Jean-Louis Louvel is president of the PGS Group near Rouen in Seine-Maritime and was named “Entrepreneur of 2023” by EY. It’s a first for a managing director in the region. Let’s meet a Norman with inspiring values and his sights set on a more sustainable world.

What does PGS stand for?

Palettes, Gestion, Services (Pallets, Management, Services). It’s an oddity in the pallet industry where most companies are named after their director… but I didn’t think Louvel Palettes had a great ring to it 30 years ago! (laughs)
Seriously though, we focus on B2B with a product that’s often neglected in everyday life but is essential to transport. 95% of goods are transported on pallets around the world.
We provide a range of services involved in using, making, flow racking and reconditioning pallets, something which we began doing almost 30 years ago.

Why pallets? It may not look like a game-changer but it's essential to the supply chain. It's a great way to prove you can do great things with products that aren't exactly sexy.

Jean-Louis Louvel

What does it stand out for?

What sets us apart are our reverse logistics services: instead of just selling the pallet, we ask our clients where they are shipping the pallets so we can collect them and put them back into circulation nearby.

PGS and vertical integration, from the forest to reuse

  • “We are loggers,
  • we have saw mills to make our own planks,
  • then we make new pallets for industry (large and small series, standard or not)
  • we also provide reconditioned used pallets.
  • We have even gone into making nails”

What does the award mean to you?

It’s a symbolic award for several reasons: it’s the first time a Norman has won it in 31 years and I was able to share it with my two friends and associates who started out with me over 30 years ago. I’m self-taught, I stopped school when I was 16, so it’s great recognition for me. The award means a lot to me but what makes it so special is sharing it with my two associates, my loved ones, my two daughters who were at the ceremony and my colleagues.

I struggle with the word "pride" because I'm a modest man, but I'm delighted to bring the award home to my region for the first time, and the timber industry, which is like a big family!

Why is it so important to contribute to a sustainable industry?

Even 30 years ago, I was shocked to discover that some competitors were sending empty pallets from Bordeaux up to Lille – it doesn’t make sense from an environmental point of view – which is why I came up with the network idea. We were already reconditioning pallets 30 years ago, and when you’re a parent, you worry more about the future and what sort of world you’re leaving behind for your children.

To be honest with you, in my job you can never be responsible or eco-friendly enough, which is why it’s so important to act sustainably. Especially in the timber industry.

PGS: waste nothing, repurpose everything

  • We’ve planted trees, we’ve cut our carbon;
  • We fell one and plant two, automatically.
  • We don’t waste anything, from the top to the stump, everything is used to produce woodchips, energy etc.
  • Our sawdust and by-products will be made to make aggregates, pellets, chipboard;
  • Our bark will be used to make decorative flower beds
  • We recondition pallets and give them a new lease of life once, twice, three times or four times over!
  • At the end of their lives, we grind them and use magnets to collect steel that we then melt down
  • We reuse them to make chipboard or energy for as long as we have dry wood chips.

PGS has also created a network to work in restricted areas in terms of saw mill supplies, new or reconditioned pallets and exploring innovative services related to selling pallets.

I'm not worried about the planet or the world; I'm worried about my children. The planet will reclaim its place one day but mankind may no longer exist to see it. I'm more worried for mankind than the planet.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you today?

I make the distinction between a businessperson and an entrepreneur. Business people are here to make money; their goal is to make more money than the previous day. Entrepreneurs build something worthwhile, something that matters and will stand the test of time.

We also want to see our colleagues thrive; if they’re happy at home, they’ll be happy at work. Most importantly, if they’re happy at work, then they will be even happier at home. Self-fulfilment doesn’t just apply to your personal life; it applies to your professional life too.

What are Normandy’s assets in the business world?

I work in the industry and I can see the region is being restored to its former glory. We’ve neglected craftsmanship in France and allowed great industries to go overseas, often very far away, which doesn’t make sense from an environmental point of view. We’re fortunate in Normandy as our Region’s president champions our land and has given us fire in our bellies. There’s been a division between Upper and Lower Normandy for as long as I can remember; the president has broken down the barriers between the two lands.

  • We are the most industrialised region in France in terms of GDP per inhabitant;
  • we have a seafront which may not be the biggest, but it does set a benchmark with its major ports;
  • we have great motorways;
  • exciting industrial gems
  • and we’re very close to the French capital…

But what I like most of all is that Normandy is a small and friendly region. Upper and Lower Normandy put on a united front, we are all alike, we come together, we don’t have any significant cultural differences. Now everyone is communicating, we can create small networks, in business or otherwise; we are quick off the mark and have a strong community; the Region also centralises a lot of things, so if you want to set up a business here, AD Normandie is your first port of call.

What advice would you give someone who wants to set up their own business?

I think you need to go with your gut. Obviously, it’s riskier than being an employee. One thing you need is perseverance to keep you going through the hard times. You have to persevere without getting stubborn: there’s a fine line. But never give up, see it through to the end because you can’t buy regret, you can’t go back in time or buy time.

I’ve done a lot of things in my lifetime, some things haven’t worked, but I always saw my ideas through to the end. I always tried. I have no fear of failure or what people think of me. And if it doesn’t work, at least I’ll have learnt something.You have to give it your all, 200%, but don’t neglect your loved ones. I try and still try to make time for my daughters and my family. It’s a fear I’ve always had: missing out on what matters. Knowing yourself inside and out is vital too.

rendez-vous partenaires à la villa des conquérants à Bernay

“Now I’m over 50, I’m fixated on passing on what I’ve learnt; it has to be useful, especially to younger generations… because I’d have loved it if someone had done the same for me when I went into the pallet business with no money or degree.”

Last but not least, what do you like about it here on a personal level?

I’ve always lived in Normandy and I realised that I don’t know it that well. I grew up in Le Havre and have lived in Rouen for over 30 years… Since the reunification, I’ve found out lots of things I didn’t know about the region, including the economy. Every place is different, our land is particularly green because of its climate that is getting warmer and warmer. I also love our diverse coastline. It’s a welcoming place too: we are a people of few words but we believe that actions speak louder than words. I often say that Normandy is the best French region for the motto: “vivons heureux, vivons cachés” (if you want to be happy, keep your head down). But there are great stories to tell, great businesses, we should be happy to share them!

Did you know?

The PGS Group has 4 saw mills, 14 pallet factories, 19 reconditioning plants and its own nail factory.

The PGS Group works in 9 countries: France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Latvia, Morocco and the USA.

PGS produces 25 million new pallets and processes 20 million reconditioned pallets every year.

PGS is also involved in community work. PGS is heavily involved in Rouen Normandie Rugby and replants trees in Normandy to off-set journeys by players, rivals, RNR fans and supporters of rival teams.

Why? To build sustainably and act sustainably.

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