Léa Lassarat, serial entrepreneur from Normandy at the head of Women and Challenges, Aids and Networks

Lea Lassarat a figure of female entrepreneurship in Normandy. At fifty-one, the serial entrepreneur built six hotel and restaurant establishments, generating a global turnover of more than 10 million euros in 2021, all with a presumed local anchorage. From Etretat to Honfleur via Le Havre, all its establishments are located on the Seine-Maritime. Apart from the hotel Au Chamois d’Or, a five-star hotel with restaurant and spa located in Alpe d’Huez.

But this course is not clear. Léa Lassarat was destined to take over the family business, which she did for a while before following her own path.

Family heirlooms and furniture

“My grandparents were scrap dealers, they opened a small antique shop in Le Havre,” said one born in the popular Les Neiges district. From this family interest in second-hand goods and the home, “Interior’s” was born in 1977, a store that sells furniture and decorative accessories. “Our SME grew rapidly,” recalls Léa Lassarat, still young, but for whom the future is already planned. He left to study at a Parisian business school, the Paris MBA Institute, which he left after eight months.

Because it’s time for him to prepare to manage the family business. First step, and not least: opening a branch of Interior’s in Bath, England. “My English is still very bad, I have to study on the job,” recalled one who was only eighteen years old at the time. Its mission is to find warehouses and charterers to ensure good logistics to the group’s subsidiary. He then experienced his first professional setbacks. “A carrier left me the day before an important trade fair for us. I cried,” thought the businessman.

At the end of this first successful experience despite everything, Léa Lassarat returned to Le Havre, where her parents were preparing for their early retirement. The small company now has about thirty employees and seven stores. “My parents forced me to go to all the positions in the company,” he recalls, wistfully. He discovered washing and furniture management before moving on to press relations and the quality department before taking over the group’s commercial management in the mid-1990s.

The leap into the void

Léa Lassarat became Interior’s General Manager in 2000. The group, which initially focused on professionals, reoriented itself to BtoC and experienced rapid growth. In 2011, when he left, he had 60 stores and 1,000 employees worldwide.

This success did not prevent him from dropping everything and selling the family business in 2013 to fly on his own. “I saw a small light, I felt I had to start, I wanted to do my business”, explained the off-piste skier, describing this moment as a real jump in the void.

“Then, for three months, I didn’t do anything,” Léa Lassarat agreed. This time for reflection allowed him to identify his next challenge: to open a restaurant in his region. To fully understand the scope of her project, she decided to roll up her sleeves and try her hand in the kitchens of the Au Chamois d’Or hotel that her husband acquired in 2007, but where they were simply investors and entrusted the management. “I was only supposed to stay in the kitchen for a few days, but I stayed for four months during the high season,” recalls one who lost 7 kg in this trying experience.

The military dimension of restoration in the time of gunfire seduced the organized and hyperactive businessman. He went into overdrive and opened his first restaurant in Honfleur in 2013, then another in Le Havre in 2015 before opening a five-star hotel in Etretat in 2017. “The hardest thing is to -go from the first to the second establishment: From both , we need to delegate, so that the teams and the processes work, even without you”, advises Léa Lassarat.

“You also have to accept that not everyone is perfect, even if women sometimes have a problem with that, and surround yourself with profiles that are better than you in terms of business skills,” continued the entrepreneur. La Normande developed her ambition by reading biographies of inspiring women, as described by Léa Salamé in her book “Powerful Women”. “He knows how to surround himself with the right people and convince people of the merits of his projects, because he is enthusiastic”, analyzes Johanna Laminette, who is export director of Interior’s and follows Léa Lassarat during the creation of Women and Challenges. .

Change the game

In 2016, he was offered the presidency of the CCI Seine Estuaire, which covers the territory of Le Havre, Fécamp and the Pays d’Auges. “Like any girl, I said no at first,” she sighed. “I didn’t have a good picture of the chambers of commerce, they weren’t very network-oriented at the time,” recalls one who became the first president of a CCI in Normandy. He will stay there for five years and go through the ordeal of Covid-19, which is especially painful for a region whose economic ecosystem is turned around by a port that operates in slow motion.

At CCI, he had to manage the loan renewal of the Normandy and Tancarville bridges, while his restaurants were closed. “When we reopened, we knew it would be a hit because customers wanted to find the terraces”, tempers Léa Lassarat. “We are multiplying videoconferences for lack of anything better, and we are lucky not to be affected by recruitment difficulties”, explains the businessman who makes it a point of honor to be present as much as possible in his team.

With Women and Challenges, Léa Lassarat wants to contribute to the feminization of boards of directors and encourage more Norman women to create their own businesses.

“Before coming to the Chamber of Commerce, I have never felt like a glass ceiling,” said someone who remembers strategic meetings where she was always the only woman. “I was told to put myself in front for photos”, laughs Léa Lassarat. This experience, however, allowed him to meet many leaders, but also political figures in the region such as the mayor of Le Havre and former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. “Léa brought a new perspective, a collective way of working to CCI and often found in SMEs”, remembers Eric Lehericy, general manager of the chamber when he was its president.

“I didn’t see the girls, I looked at the statistics and I said to myself that something is wrong,” said Léa Lassarat. La Normande then took the lead and created Women and Challenges. The purpose of this network of women entrepreneurs and leaders from Normandy, with a thousand members, is to improve the skills of women and increase the number of companies owned or run by women . “He understands that there is a problem of self-confidence, and understands the importance of inviting men to this network”, added Eric Lehericy, also a businessman and member of the network.

The network started with about twenty women around her, all leading VSEs and SMEs. “In the beginning, the criticisms were very severe, our network was sometimes considered a ‘good thing for the woman'”, recalls the president of the largest support network in the province for women with almost 1,500 members. “The #metoo wave also allowed us to be taken more seriously or, in any case, to stop being mocked,” he believes. The aim of Femmes et Challenges: to raise Normandy from 8th to 5th place in terms of women’s business creation. According to the latest Infogreffe barometer, only 32.3% of new businesses are created by women at the national level.

Every year, the network organizes a forum to share good practices and encourage women entrepreneurs and project leaders. The network also offers women to join the boards of directors of large groups or ETIs in the region. “There is a real desire on the part of some bosses to have people outside, and especially women, in these discussions”, encourages Léa Lassarat.

Despite his busy schedule, the insatiable businessman found a new challenge. A “Grande Ecole” for adults, a teaching environment that knows how to act and share experience, with courses in the hotel industry, catering, or even personal development. The opening is scheduled for May 2023.

Big Tour in Fécamp on August 27

The business festival organized by Bpifrance will stop in Fécamp on August 27, 2022. To know the dates of the next stages of the Big Tour, see our article by clicking here.

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