as I saw his phone number come up, it was horrible. Because he was screaming, systematically – he felt like he was talking (laughs). At first I was afraid of him… He wasn’t mean, but he couldn’t speak calmly. And I was young and shy, so that terrified me. He haunted many of my nights. I had to solve everything right away, no matter what the subject was.

DM: Actually, both of those memories are related to specific clients, but we don’t have any bad memories internally.

CN: Internally, we only have good memories!

CLM: Speaking of good memories, what do you remember ?

CN: There were so many, it was so friendly, that it’s hard to choose just one best memory! We celebrated many things… The family spirit was always there. Even if Jean Michard was sometimes angry (laughs), he was always there to listen to us when we had a problem. His door was never closed.

DM : And it’s the same with his daughter Delphine. He never put us down if there was a problem – even if we were reprimanded before or after (laughs). For me, that’s really precious. A lot of respect.

CLM: If you had to do it again, if you were 20 or 25 years old today, would you do it again?

DM: I never question what I do. If I had to do it again, I would do it again because I have no regrets about the way I made my choices.

CN: That was the question we were asking ourselves the other day about our personal lives. And we were just saying to each other that we would do the same! I have no regrets, quite the contrary. Joining Cofagest – it was a difficult time in my life, when I didn’t feel good about myself – changed my whole life. The fact that Jean Michard trusted me, boosted me, encouraged me, changed my career. I would really like to thank Jean and Delphine who, over time, have become more than a “boss” and a “bosswoman” to me.

CLM: And if you had to give advice to all the young Bees working in the group today, what would it be?

CN: (laughs) Listen, though, your elders… Elders are not always nerdy and can be good advice.

DM : I would tell them to listen. And also to look on the bright side. For example, during tax period, when people wonder how they’re going to get by. I always say “like last year” (laughs). You always try to keep a positive side to everything you do. It’s a job full of encounters, with very different clients, from whom you learn a lot. You can also exchange a lot with your colleagues, which is not necessarily the case in a company, for example. Working in an accounting firm is very enriching. It’s really a great experience.

CLM: Are you going on vacation soon?

CN: Of course! But not in July and August, now that I’m retired (laughs). I’m going to Verdon in September, to Spain in October and to Provence in November!

DM: I don’t have any vacations planned yet because my companion hasn’t retired yet (laughs). But we are quite capable of leaving from one day to the next, on a whim!

THANK YOU to Danielle and Chantal for this good-humored interview and for the time they agreed to take out of their retirement to dedicate to the exercise 😉.

The Bees will make sure to check in soon to hear about their adventures!