Daniel Parfait – SAFRAN Mexico President Interview
By Graeme Stewart
Safran is a giant in Mexico’s aerospace sector and a prime example of how Gallic expertise and Latin enthusiasm together can create a winning formula. The French company has operated in Mexico for more than 20 years in the aerospace market. Its local presence is designed to meet two major goals: provide local support for customers throughout the Americas and increase the company’s market share in the booming region. Today, Safran has more than 5,000 employees at 10 facilities in Mexico, with another to be opened later this year, and is the country’s leading aerospace employer. In a nutshell, Safran Mexico, a wholly-owned subsidy of Safran, is tasked with representing Safran in relations with all Mexican institutions and promoting the Group in the country, coordinating Safran’s operations in Mexico and Central America and assisting Group companies in their business development. Safran’s companies with a presence in Mexico include Safran Labinal Power Systems and Safran Engineering Services in the State of Chuhuahua, Snecma Mexico, Snecma America Engine Services, Messier Dowty Mexico, Messier Services Americas in the State of Queretaro, Safran Mexico, Turbomeca Mexico, Morpho ID and Morpho Cards in Mexico City. The company is a founding member of the Aerocluster de Queretaro (ACQ), an association created to foster research and collaboration on educational initiatives. One of ACQ’s major initiatives is the development of the National Composite Materials and Aerospace Technologies Center of Queretaro. So how does the giant aerospace company perceive Mexico as a center for operations? And how can what has been an undoubted success story be taken forward?
MexicoNow put those questions to Daniel Parfait, President of Safran Mexico, and, interestingly, a former French Ambassador to Mexico. Mr Parfait said: “Mexico has many advantages for foreign companies wanting to open there. First and foremost has to be its close proximity to the biggest market in the world, the United States. That is why, over 20 years ago, we opened our first plant in Chihuahua and why, in the 2000s, we opened plants in Queretaro. “Secondly, we are very happy with the human resources position in Mexico where our workforce is pretty much involved in all the stages of manufacturing and are eager to bring fresh ideas to the table and we are equally as eager to implement those new ideas. Our Mexican workforce is really something special.” He pointed out that Safran was investing in the youth of Mexico by taking an active role in government supported training programs such as Mexprotec, which provides advance training of graduates of Mexican technical universities through a one-year program in France, including a four-month internship with a Safran company. He continued: “Thirdly, doing business in Mexico is easier than in a lot of other countries in the world. There is no doubt that Mexico is a good place to do business.” He said that the relationship Safran Mexico had with the country’s Federal Government and the State Governments had been excellent and had been of great help in many fields, especially in the field of recruitment and training, which was a main issue. He continued: “So, I would say that, basically, those are the main advantages of setting up in Mexico. But I must also say that the clusters are very useful. We have a very important cluster in Queretaro and another in Chihuahua both of which are very helpful for the Group and the activities of the Group in Mexico.” Safran Mexico was, he said, right behind everything ProMexico was doing to promote Foreign Direct Investment to the country and he added: “Those are all factors that make investment and activity in Mexico successful.” As for disadvantages, Mr Parfait concurred that there was still some work to be done on the supply chain. He said: “We are just at the beginning but aerospace companies and the Mexican Government are concerned about this issue and want to do more and see what we can do about creating a better, more efficient supply chain.” “For example, France and Mexico are working at the level of a strategic council which reports directly to both Presidents – that is how seriously the matter is taken. However, it is not really a disadvantage but a challenge – something we have to work on.” Safran Mexico was currently working on improving its already impressive exports tally. The plants in both Chihuahua and Queretaro were producing critical parts for airplanes, including cables, motors parts and landing gears, all of which he described as a “crucial activity” for his company. In the future, Safran Mexico would be working on the already successful new engine LEAP, critical parts of which would be manufactured in Queretaro. “This is an area in which we are going to grow,” he said.
On how Mexico can improve competitiveness in the aerospace sector, Mr Parfait returned to the question of the supply chain and said: “We must look at ways of attracting more investment to spend on improving the supply chain. Also, education and training, a vital point for our industry, has been doing very well but we must make it even better.” “Innovation is a key word because what we want is to move slowly from manufacturing to innovation. To that end we have been working on improving Research and Development (R&D) and we recently opened a center dedicated to that discipline. Slowly, we intend to have more innovation in the processes in Mexico- in the electronics field, for instance. We are in the process of discussing those matters at the moment, to have more R&D and therefore more innovation in Mexico.” Safran’s commitment to Mexico could not be questioned he said and added: “It has been a long story in Mexico, with more than 20 years of a Safran presence, and we are really happy with our operations here. It has been a relation of trust between us and Mexico and we will keep that going and continue to develop new products and continue to grow in the coming years. “After all, Mexico is the third most important country to Safran, after France and the USA.” The Gallic-Latin partnership has obviously been made, if not quite in Heaven, then certainly high in the skies.