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Aspects of Corporate Finance: Inter-firm Lending

 | 
Michel Lescure
, 
Michael Moss

Inter-firm credit and financing for automobile innovation: Berliet (1897‑1914) or the end of the myth of the self‑taught, self‑financed innovator

Jean-François Grevet

Texte intégral

  • 1  Patrick Fridenson, Histoire des Usines Renault. t. I, Naissance de la grande entreprise 1898-1939, (...)
  • 2  Jean-Louis Loubet, La maison Peugeot, Paris, Perrin, 2009, pp. 141-236.

1Since the 1970s, historians have questioned manufacturers’ professed preference for self-financing because of their mistrust of banks. For example, André Citroën financed his growth with a complex and evolving arrangement combining conventional bank loans, merchandise loans on cars and trade credit from suppliers.1 The importance of trade credit was illustrated by Michelin’s takeover of the company when it went bankrupt in 1934. Peugeot initially preferred to deal with local banks and then worked with major credit institutions.2 Beyond these findings, the topic of financing for automobile firms, and, more specifically inter-firm credit (IFC), has scarcely been explored.

  • 3  The author would like to thank the following for their welcome and their help: Anne Carrière (Fond (...)
  • 4  Jean-François Grevet, « Stratégies commerciales et développement d’une firme automobile : Berliet (...)
  • 5  Archives of Fondation Berliet (hereinafter AFB), Marius Berliet, Curriculum vitae, 27 October 1946 (...)
  • 6  Saint-Loup, Marius Berliet l’inflexible, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1962.

2The Berliet firm from Lyon is somewhere between the world of large corporations and “small” firms, relative to the scale of the automobile industry. We examined the archives of the Foundation de l’Automobile Marius Berliet and the Bank of France3, along with registry office records, in the light of research done over the last thirty years into Rhone Valley entrepreneurs. This work confirmed our preliminary intuitions4 and helped us solve the riddle of the original financing of the only automobile firm from Lyon that went on to be viable in the medium term. Three pleas pro domo drafted during the purges in 1944-1949 by Marius Berliet (1866-1949) explain the initial capital formation.5 We compared them with the papers of Berliet’s first partner, Alfred Giraud, an employee-shareholder who was responsible for the firm’s books. Using this comparison and names found in the archives, we were able to reconstitute the first financing rounds. This contradicts the image of the trail-blazing individual entrepreneur promoted by the firm’s advertising since before 1914.6

  • 7  Pierre Cayez and Serge Chassagne, Les patrons du Second Empire. Lyon et le Lyonnais, Paris, A et J (...)

3The diverse financing network for manufacturers in Lyon has already been studied for its role in financing the first wave of industrialisation, as in the case of the bank Veuve Guerin et fils (VGF). As we will show, this network has persisted into the second wave of industrialisation7, but failed in 1920-1921. Berliet beat Citroën to be the prototype of an innovative, rapidly-growing firm driven by both early application of Taylor’s scientific management methods and the use of credit.

The important role of inter-firm credit in the early days of an emerging automobile firm

  • 8  Jérome Rojon, L’industrialisation du Bas-Dauphiné, le cas du textile, fin xviiie siècle à 1914, Do (...)

4According to the classic tale, after a “largely neglected education” consisting of three years at Lycée Ampère before leaving at the age of 12, the young “Canut” (silk worker) worked as a weaver’s apprentice for one year and was then hired for 50 francs a month by his father’s business, comprising two bosses and two employees, generating a revenue of 100,000 francs a year. As mechanisation transformed the silk industry8, Marius Berliet developed the family business, boosting revenue to one million francs per year by adding a small factory making artificial leather for hats, and embossing and sizing fabric. At the same time, he forged relationships with mechanical engineering firms. At the age of thirty, and with 10,000 francs of savings, the young entrepreneur embarked on his automobile adventure. Marius Berliet acted as a de facto sole proprietor until the company was incorporated as a public limited company in 1917, but the enterprise so closely fused with its founder was literally and figuratively a nexus of notarial contracts and private agreements that would provide financing for its growth by means of current account deposits and short- and medium-term loans. Even though he did not start out with vast resources, Marius Berliet was able to tap the abundance of capital on the Lyon financial market to increase them.

  • 9  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of C. Geay’s second marriage to A. Jars, 7 January 1 (...)
  • 10  AFB, J, archives Giraud, working notes on accounting.

5Not surprisingly, his nearest family members were the first circle of lenders. Despite his father’s opposition, Marius’ mother lent him 5,000 francs to start production of his first car, which was ordered by a tulle maker who was a friend of Claude Geay, a cousin by marriage of Marius Berliet’s father, who was also a tulle merchant and a neighbour of the Berliet family.9 The next lenders were his brothers, Benoît, Robert and Léon. In 1904, Marius Berliet owed them 2,835, 9,590 and 11,286 francs respectively, for a total of 19,944 francs borrowed in 1899.10 Cousin Geay lent him 6,000 francs.

6The second circle of lenders was made up of friends from the tulle business, some of whom were members of his dissident church. One friend lent him 1,500 francs and another lent him 1,000 francs against a signed note to help him with his “otomobile undertaking”.

7The third circle was made up of 25 small businesses. Virtually all of them were located in Lyon, essentially in the metallurgy sector. They lent money to produce the first two cars designed by Marius Berliet between 1897 and 1899. These first vehicles were genuinely collective works, produced by a hybrid combination of various components and techniques, and almost entirely financed by inter-firm credit. The gearboxes were made by Fournier-Pionchon, bespoke mechanical engineers specialising in rollers for embossing and watering fabrics. The models for the mould cores were produced by Benezeth, a firm specializing in rollers for fabric sizing and wooden gears that was located in the Croix Rousse quarter. In 1897, Perrayon, from Villeurbanne, which specialised in rolling mills and equipping factories, machined the engine designed by Marius Berliet and loaned him manpower in 1898. The Pélerin firm, which specialised in machines for tulle looms, lathed the engine parts. The young entrepreneur’s pragmatic ingenuity can be seen in his decision to have a plumber-tinsmith, who installed bathrooms and beer pumps, supply the fuel tanks.

8The automobile pioneers from Lyon, Audibert and Lavirotte signed a contract to use a patent filed by Marius Berliet to produce the second car. They supplied their own premises and sub-contractors, paying them directly and then presenting a global invoice to Marius Berliet, as he learned to stand on his own two feet. Donis, a mechanical engineer also granted trade credit to the new firm, before being hired by Marius Berliet, who also bought his premises and equipment in the rue de Sully.

Table 1. Berliet’s payment terms (1897‑1899)

Payment period

Number of invoices

Total invoiced (francs)

Discounted invoices

Of which rediscounted and accepted by the Bank of France

Of which paper refused by the Bank of France

Cash

5

260

0

0

0

Less than 30 days

6

522

4

0

3

30 days

9

894

1

0

0

Between 30 and 60 days

8

670

1

0

1

More than 60 days

12

4007

2

2

0

Unknown

1

1723

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Total

45

8076

8

2

4

Sources: AFB, compiled and computed from archived invoices between 1897 and 1899.

9A close look at the delivery dates, invoices, bills of exchange and commercial paper archived between 1897 and February 1899 shows that virtually all of the archived invoices from the 25 firms came with a credit period and this period was longer than sixty days for half of the amounts owned (Table 1).

  • 11  Located at 15, rue Puits-Gaillot, a stone’s throw from the VGF head office at number 31.

10Berliet received conventional trade credit from his suppliers, which also included credit from the family tulle business11, which received the invoices and bills of exchange. But handwritten notes on some of them, added in all likelihood by his father, said “All for Marius”, making it clear who would ultimately pay.

  • 12  Bank of France Historical Archives (hereinafter ABF), reports on staff inspections of the Lyon bra (...)

11The invoices show how small the trade credit payables were. The small sums involved meant that little use was made of discounting and even less of rediscounting. Only two local bankers are named as discounters. The first is Philippe Dubost, a banker with assets of 1.8 million francs in 1899. Described as, “very thrifty (…) very tight in business, charging his clients high rates for paper that is weak but not causing any worry”. At the end of his career in 1897, he was rated as having, “a small clientele made up of leather merchants, entrepreneurs, etc.” The second discounter was De Riaz (from Geneva and branch manager) and Audra, described by the Bank of France as, “one of the leading collection businesses in France”, with “a sound second-rank clientele”.12 The regulator maker, Sapin, granted Berliet a credit period of one year, on a bill of exchange for 1,223 from the blacksmiths Souzy Aîné, which was discounted by De Riaz-Audra et Cie and rediscounted by the Bank of France. On the other hand, the tyre merchant Soly had 3 of 4 bills of exchange discounted by Dubost rejected by the Bank of France because they were submitted at maturity and the amounts were too small.

Notaries public were the key intermediaries for inter‑entrepreneur loans from the silk industry to the automobile industry

  • 13  AFB, J, Archives Giraud, Situation at end of September 1901.
  • 14  For the use of interest-bearing account by VGF, see S. Chassagne, VGF…, op. cit., pp. 99-100.
  • 15  AFB, J, archives Giraud, contracts dated 29 January 1900 and 26 January 1905; Rhone Department Arc (...)

12After the death of the patriarch in 1899, the family tulle business was renewed by a new partnership agreement between the Berliet siblings and the Bellets, with capital of 150,000 francs. By way of comparison, the capital that Marius Berliet committed to the nascent automobile firm came to 30,000 francs, with half provided by Alfred Giraud, a merchant’s son and a friend of one of the Berliet brothers. This decisive capital contribution of 15,000 francs was enshrined by a first contract signed in January 1900 and the hiring of Giraud as an employee-shareholder at a monthly salary of 250 francs to manage the firm’s cash and accounts. His interest-bearing deposit was increased to 20,000 francs and then to 50,000 francs. But Giraud then decided not to go any further. In 1901, the need for credit-fuelled growth was well understood and new partners were sought13 to put money into interest bearing accounts.14 Even though there was talk of incorporating as a limited partnership or a general partnership in three years, Marius Berliet continued to “do all business solely in his own name”.15 A combination of inter-firm credit based largely on personal relationships between entrepreneurs and self-financing took shape and constituted a form of de facto partnership.

  • 16  AFB, J, contract dated 1 December 1902.
  • 17  AFB, J, copy of an IOU from Marius Berliet to E. Lavirotte, dated 21 November 1905.
  • 18  National Archives, Lénore database, files of the Legion of Honour (hereinafter LH), 19800035/143/1 (...)
  • 19  Général Messimy, Mes souvenirs, Paris, Plon, 1937, pp. 1; 16-17; Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage (...)
  • 20  Mentioned in Jean-Louis Loubet, La maison Peugeot, Paris, Perrin 2009, pp. 72, 74, 80, 84. For E.  (...)
  • 21  P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 29-36.

13A fourth circle of lenders found through notaries public was decisive in financing the entrepreneurial economy of the 19th century. This circle raised funds from “sympathetic clients” according to Marius Berliet’s recollection, including leading figures from local commerce and banking. This circle of lenders emerged when the firm borrowed money to buy its premises in Lyon-Monplaisir and to acquire equipment from Audibert et Lavirotte in 1902, after the latter was wound up in 1901. Émile Lavirotte deposited 23,000 francs with the firm. His father and brother were both notaries public in Lyon and his brother was the president of the association of notaries. Émile Lavirotte became Berliet’s representative for France and England.16 In addition to obtaining a manufacturing license from the American Locomotive Company of New York (ALCO) (see below), Lavirotte became a fundraiser, bringing in 100,000 francs, followed by 200,000 francs, which actually came from other funding providers.17 Another key player, Émile Chalançon, joined the firm in 1902. He was a merchant’s son who had worked in the silk business as a London correspondent before turning to manufacturing.18 He contributed his own fortune, his family’s fortune and, most importantly, the fortune of his wife’s family. His mother in law, the Widow Messimy, was the daughter of the merchant Barthélemy Girodon and the widow of a notary public19 who had been a favourite of the Lyon silk business. Chalançon’s sister-in-law Ann married André Colcombet in 1892, the groom was a VGF representative in Saint-Étienne. Chalançon initially loaned 26,000 francs in 1903; the loan took the form of a current account deposit. At the same time, Émile Chalas made a deposit of 24,000 francs. The latter was the grandson of Pierre Chalas, an engineering partner in Peugeot since 1870.20 After 1905 Chalançon left 200,000 francs on deposit and his mother-in-law deposited another 250,000 francs. Did these capital contributions have the blessing of VGF and Aynard et fils after Chalançon sold them a car?21 Berliet’s 1905 balance sheet shows Aynard et fils holding a claim of 284,818 francs, which was repaid in 1906. This was probably an advance on the proceeds of 500,000 francs from the sale of the ALCO licence.

The flow mingling various types of credit included loans from other entrepreneurs, trade credit from suppliers and bank loans

  • 22  ABF, RSL, 1904.
  • 23  Alpes Maritimes Department Archives, Nice, 1911 census and death certificate of H. Piré dated 28 S (...)

14After selling the ALCO licence at the end of 1904, the credit floodgates opened and funds poured in from every branch of the Lyon silk industry, even though it was going through a crisis. The new loans included 100,000 francs from Louis Mathieu, a gold plate manufacturer, described as the son of a notary from the Alps who enjoyed, “a comfortable fortune, shrewd business sense and good credit”.22 César Filhol, a former notary public, loaned 100,000 francs guaranteed by Marius Berliet and another 20,000 francs to Émile Lavirotte, who then deposited 200,000 francs with the firm. Henri Piré, a merchant from Alsace doing business in Nice, deposited 100,000 francs with the firm in 1906.23

  • 24  For Arlés-Dufour, see P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 37-43.
  • 25  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of P. Veyrin and L. Forrer, dated 18 October 1871, A (...)
  • 26  National archives, LH/1001/45, U. Forrer. For S. Debar, and his son-in-law Forrer, see P. Cayez, S (...)
  • 27  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of L. Barthélemy de Castelmur and A.-P. Morel, dated (...)
  • 28  Hérault Department Archives, 5 M1 42/5, marriage certificate of P. H. Barbezat and S. Azémard, dat (...)

15The Lyon network of Swiss Protestants also became involved through Paul Veyrin, a former senior representative of Arlès-Dufour.24 Veyrin’s father was a silk broker from Annonay and his mother was the daughter of a master glassmaker of German ancestry from Rive de Gier. Veyrin’s first wife was Lucie Forrer, the daughter of the merchant Jacques Forrer and the granddaughter of the merchant Samuel Debar.25 To support Marius Berliet, Veyrin went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Ulrich Forrer, a livestock farmer26, Louis Barthélemy from Castelmur, an investor from the Vaud Canton in Switzerland27, and Paul Barbezat, a merchant married to the daughter of a silk merchant from Ganges (Hérault).28 In November 1905, this partnership deposited 400,000 francs with the firm.

  • 29  ABF, M. Viney, RSL of 25 June to 30 July 1906.

16Each loan brought in more loans. Discounting brought in personal loans, bank loans and trade credit from suppliers, as shown in the first mention of Berliet in an inspector’s report on the Lyon branch of the Bank of France in 1906: “Berliet M., automobiles Lyon Ob. 3,000 f. end. 53,000 f. Paid 80,000 francs for land, construction and equipment required for its manufacturing. Recently distressed, we were easily able to raise the capital needed to complete our plant and equipment on fairly favourable terms. Employs 200 workers, does a brisk business and turns a profit. Has major contracts with America. Inspires confidence and Loire institutions have lent it 100,000 francs. Off to a good start. Backed by M. Aynard et Cie, Boudon Mercier et Cie with 47,000 francs and Société Générale with 6,000 francs”.29

17In addition to Crédit Lyonnais and Société Générale, well-known local banks and much less well-known local banks discounted and rediscounted bills of exchange from Berliet’s suppliers, customers and agents with the Lyon branch of the Bank of France. Among these local actors “Boudon, Mercier et Cie-Comptoir d’escompte Lyonnais” was an “old institution that the branch has known for 30 years”. Following the death of a partner in 1905 the institution was taken over by former employees, described as “active and intelligence, but without personal wealth”. Nevertheless, The Bank of France attributed a credit rating of 4/3, reflecting limited confidence in its creditworthiness.

  • 30  P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 184-186.
  • 31  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificates of C. Guerin and A. Payen and of L. and J. Payen, d (...)
  • 32  AFB, contracts of P. and R. Payen, dated 1 July 1911; Paris Archives, V4E4859, marriage certi­fica (...)

18Banks provided conventional short-term bank loans to a firm that reinvested its profits in equipment, land and expansion of its plant. The conservative Catholic family firm VGF granted a three-year loan of 300,000 francs in 1906.30 This was followed by a sizeable loan of 800,000 francs from Payen, another major player in the Lyon silk sector.31 Paul Payen and his son Robert, from the Paris branch of the family, granted the loan under the terms of an oral contract and in the form of eight 100,000 franc promissory notes (bills) maturing in 1911.32 This remarkable concordance of loans from Guerin and Payen, who both sat on the board of directors of the Lyon branch of the Bank of France and were linked through their businesses and marriages, testifies to the amount of credit now available to Berliet.

19Between 1905 and 1909, Berliet posted a negative trade credit balance, marking it as a net borrower from its suppliers.

Figure 1. Berliet’s trade credit balance (1903-1914). Receivables-Payables

Figure 1. Berliet’s trade credit balance (1903-1914). Receivables-Payables

Sources: AFB, computed from annual inventories.

20The Bank of France had questions about the origins of Berliet’s capital and the speed of its growth, which was very different from the Lyon silk industry model.

  • 33  ABF, M. Viney, RSL of 15 April to 25 May 1907.

“Berliet automobile PO 46 000 f. end 13 000 f.33
“unfamiliar situation; M. Berliet did have many resources when he started his business and, in 1904, the plant and equipment was valued at 80,000 to 100,000 francs. In the meantime, he found backers: Giraud for 250,000 francs, Lavirotte for 300,000 francs and a third person for 200,000  francs. However, we estimate the industrial buildings and equipment at nearly 2 million francs and we wonder whether it is all paid for or if there may be other backing from banks. In 1906, the firm shipped 525 vehicles and it made arrangements to ship 1,200 in 1907. Profit, minus overheads, was said to be worth 900,000 francs net. This figure seems exaggerated when compared to production.
Outstanding liabilities are for trade credit. They come from 6 suppliers, including perhaps as well as 22,000 francs through Crédit Lyonnais”.

  • 34  AFB, letter dated 8 January 1907 to Berliet from Petrus Bernard, a notary at the end of his career (...)
  • 35  AFB, J, answer dated 10 July 1907 by P. Veyrin to the letter from A. Giraud dated 6 July.
  • 36  For this crisis and its impact on the Payen family, see Hervé Joly, Auguste Isaac, journal d’un no (...)
  • 37  Calculated from the balance sheet and the list of depositors as of 30 September 1907.
  • 38  AFB, Draft articles of incorporation for Société anonyme de Camions Automobiles Berliet, filed wit (...)

21The scale of the short-term loans and the expansion of production to heavy goods vehicles starting in 1906 raised the question of legal consolidation and incorporation as a public limited company, with the help of Société Lyonnaise de Dépôt.34 Two sets of articles of incorporation were drafted: one for a company specialising in heavy goods vehicles and the other for a company with broader activities. The articles called for share capital of 6 million francs divided into 12,000 500-franc shares, with 2,400 shares attributed to Marius Berliet for his contributions and 9,600 to be subscribed with cash. The economic crisis of 1907-1908 hit the silk and automobile industries hard and thwarted the incorporation plans. The crisis created doubts about the future of automobiles. In addition, Berliet’s sales stagnated (Figure 3) and the firm incurred major losses in the English market. In July 1907, Paul Veyrin was hesitant about the plan for a specialised company since, “lorries with petrol engines do not seem to be part of usual practices yet.35” In November 1907, when the full impact of the American crisis was felt by silk makers with massive inventories and big debts36, the “Veyrin group” warned that it did not intend to renew its deposit, but then changed its mind in January 1908. After that Marius Berliet could not be the majority shareholder in the future company, since he had only 611,428 francs on his current account, which was barely 18% of the total current account deposits37 (Figure 2). He had also signed contracts that required him to give lenders an option to subscribe shares in the event of incorporation as a public limited company.38

Figure 2. Berliet current account deposits in current francs from 1907 to 1917

Figure 2. Berliet current account deposits in current francs from 1907 to 1917

Sources: AFB, inventories and annual balance sheets.

Short-term inter-firm credit as a source of long-term financing for growth

22The firm withstood the crisis (Figure 3) and resumed its growth, with more borrowing from its suppliers and renewal of practically all of the current account deposits up until 1916. It also earned profits and benefited from a wider circle of depositors (Figure 2).

Figure 3. Berliet’s sales during the 1907‑1908 crisis (October 1906-September 1910)

Figure 3. Berliet’s sales during the 1907‑1908 crisis (October 1906-September 1910)

Sources: AFB, compiled and computed by the author using the monthly statements of unit sales.

  • 39  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of marriage to S. Veyrin, 14 October 1908. Based on (...)
  • 40  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of G. Balmont and M. Damour, dated 2 December 1899, (...)
  • 41  AFB, J, contract dated 16 June 1909; Lyon Municipal Archives, birth certificate of J.-B. Gérard Go (...)
  • 42  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of R. Colcombet and M.-T. Prenat, 30 September 1913; (...)
  • 43  Central library of École Polytechnique, registration sheet of R. Colcombet.
  • 44  P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 245; Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certifi (...)
  • 45  AFB, J contract signed on 11 November 1911.

23Gaston Cambefort, Veyrin’s son-in-law39, joined the circle of depositors, along with Henri Damour, who was then a Director of Gaz de Lyon and of Descours et Cabaud, iron merchants. Damour initially deposited 70,000 francs and brought in his brother-in-law Gaston Balmont40 and his sons-in-law Lucien Cozon and Vicomte Adolphe Salaün de Kertanguy. Gérard Gourd’s modest deposit of 25,000 francs reveals a family background that is less modest, with cousins Alphonse and Henry Gourd, who were Deputy and President respectively of the French Chamber of Commerce in New York and Members of the Board of Lyonnaise des dépôts.41 In a classic manner, the loans were consolidated by marriage. The late marriage of Marius Berliet and Louise Saunière brought a deposit of 50,000 francs from his father-in-law, a Parisian plumbing contractor. One of Marius’ brothers, Robert Berliet, married Louis Mathieu’s daughter in 1913.42 VGF’s support explained the deposit of 100,000 francs in February 1909 by Régis Colcombet and his being hired. Régis was a nephew of Charles Guerin, and the above mentioned André Colcombet’s brother. He was the only graduate of the École Polytechnique43 on the Berliet payroll before 1914.44 The Guerin family’s long-standing links with the Loire steelmakers were consolidated as Régis Colcombet had recently married the daughter of Édouard Claude Prenat, the ironmaster of Givors, former regional councillor, Member of Parliament and… one of Berliet’s suppliers. We should also mention the current accounts of the firm’s main collaborators, including Pierre Thibaudon, a Protestant who was the Secretary to Lazare Wolff of the E.M. Cottet Bank, which managed Berliet’s banking relationships from 1908 onwards.45 As of 30 September 1914, the current account balances totalled 6.536 million francs, of which 2.4 million belonged to Marius Berliet.

  • 46  AFB, J, agreements between M. Berliet and VGF dated 22 September 1909, 3 October 1912 and 24 Septe (...)
  • 47  AFB, J, agreements between M. Berliet and VGF dated 22 September 1909, 3 October 1912 and 24 Septe (...)

24These short- and medium-term loans (1 to 3 years, or even 5 years), became permanent funding as they were renewed by contract up until 1916. The interest rates on one-year loans were 5% or 6% and certain lenders, such as VGF and the Payens, were entitled to 2% or 3% of the profits and had access to annual inventories, confirming their status as partners in the firm.46 This long-term financing was a form of credit between entrepreneurs, based on personal relationships at the junction between the entrepreneurial and banking worlds. Berliet had capital and high profits that were unheard of in the silk industry. The current account deposits, which were initially short-term and medium-term loans, were actually long-term financing constituting the firm’s capital.47 They help to consolidate the firm’s current assets. The trade credit balance became very positive after 1910. The firm became a net lender (Figure 1), reflecting the growth of its lending to customers and agents to boost sales, particularly industrial vehicle sales.

  • 48  Our paper presented to the 7th journée d’histoire industrielle « Communication et entreprises (xvi (...)

25The contribution of these various forms of credit was undoubtedly more critical for Berliet’s initial success than the early adoption of scientific management practices. This contribution made a true brand strategy possible. The famous locomotive logo was registered in 1905 and a major advertising campaign made Berliet a trend leader from 1906-1907.48 Inter-firm credit, combined with reinvested earnings, led to exponential growth in production and sales, making the firm the 5th largest carmaker by 1914, with sales of 24 million francs, and the leading heavy goods vehicle maker in France.

Conclusion

26An analysis of Berliet’s original financing arrangements shows the importance, variety and flexibility of inter-firm credit. Its initial form of micro-loans from suppliers, followed by loans from other local entrepreneurs, provided critical support for innovation and execution of Berliet’s automobile project. Marius Berliet started out with limited mechanical know-how derived from his experience with a family business, and very small resources compared to other automobile pioneers. The accumulated capital of the Lyon silk industry managed to provide early support for automobile innovation during the second wave of industrialisation, which was to drive the growth of the Lyon region in the 20th century. But it would not be enough to meet the needs of a capital-hungry industry. These needs were soon to be amplified by World War I.

  • 49  Jean-François Grevet, « Sur le front du travail. Effort de guerre et gestion de la main d’oeuvre c (...)
  • 50  ABF, RSL, 1920.
  • 51  AFB, report of the Lyon Commercial Court, 1922. And our analysis of board meeting minutes (1917-19 (...)
  • 52  On Rosengart and his methods, H. Bonin, Les banques françaises…, op. cit., pp. 158-160 ; J.-L. Lou (...)
  • 53  ABF, RSL of 1933, 1935, 1937.

27Berliet carved out its place as the fourth largest automobile supplier under war contracts, behind Renault, Citroën and Peugeot. Marius Berliet’s war profits meant he was able to incorporate his firm as a public company in 1917 and maintain a controlling stake. He launched an ambitious plan for an industrial complex in Vénissieux designed for American-style mass production of a single model of car and a single model of lorry.49 The firm’s financing took many forms (bonds, trade credit from suppliers, etc.). Advances from the Bank of France on arms contracts played a key role, while reliance on discounting dropped off sharply: cash-rich firms preferred to pay with cash or by cheque.50 The project was also financed in part by short-term bank loans from London, America and Switzerland that were negotiated through French banks. But the mismanaged project did not survive the 1920-1921 crisis and unsuccessful speculation against the backdrop of monetary instability. The resumed use of trade credit from suppliers failed to reverse the trend. Pressure from banks and the tax authority, resulting from taxation of exceptional war profits, required Berliet to use a new transactional settlement procedure. The procedure was introduced by the Act of 2 July 1919 to promote post-war conversion of businesses.51 The commercial courts had jurisdiction over the procedure, which established a special form of inter-firm credit. The company concerned is given time to improve its cash situation. Suppliers’ and banks’ claims are converted into bonds, which put all creditors on an equal footing. The transactional settlement resulted in the debtor firm being placed under the de facto and de jure control of its creditors. Crédit Lyonnais demanded a reorganisation and a new board of directors to run Berliet from 1922 to 1929. Berliet then fell behind Renault, Peugeot and, more particularly, Citroën, which was also exploring new financing arrangements. These arrangements relied on the support of certain suppliers and auto loan companies and were set up with the help of one of the main beneficiaries of World War I, Lucien Rosengart.52 Relegated to the rank of a second-string car maker, Berliet only managed to survive by gradually restoring its creditworthiness in the 1930s53, through prudent management, specialisation in heavy goods vehicles, measured, but decisive use of inter-firm credit during crises and cash crunches, and help from suppliers, with the Bergougnan and Michelin manufacturing firms from Clermont-Ferrand leading the way.

  • 54  Serge Chassagne, « Pour faire du fer, il faut de l’argent : le financement de la sidérurgie rhodan (...)

28This contrast makes the successful financing before 1914 even more remarkable. Berliet’s trajectory shows, as Serge Chassagne wrote about the steel industry, that building and selling cars and lorries requires money, or credit at least, and, more especially, inter firm credit.54

Notes

1  Patrick Fridenson, Histoire des Usines Renault. t. I, Naissance de la grande entreprise 1898-1939, Paris, Le Seuil, 1972; Hubert Bonin « Les banques ont-elles sauvé Citroën (1933-1935) ? », Histoire, économie et société, vol. 3, no 3, 1984, pp. 453-472 ; Hubert Bonin, Les banques françaises de l’entre-deux-guerres (1919-1935), t. II, Les banques et les entreprises, Paris, Plage, 2000, pp. 256-259 ; Hubert Bonin, « La place lyonnaise et le démarrage de la deuxième révolution bancaire (1848-1870) », Cahiers du GREThA, 2012-12, http://cahiersdugretha.u-bordeaux4.fr/2012/2012-12.pdf; Michel Lescure (dir), « Le crédit inter-entreprises », Entreprises et histoire, 2014/ 4, no 77.

2  Jean-Louis Loubet, La maison Peugeot, Paris, Perrin, 2009, pp. 141-236.

3  The author would like to thank the following for their welcome and their help: Anne Carrière (Fondation de l’Automobile Marius Berliet), Fabrice Reuzé and the staff of the Bank of France Historical Unit.

4  Jean-François Grevet, « Stratégies commerciales et développement d’une firme automobile : Berliet des origines à 1939 », Masters of History thesis under the direction Emmanuel Chadeau, université de Lille-3, Villeneuve d’Ascq, 1994.

5  Archives of Fondation Berliet (hereinafter AFB), Marius Berliet, Curriculum vitae, 27 October 1946, ten handwritten pages, two typed documents, a three-page “memo on the development of the Berliet factories” a memo on the “Firm’s capital formation,” based on handwritten notes by Marius Berliet, in all likelihood from 1945-1946.

6  Saint-Loup, Marius Berliet l’inflexible, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1962.

7  Pierre Cayez and Serge Chassagne, Les patrons du Second Empire. Lyon et le Lyonnais, Paris, A et J. Picard, Éditions Cenomane, 2007, pp. 5-28. Hervé Joly, « Les banques locales et les entreprises lyonnaises (années 1920 – années 1950) », in Michel Lescure and Alain Plessis, Banques locales et banques régionales en Europe au xxe siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, 2004, pp. 311-332. Serge Chassagne, Veuve Guerin et fils, banque et soie, une affaire de famille : Saint-Chamond-Lyon, 1716-1932, Lyon, BGA Permezel, 2012.

8  Jérome Rojon, L’industrialisation du Bas-Dauphiné, le cas du textile, fin xviiie siècle à 1914, Doctorate of History thesis, under the direction of Serge Chassagne, université de Lyon 2, Lyon, 2007.

9  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of C. Geay’s second marriage to A. Jars, 7 January 1886; AFB, Agreement dated 1 May 1899 between C. Geay and M. Berliet.

10  AFB, J, archives Giraud, working notes on accounting.

11  Located at 15, rue Puits-Gaillot, a stone’s throw from the VGF head office at number 31.

12  Bank of France Historical Archives (hereinafter ABF), reports on staff inspections of the Lyon branch (hereinafter RSL) for the period 1852 to 1968, including the 1897, 1898 and 1899 reports.

13  AFB, J, Archives Giraud, Situation at end of September 1901.

14  For the use of interest-bearing account by VGF, see S. Chassagne, VGF…, op. cit., pp. 99-100.

15  AFB, J, archives Giraud, contracts dated 29 January 1900 and 26 January 1905; Rhone Department Archives (hereinafter AD), birth certificate dated 24 April 1868 and AML, marriage certificate dated 9 February 1905, with A. Eymard, daughter of a stock-brokerage partner. Her brother, Maurice Eymard, worked at the VGF head office. See S. Chassagne, VGF…, op. cit., pp. 265.

16  AFB, J, contract dated 1 December 1902.

17  AFB, J, copy of an IOU from Marius Berliet to E. Lavirotte, dated 21 November 1905.

18  National Archives, Lénore database, files of the Legion of Honour (hereinafter LH), 19800035/143/18143.

19  Général Messimy, Mes souvenirs, Paris, Plon, 1937, pp. 1; 16-17; Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of C. Messimy and L. Girodon, dated 14 February 1868.

20  Mentioned in Jean-Louis Loubet, La maison Peugeot, Paris, Perrin 2009, pp. 72, 74, 80, 84. For E. Chalas, see National Archives, LH 19800035/161/20599; Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of É. Chalançon and M. Messimy, dated 1 July 1899; AFB, Berliet, balance sheets 1902-1907.

21  P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 29-36.

22  ABF, RSL, 1904.

23  Alpes Maritimes Department Archives, Nice, 1911 census and death certificate of H. Piré dated 28 September 1918; Bas-Rhin Department Archives, Mutzig, birth certificate of H. Piré dated 19 September 1853.

24  For Arlés-Dufour, see P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 37-43.

25  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of P. Veyrin and L. Forrer, dated 18 October 1871, AML, marriage certificate of his second marriage to W. Dietz, dated 9 August 1880.

26  National archives, LH/1001/45, U. Forrer. For S. Debar, and his son-in-law Forrer, see P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 95-98.

27  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of L. Barthélemy de Castelmur and A.-P. Morel, dated 29 May 1889.

28  Hérault Department Archives, 5 M1 42/5, marriage certificate of P. H. Barbezat and S. Azémard, dated 25 March 1881; Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of P. Barbezat, son of the former, and A. Elner, dated 4 June 1912.

29  ABF, M. Viney, RSL of 25 June to 30 July 1906.

30  P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 184-186.

31  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificates of C. Guerin and A. Payen and of L. and J. Payen, dated 9 April 1877. For the Payen family, see P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 231-234.

32  AFB, contracts of P. and R. Payen, dated 1 July 1911; Paris Archives, V4E4859, marriage certi­ficate of P. Payen and B. Manfroy and recognition of two sons born out of wedlock, J. and R. Manfroy, dated 3 August 1882; AN, LH 2075/49, R. Payen.

33  ABF, M. Viney, RSL of 15 April to 25 May 1907.

34  AFB, letter dated 8 January 1907 to Berliet from Petrus Bernard, a notary at the end of his career, but a future director and, starting in 1914 Chairman of Société lyonnaise. I would like to thank Hervé Joly for this supplementary information from the Legion of Honour file at the National Archives, LH 199/14.

35  AFB, J, answer dated 10 July 1907 by P. Veyrin to the letter from A. Giraud dated 6 July.

36  For this crisis and its impact on the Payen family, see Hervé Joly, Auguste Isaac, journal d’un notable lyonnais, 1906-1933, Lyon, BGA Permezel, 2002, pp. 80-86.

37  Calculated from the balance sheet and the list of depositors as of 30 September 1907.

38  AFB, Draft articles of incorporation for Société anonyme de Camions Automobiles Berliet, filed with the notaries Bernard and Lavirotte, approx. June 1907, and draft articles for Société des Automobiles Berliet, approx. October 1908.

39  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of marriage to S. Veyrin, 14 October 1908. Based on the registry in Puylaurens (Tarn Department Archives) after 1764, there were no direct family links between this grandson of a grocer and the Cambeforts from the same town who were partners in the Sainte-Olive et Cambefort bank, see P. Cayez et S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 144-146.

40  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of G. Balmont and M. Damour, dated 2 December 1899, marriage certificate of H. Damour and M. Aubert, 4 June 1889, AFB, contract dated 5 and 6 June 1909.

41  AFB, J, contract dated 16 June 1909; Lyon Municipal Archives, birth certificate of J.-B. Gérard Gourd, 5 December 1855; National Archives, LH. For the Gourd family, see P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 181-183.

42  Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate of R. Colcombet and M.-T. Prenat, 30 September 1913; AN LH, 19800035/0307/41378.

43  Central library of École Polytechnique, registration sheet of R. Colcombet.

44  P. Cayez, S. Chassagne, Les patrons…, op. cit., pp. 245; Lyon Municipal Archives, marriage certificate dated 16 June 1908; AFB, J, contracts between M. Berliet and R. Colcombet, 11 February 1909 and 12 February 1910.

45  AFB, J contract signed on 11 November 1911.

46  AFB, J, agreements between M. Berliet and VGF dated 22 September 1909, 3 October 1912 and 24 September 1915.

47  AFB, J, agreements between M. Berliet and VGF dated 22 September 1909, 3 October 1912 and 24 September 1915.

48  Our paper presented to the 7th journée d’histoire industrielle « Communication et entreprises (xviiie-xxie siècles) », hosted by université de Haute-Alsace and université de Technologie de Belfort-Montbéliard, on 13 and 14 October 2016, « Clio, autos et logos : marques de fabriques, fabrique de marques automobiles au regard de l’histoire et du roman national », pending publication 2019.

49  Jean-François Grevet, « Sur le front du travail. Effort de guerre et gestion de la main d’oeuvre chez Berliet (1914-1920) », in Hervé Joly (dir), « Entreprises, entrepreneurs et travailleurs pendant la Grande Guerre », Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains, no 267, July-September 2017, pp. 99-110 and J.-F. Grevet, « ‘Les camions de la victoire’, retour sur la mobilisation industrielle du monde automobile dans la Grande Guerre », in Patrick Fridenson and Pascal Griset (dir), L’industrie française dans la Grande Guerre, Paris, IGPDE/Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2018, pp. 103-120.

50  ABF, RSL, 1920.

51  AFB, report of the Lyon Commercial Court, 1922. And our analysis of board meeting minutes (1917-1939) and executive committee meeting minutes (1923-1939), in J.-F. Grevet, Stratégies commerciales…, op. cit., pp. 65-195.

52  On Rosengart and his methods, H. Bonin, Les banques françaises…, op. cit., pp. 158-160 ; J.-L. Loubet, La maison Peugeot, op. cit., pp. 195-205.

53  ABF, RSL of 1933, 1935, 1937.

54  Serge Chassagne, « Pour faire du fer, il faut de l’argent : le financement de la sidérurgie rhodanienne dans la première moitié du xixe siècle », in Autour de l’industrie, histoire et patrimoine. Hommages offerts à Denis Woronoff, Paris, Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2004, pp. 75-96.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Berliet’s trade credit balance (1903-1914). Receivables-Payables
Crédits Sources: AFB, computed from annual inventories.
URL http://books.openedition.org/igpde/docannexe/image/6032/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Figure 2. Berliet current account deposits in current francs from 1907 to 1917
Crédits Sources: AFB, inventories and annual balance sheets.
URL http://books.openedition.org/igpde/docannexe/image/6032/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Figure 3. Berliet’s sales during the 1907‑1908 crisis (October 1906-September 1910)
Crédits Sources: AFB, compiled and computed by the author using the monthly statements of unit sales.
URL http://books.openedition.org/igpde/docannexe/image/6032/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k

Auteur

Jean-François Grevet is Lecturer at the University of Artois (Centre de recherches et d’études-Histoire et Société) and École supérieure du professorat et de l’éducation, – Lille – Nord de France (Higher School of Teaching and Education). His main research focuses on the history of business and pu­blic policy, particularly the automotive industry, production and use of trucks, history of transportation, logistics, and port companies during the 19th and 20th centuries. Among his last publications, « ‘Les camions de la Victoire’ : retour sur la mobilisation industrielle du monde automobile dans la Grande Guerre » in Patrick Fridenson et Pascal Griset, (dir.), L’industrie dans la Grande Guerre, Paris, IGPDE/Comité pour l’hisoire économique et financière de la France, 2018, pp. 103-120 ; « Le secteur automobile et les prix dans les années soixante-dix : un cas d’école de l’inefficacité des politiques anti-inflationnistes à la française ? » in Michel-Pierre Chélini et Laurent Warlouzet, (dir.), Calmer les prix. L’inflation dans les années 1970, Paris, Presses de Science Po, 2017, chapitre 17, pp. 429-456; « Du système modal au global system. Ports, hinterlands et acteurs du transport et de logistique en France et en Europe (xixe-xxie s.), quelques lumières sur une histoire à venir », in Jean-François Eck, Pierre Tilly and Béatrice Touchelay, (dir.), Espaces portuaires. L’Europe du Nord à l’interface des économies et des cultures 19e-20e siècle, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2015, pp. 97-118.

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