Yan Orjoux, the Self-Made Man [fr]
Seated at his usual place, in the corner of his favorite restaurant, a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Marietta, Georgia, where he likes to eat spicy - he loves the " rich spread of Asian cuisine "- Yan Orjoux perfectly blends in with the diverse clientele. With his large square frame and pronounced French accent, blending in is not always evident, especially with his professional life that sends him outside the U.S. up to five months of the year.
However, that’s what he tries to do. Direct like an American and warm like a Southerner, he knows his Indian server by name and jokes with strangers like old friends. The people he talks with, are they close or does he just treat them as such?
Perhaps this explains, at least in part, the secret of his success at the age of 46. In fifteen years, Yan Orjoux has built and developed a distribution and exportation company of equipment for the oil industry, based in Marietta, Star Trade International, LLC. Named after a Little Five Points bar where he met his American wife, during the 1996 Olympic Games, the company now has about 30 employees at several sites around the world, especially in Asia, and includes among its clients some of the biggest names in the oil industry.
"I always wanted to work for myself," says the boating and cycling enthusiast. A native of Bayonne on the Basque coast, he attributes his attraction to entrepreneurship to his dream of traveling and freedom. "I like being free to spend time with my family and friends or to go sailing or cycling any time.”
The birth of an idea
The idea for his company was born in Africa, when Yan Orjoux was at the head of General Motors Gabon. This was after working in distribution and exportation of electrical equipment within the Pinault Group for 6 years for the Africa region and South America—a great opportunity he attributes to his then mentor who had taken him under his wing – followed by two years in London as head of the African zone for the Japanese company, Itochu.
Recognizing a need for quality equipment to repair oil platforms, Orjoux started the company upon arrival th the U.S. with his wife and baby in 2000. The moment had come to spread his wings.
"The United States is an excellent country to start and grow a company, largely because of existing structures and flexibility, such as industrial and banking.”
Becoming a self-made man
Becoming a "self-made man" in the United States is not done overnight. At first, Orjoux confesses that starting a business from scratch in a country that he knew little of demanded a great amount energy and drive. Eight months after the creation of his company, he went looking for clients in Asia.
Yan Orjoux knocked on doors and found himself in front of a Chinese executive, who, aware of the big problem of supply in its refining company, introduced him to several oil companies. Thanks to this daring move, Star Trade International, LLC was off to a great start.
During his second year, he opened an office in Shanghai, and the company is now present in 15 countries.
"I am passionate and very curious. I love to see how things work, discover new technologies,” he says, explaining his overall strategy. Next week, he will be in South Korea, then Malaysia and Indonesia to visit factories, meet customers and work on new projects. "I always try to be very present in the field and diversify our activities by means of new technologies to remain competitive to our customers.”
A man of tradition
Yan Orjoux attributes part of his fascination with Asia to their respect for traditions. He encourages traditions in his own home and imparts his French culture to both sons, Samuel (15 years) and Loïc (12 years old), thanks, in part, to annual trips to France as well as speaking French at home.
Passionate about traveling - he has been to 75 countries according to the last count - he explains that spending almost half the year away from his family is not as painful as it sounds, especially since his wife Alanne, a reporter for CNN, and his sons also share the taste of travel. An attentive father, Orjoux taught French for six years in an after school program at his sons’ elementary school.
"They have already visited several countries, ” he shares, proud to expose his son to different cultures, religions, and and socio-economic situations. "We just want to teach them to love and to respect people for who they are- whatever their color or religion- not just for what they have. ”
Does he have any advice for French youth who aspire to do the same in the Southeast? Yan Orjoux sips his sweet Indian tea before answering.
"Be authentic, passionate and, of course, have a solid project. But first, whatever the country and the project, be bold. Love work done well. Don’t let yourself get discouraged, and do not hesitate to knock on doors without bias or fear.”