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12 June 2016

Eurosatory 2016: The great and the good

Visitors to Eurosatory, taking place in Villepinte, Paris this week, are no strangers to the marriage of interests between companies large and small. In a European context, Thales is certainly one of the most obvious of the former that springs to mind. An international group with 62,000 employees and a presence in 56 countries around the globe, Thales is a major player in the world of defence and security, which accounts for 50% of its 2015 revenues of €14 billion.

Briefing journalists in the run up to Eurosatory, the company highlighted its commitment to an innovation-based strategy. Over 25,000 of its employees are technical personnel, with 70% of them being engineers and almost €700 million is devoted to self-financed research and development (R&D). But innovation does not only come from within – it comes from opening up the supply chain, particularly in leveraging and supporting the innovation capabilities inherent in a large number of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Thales Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Patrice Caine is on record that he believes strongly in, “the need for major groups to build an ecosystem with….suppliers.” At the company’s supplier convention in 2015 the group’s Chief Operations Officer, Michel Mathieu, referred to the, “agility and competitiveness….experience and innovative solutions,” that Thales depends on in leveraging SME capability into its own multidisciplinary development teams. Which is scarcely surprising, given that last year Thales spent €7 billion in purchasing. In France alone, the company spends around €1.7 billion annually with some 4,000 SMEs.

Two main pillars support the company’s SME policy: the Responsible Supplier Relations Charter, signed in 2010, and the SME Pact, both of which provide a framework for SMEs to approach the markets Thales addresses via a ‘level playing field.’

No initiative as radical or as widely based as the Thales SME policy progresses without challenges and there have certainly been issues of culture and technology integration that have had to be confronted, addressed and overcome. But there are success stories that prove that the Great – and the Good – (not mutually exclusive adjectives) can and have worked together to provide better, more effective and more affordable solutions for the end user. One such story centres on Aviation Design, a company with just seven employees, with which Thales has worked diligently in the development of the SpyRanger, an innovative unmanned aerial system (UAS) which both companies will highlight at Eurosatory 2016. Military Technology will report more extensively on the SpyRanger development programme in Tuesday’s blog.