How Léa Nature moved into philanthropy
According to the 2022 ranking, France became the 291st in terms of wealth Challenges (€400 million), arrives in Paris, stays at the Holiday Inn in Gare de l’Est. A detail that adheres to the thrifty ethos of Léa Nature’s founding president. Charles Kloboukoff began a process still very rare in France: he bequeathed his fortune to a foundation for social works. “It’s the culmination of my model as a corporate citizen as an alternative to the ultraliberal excesses of capitalism,” he says.
In fact, this Toulouse from a small middle-class background has followed a self-taught path as a successful environmental entrepreneur. In 1993, at the age of 29, he created Léa Nature (for Food Balance Laboratory), based in La Rochelle, making it a champion of organic food and cosmetics (Jardin Bio, So Bio, etc.).
1% Membership for the Planet
Long before it became fashionable and beyond the requirements of any label, this precursor worked to extract pesticides from infusions, additives from catering containers, chemical molecules from skin care creams; investment to support local organic farmers in short cycles and fair trade sectors. Carbon footprint since 2009, climate plan in 2013, drastic reduction of plastic use since 2016, Léa Nature is the first ETI company with a mission in 2019. It is also one of the pioneers of Made in France with its eco-designed factories. In the Sea of Charente.
“We’ve shown that you can run your business by selling healthy and ethical products, while making an effort to protect the climate and biodiversity as much as possible,” explains Kloboukoff. In return, we limit advertising… . As a result, Léa Nature has a turnover of 501 million euros, a five-fold increase in ten years, a margin of around 10% and 2,000 employees.
But acting as a responsible entrepreneur was not enough. To do more for nature, Kloboukoff started a charity. Léa Nature joined the 1% for the Planet movement, in which it is a leading European participant: 18 of its 44 brands donate 1% of their turnover to environmental associations under the auspices of Léa Nature, i.e. 16.5 million over fourteen years. The foundation is headed by his wife Catherine. And at 59, the La Rochelle boss is determined to go further.
Neither sold to a greedy group nor moved
“As you move into the second part of your life, you say to yourself, ‘What’s the plan?’ I was trying to perpetuate what I had built: a benevolent company anchored in its territory, with values that transcended the race for profit. How can I ensure that my company is neither sold to a greedy group nor relocated in the future? I also didn’t want my children to have to work in a group, and ultimately I wanted to contribute to the common good.”
The idea of gradually bequeathing the shares of the holding company to the Ficus (fund for supporting Utopian and solidarity civic initiatives) foundation, established in 2021, came up. His challenge? Support with dividends of social missions and guarantee the independence of the group. It’s a problem in France, where equity foundations are generally set up by entrepreneurs with no descendants, because you can’t disinherit your children without their consent. But the Klobukoffs have four (19-30 years old). “We had a family reunion: they all thought the idea was noble.” They will directly inherit 20% of the company held by their father.
Ficus, which already owns 7% of Léa Nature and has a budget of €500,000 in 2021, is run by her third daughter Emma, 26. “I pushed for participative management,” he says in an unprecedented way. The philanthropy committee consists of fifteen employees of the company, selected by lottery among volunteers, and they have identified three areas of action: health opportunities, support for people in great difficulty and the promotion of alternative business models. This committee, for example, decides on donations in favor of women in dangerous situations for SOS Méditerranée, which collects migrants at sea, and Eaux vives (Emmaus). The other three children sit on the board chaired by Léa Nature’s deputy director. Kloboukoff is not on the organizational chart.
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Rochelais, who, along with other entrepreneurs who are members of the de facto community, entrust their capital to a foundation of common interests, realizes that this helps him to take this step: “We feel less crazy, even a little bit, it hurts our hearts to let go. what hard work we have built”. Award for creating an example of virtuous capitalism that integrates economics and philanthropy.