François Lemarchand passed his entrance exam to ESCP in May 1968, “a somewhat troubled period … at the time, we didn’t talk much about careers and we didn’t worry about anything.
I didn’t know what was in store for me, but I was still confident nevertheless! We went on adventures and the meanders of life made us find our way.”
For François, that happened in the United States, during a long trip across the country with his wife-to-be.
“It was a big shock. France smelled a bit of mothballs and I had never left home. In America, I discovered freedom, the hippie world, and above all, the wilderness. At the time, we moved about and stayed anywhere, and I discovered the Rockies, a place that became vital for me.”
After an MBA at Harvard, which was unusual at the time, he signed up for a new job in Brazil in the agri-food sector.
But another event made him change course: “My career was never what interested me. I listen to the wind like in the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, and the wind has always been favourable to me”.
François was approached to carry out the sale of the European subsidiary of Pier 1 Imports, and after giving it some thought, he decided to take out a loan and buy the subsidiary himself.
He was thrust at the head of a chain of shops that corresponded exactly to the expectations of the new generations who were open to distant travels and other cultures and were fond of handicrafts from distant cultures available without leaving the country.
My career was never what interested me. I listen to the wind like in the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, and the wind has always been favourable to me.
After a decade of success, François found himself at the end of the line of a concept that globalisation had made obsolete, and sold Pier Import.
Two years later, during a family trip to California, he discovered the concept of The Nature Company, a shop dedicated to the knowledge of nature, and all his relatives told him that this kind of shop was the perfect match for him. “I said okay, but I’ll improve it.”
This is how Nature et Découvertes was born, with shops that from the start were intended to be oases of calm for customers. Far from these oases, François continued to travel the world in search of new products.
This is because he has a very intuitive management style: “I share the vision of the company boss of Patagonia: management by absenteeism. I delegate a lot, so once I set out my objectives, my colleagues shared them and that was that. This was very useful at a time when smartphones and the internet did not exist”.
A life of commitment
From his early years on, François was highly sensitive to nature and open spaces, and this was the seed of his involvement in the protection of the planet. As an environmental activist and former administrator of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), he decided to set out in the original statutes of Nature et Découvertes, drawn up in 1990, the allocation of 10% of the company’s net profits to the financing of a foundation of the same name, dedicated to actively protecting nature.
Since then, generations of children have learned to respect the Earth in these shops that inspired them to protect it.
We have contributed to this. Nature et Découvertes shops were places of wonder with very educational staff.”
Field trips and summer camps were organised for customers, petitions for ecological causes were shared, and the shops located throughout France became drivers for actions lacking media coverage.
Together with his wife, Françoise, he has published nature travel books and edited the magazine Canopée, dedicated to future-oriented trends in the ecological and human fields.
After creating the Nature et Découvertes Foundation for the staff of his stores, François set up the Lemarchand Foundation, designed to distribute the funds earned by his family. Its aim is to support projects that foster a closer connection between people and nature.
Now that he has retired, François continues to be very active in his commitments, and has also become a farmer in Brittany!
Family business is the best thing when you have a shared dream. In our case, it is nature and the protection of the environment.