In this exclusive portrait, we meet Jean Souchal in his living room in Grenoble, an emblematic figure in the ski lift industry and a mountain enthusiast. Originally from Savoie, in the Belleville valley, Jean Souchal has witnessed the transformation of these mountain landscapes since his childhood.

His 43 years at Poma were marked by innovations and international projects, such as the development of a ski lift system for the Great Wall of China. Jean Souchal shares personal anecdotes reflecting his humanistic approach to business, while emphasizing the importance of preserving and valuing the environment.

A father of six and grandfather to eleven, he has managed to balance a rich family life with a demanding international career. His hobbies also reflect his passion for the mountains and nature.

Through this portrait, we discover not only a successful professional but also an individual deeply rooted in his values and community. This interview offers an intimate look at the life and thoughts of Jean Souchal, a man who has shaped the ski lift industry while maintaining deep respect for the mountains and their inhabitants.

Jean Souchal, Could you tell us about your journey?

I’m 65 years old, originally from Savoie, from Moutiers, and more precisely the Belleville valley. It was a time when the mountains were very industrialized, and there was still a factory in Moutiers. The Les Ménuires resort did not yet exist, I am someone who has seen the construction and growth of the mountain valleys, and it has greatly marked me. The various oil shocks led me to finish my studies in Arles. That’s how I was fortunate in my studies. I was able to study engineering at Arts et Métiers in Aix en Provence and got married very young, right after school.

At that time, there were several options: going up to the resort or staying in the valley. It was a time of tremendous development. My wife was from Grenoble, and we chose to settle in Grenoble. That’s how I joined Poma, with a desire to evolve in the world of skiing that I cherish. Around that, I did a lot of skiing and mountaineering.

At Poma, I discovered extraordinary things, especially this technological dimension that really corresponded to my profession as an engineer (mechanical, electrical, automation, geotechnical…) and the construction of a ski lift. A ski lift is full of geniuses inside, and I really liked that, so much so that 43 years later, I’m still here!!!

Family life has always been an important pillar for me. We have 6 children and 11 grandchildren. I was lucky enough to have a wife who took care of all that because I wasn’t around much, with work sites all over the world.

Looking back, it was also exceptional to be able to rub shoulders with Chileans, Algerians, North Americans, Chinese and Russians…. It was an exceptionally rich experience on a human level, which really impressed and inspired me.

COVID brought us back home, and we’ve changed our lifestyles a bit: now I’m entering a new phase where I’m discovering my grandchildren and rediscovering my children. It’s all very interesting.

At Poma, I’ve found a sense of purpose that goes far beyond the ski equipment part of the job. I was lucky enough, for example, to be involved in the China Wall project in 1985. Not many people went to China at that time. And then I went there twice a year for all the years that followed. That made me realise how much respect people have for their environment, even in places we don’t know. On the Chinese Wall project, you weren’t supposed to see the stations from the wall. It really opened my eyes to how we can create value and keep things alive, while respecting these environments. It all made sense at a time when everything was in full development.

Jean SOUCHAL à Rio de Janeiro (Brésil)

The 1980s were somewhat crazy years in terms of development, particularly with the effects of the Mountain Plan which, for France, created real reasons to live in our mountains. I think it’s important today to have a business in our regions, so that we can live there too. We often talk about welcoming tourists, but there’s also the notion of living in the mountains, how there can be a school in my village, a butcher… and to do that we need to create activity. There’s an issue around our industrialisation, who we place orders with, where we set up shop, and so on.

And while the Poma Group’s figures are remarkable, there have been times when we’ve managed to exceed 80% of our business coming from exports, but we’ve always had nearly 80% of our production carried out in France. It’s not always an easy choice to make, because the cost of labour has its consequences, but I think it also has a virtuous side for the Group and our shareholders. We want to be able to look ourselves in the mirror as a company with strong values.

And that’s been a real motivation for me. At least for me and my teams, as we are obviously very similar in our management teams.

There have been some great changes on the tourism front and that’s a real issue these days. Whether it’s the Great Wall of China, the Canopy in Costa Rica, Sydney or Cairns in Australia… urban mobility took off again in an extraordinary way in the early 2000s. This gives mobility a real meaning, because we are also in this energy transition with considerable advantages: electric traction, low CO2 emissions, immediate mobility and this way of moving through the third dimension and avoiding structures such as tunnels, etc.

Decade after decade, we have been able to build, innovate, propose and justify sustainable solutions. And this is true not only for the general public, but also for businesses and their employees. For me today, the transition has begun, and it’s important to know how to step aside, and that’s my role today. I feel that the world is moving in all directions. So obviously, skiing is important, skiing is our history, and it is skiing that has enabled us to develop projects with lots of demanding partners who have pushed us to innovate.

Jean SOUCHAL

Today, I still have two anecdotes in my head: for example, in Rio de Janeiro, where two kids were going to school in the middle of the favelas. I met these 5 and 6 year olds who didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak any Brazilian at all. But we exchanged glances, and I remember giving them a pin and a cap. At that point, one of them asked me what nationality I was. I told him I was French. And the little 6-year-old looked at me and pretended to have a ball. Zidane? I said, ‘Blimey, that’s the image of France! And then they explained to me: ‘No, you haven’t understood anything, it’s 1, 2 and 3. It was Zidane who headed home the 3 goals that won the 1998 World Cup in Brazil! It’s also moments like that when, as a boss, you tell yourself that there’s meaning in what you’re doing. In any case, that’s what I want to remember from these decades, this chance to do things that are useful to others. It’s reassuring for what’s to come.

Today, we’re in a phase of research into skiing, the mountain world and what the white gold was at a given time. We’re bound to make a number of mistakes, but in the meantime, I think that today, more than ever, we’re going to be a player in something that takes on real meaning. We need to keep our mountain areas alive, we need to keep people in the mountains and we need to keep nature under control so that it doesn’t run amok. We need to do this intelligently and correctly, and ask the right questions that will lead to the right answers. That’s how we got involved at the Business Climate Convention, to give us a real sense of direction and ensure that we are in line with the Paris agreements. This will happen quickly.

We have had very strong and responsible plans for 2 years now. We’ve certainly made mistakes, but we’ve also done a lot to move forward and enable our children and grandchildren to continue to enjoy our beautiful mountain landscapes. Valley lifts are the subject of the moment. It’s important to know how you get to the mountains and how you leave them.

Jean Souchal, what are your hobbies?

I’m a great handyman, and I’m really attached to what I do. I’ve built a number of family homes, and I’ve always wanted them to be welcoming places. The 2 houses I’ve managed to build sleep a minimum of 25 people. Because the important thing is to be able to share. Life only has meaning when it’s shared, with the pleasure of receiving.

Jean SOUCHAL mushroom picking

Apart from the family, I like going to mushrooms. These are times when you can be alone and finally take the pressure off that you feel every day. It’s not always easy being a boss, don’t get me wrong. Nature is an important element for me. I did a lot of mountain climbing at one time. These days, I like to spend time with my grandchildren doing things. I’m a bit removed from emulation, but I’ve given a lot.

Jean SOUCHAL – cueillette de champignons

What motivates you? Why do you get up in the morning?

I’m more of a morning person. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know because it’s all very busy all day anyway. I always have something to do. I like to remember my parents, my grandparents… the trace is important. I like to spend time explaining and leaving things behind.

Today, I’m asked to help with motivational explanations because of my style. My motivation is above all to share my know-how, perhaps, but not as an enlightened teacher, but rather as a practitioner, in any case with his successes and his mistakes. Because, of course, you make a lot of mistakes. The important thing is not to make the same one 3 times!

My retirement will give me a bit more time, so I’ll be able to do lots of things.

Jean SOUCHAL – session de bricolage

What is your greatest achievement or success?

I’m often asked this question. If I have to give one answer, it’s that I’ve created a family that’s so close-knit, in which everything runs so smoothly, where people consolidate and support each other. I think that’s what’s most interesting for me.

I mentioned it earlier, but at Poma, we’ve done some really great things, and 43 years on, they’re still exceptional memories. I also feel a certain pride because beyond the luck (which you obviously make yourself), it’s having done something in my life.

Jean SOUCHAL – session de bricolage

Do you have any regrets today?

Yes, there are bound to be regrets. For me, it’s the accidents. These are moments when there are several ways of reacting and when you say to yourself: ‘I’m stopping everything, it’s not for me’ or ‘you have to bounce back because it’s precisely by analysing what happened that you can see where you could have done things differently’. The regrets are that I had to get down on one knee.

And then I have perhaps other regrets: having had trajectories with people with whom you’ve worked, with whom you’ve spent time, and from whom you’re forced to part. It’s hard on a human level because, by nature, I always put my trust in people. It’s hard to realise that it doesn’t always work out.

How do you see the mountains of tomorrow?

I see it more as a place to live, a place where values and actions are shared. I mentioned the world of agriculture, which I’m particularly fond of. We’re in the process of doing some wonderful things by reconciling the use of reservoirs for resorts and farmers… I see a mountain that will be much more shared, a source of pleasure and rejuvenation for many people, including the people who live there. In France, I think we’re lucky enough to be a little ahead of other parts of the world, which are still where we were in the 1980s, developing in order to develop. I see the mountains as a place to live. And with lots of people who will respect it and (re)discover it.